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Advocates Push For Higher Age Privacy Threshold As COPPA Proposal Hits Senate

Advocates want age 13 and over for privacy protection as Senate sees COPPA reform proposal.

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Photo of Richard Blumenthal, Chair of Subcommittee On Consumer Protection

May 19, 2021 — Witnesses in front of a Senate hearing on internet privacy for children recommended a more comprehensive age threshold to encompass more children they say are having their rights violated online, as a proposed bipartisan Senate bill is introduced to include better protections.

Beeban Kidron, a children’s rights advocate, told the Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety, and Data Security on Tuesday that current Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) legislation that consider only those under the age of 13 to be children is harming a swath of other children above that threshold.

Kidron said a better age to start with is 18 and below, arguing that no parent would consider a 13-year-old an adult.

On Friday, Senators Ed Markey, D-Massachusetts, and Bill Cassidy, R-Louisiana,  introduced new bipartisan legislation meant to extend greater online consumer protections to minors, including making it illegal for companies to collect data from anyone 13-15 years old without their consent. Additionally, it would create what the bill refers to as an online “Eraser Button,” which would allow consumers to request that they scrub collected data from a child or teen.

The bill is known as the “Children and Teens’ Online Privacy Protection Act,” and is designed to update COPPA, which was passed in 2000.

The proposed bill would establish the Youth Privacy and Marketing Division at the Federal Trade Commission, which would be tasked with ensuring that the consumer and privacy rights of children and teens. It would also ban targeted advertising for children, which uses browser and purchase history, economic status, consumer values, and numerous other variables to direct consumers to ads.

The bill would also raise cybersecurity standards for online devices marketed at children and require that they clearly label what kind of data is collected or transmitted. More broadly, this legislation would require all online companies to disclose what kind of data is being collected from consumers and how it is used.

New legislation is a product of a new environment

Children are being drawn to apps such as Tik Tok, YouTube, Instagram, and other social media platforms, spending more and more time online as education and entertainment becomes increasingly virtual. This raises concerns about how their data is being used, how marketers are targeting them, and even how their social identities are being developed online.

In her opening statement, ranking member Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tennessee, said, “Social media is causing our children to become more distressed than ever before.” She accused platforms of illegally tracking children, as well as exposing minors to harmful and manipulative content.

In his opening statement, Chair of the Subcommittee Richard Blumenthal, D-Connecticut, said, “Eventually, the tech platforms must be held accountable. They must bear liability for obvious violations of criminal and civil law.”

A letter drafted by the committee and sent to Facebook came back with no meaningful commitments; Tik Tok was reprimanded several times throughout the hearing for refusing to appear before the Senate.

COPPA limitations

Serge Egelman, research director of the Usable Security and Privacy Group at the International Computer Science Institute, testified that in a study he conducted, around half of apps marketed towards children violate COPPA.

These ads often promote extreme, unhealthy weight loss and unrealistic beauty and body standards that can be markedly impactful on their mental health and personal identities. These ads can even include age-illegal activities such as drinking or vaping, Egelman said, adding social media platforms demonstrate “grooming” behavior that can lead to a “perilous web” of behavior.

Angela Campbell, professor emeritus of Georgetown Law, said ads directed toward children can also be “unfair marketing” and “manipulative.”

Campbell noted that in 21 years, the Federal Trade Commission has moved to prosecute those in violation of COPPA law only 34 times. In leu of the platforms’ apparent apathy on the subject, the bipartisan committee and witnesses alike are in agreement that the best way forward involves not only expansion of current policy but increased legal and public pressure for tech companies to comply with legal code.

With files from Benjamin Kahn

Reporter Tyler Perkins studied rhetoric and English literature, and also economics and mathematics, at the University of Utah. Although he grew up in and never left the West (both Oregon and Utah) until recently, he intends to study law and build a career on the East Coast. In his free time, he enjoys reading excellent literature and playing poor golf.

Cybersecurity

Biden On Lookout for Cyberattacks with Russia Massing on Border of Ukraine

The president says that, in the past, Russia has taken covert military actions.

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Photo of President Joe Biden on Thursday

WASHINGTON, January 20, 2022 – President Joe Biden said Thursday that the administration will be on the lookout for Russian cyberattacks in Ukraine as Russia’s President Vladimir Putin may be edging closer to invading Ukrainian territory.

Biden warned that, in the past, Russia has launched aggressive computer attacks that, while perhaps falling short of overt military action, have been daunting cyber-offensives of “military” officials not wearing Russian uniforms.

The comments came at the beginning of Thursday’s meeting of Biden’s Infrastructure Implementation Task Force. Biden briefly addressed rising tensions surrounding Ukraine.

Many critics of Russia, including Biden, have said that they Putin will pounce.

During his remarks, Biden said Moscow would “pay a heavy price” should it move any Russian troops across the Ukrainian border.

Following his foreign policy comments, Biden turned his attention to the planned task force talks on implementing the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act signed on November 15, 2022.

He turned to former New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, the administration’s unofficial “infrastructure czar,” to offer comments on the administration’s progress to press.

Biden specifically addressed the law’s implications for ongoing supply chain issues.

Since the back half of 2021, the world has faced historic shipping delays on a variety of commercial goods as global manufacturing systems continue struggling to grapple with the coronavirus pandemic and workforce shortages exacerbated by it.

Specifically, the tech industry has faced chronic shortages of semiconductor chips, perhaps worse than most other commodities. The shortages have crippled many digital industry supply chains. products.

Biden said that with the infrastructure law investment in physical infrastructure, including additional highways to alleviate traffic on the nation’s roads, will allow goods to be transported faster through existing supply chains.

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Cybersecurity

Telework Here to Stay, But Devices Need Beefed Up Security

The future of teleworking will need upgraded security.

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Allen McNaughton, sales director at Infoblox

WASHINGTON, January 19, 2022 – Remote work is here to stay, but that means getting up to speed on securing websites is critical, said a director at an information technology security company Wednesday.

At a Business of Federal Technology event, which posed the question “is hybrid forever?,” Kiran Ahuja, director of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, said “hybrid remote work and telework policies are clearly helping not only federal agencies, but literally every single office, company, and organization in this country.”

But while Allen McNaughton, sales director at security company Infoblox, agreed that telehealth is “here to stay, no doubt about it,” he also made clear that the reality of hybrid work is not effective without protected technology.

“When you have telework, when you have people that can work anywhere in the world, the world is now your attack surface,” says McNaughton. McNaughton noted that there is now a greater opportunity for hackers to install malware on unsecure devices.

The country has already been gripped by high-profile cyberattacks, including on software company SolarWinds, oil transport company Colonial Pipeline, and meat producer JBS USA.

Some of the attackers simply gained access because devices had simple default passwords, raising concern among security experts about how prepared people are for full-time remote work and school.

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Privacy

Federal Communications Commissioner Starks Seeks to Encourage Democratic Principles Online

The commissioner noted the peril democracy and citizen privacy finds themselves in around the world.

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Federal Communications Commissioner Geoffrey Starks

WASHINGTON, January 14, 2021 – Speaking at an event hosted by Bridge for Innovation on Tuesday, Federal Communications Commissioner Geoffrey Starks says the private sector must lead in the fight to promote democracy and digital privacy rights online.

With increasing challenges to democracy around the world and citizen surveillance efforts by several international governments, as well as domestic concerns over privacy on social media platforms, Starks says private sector entities should work to set standards which promote democratic principles and privacy for citizens.

Just this month, Facebook faced a lawsuit – which it won – over access of third-party companies such as Cambridge Analytica, the British political consulting firm made famous when it was investigated in connection with alleged Russian interference and collusion in the 2016 United States presidential election, to users’ personal data.

Starks also emphasized that international diplomatic and regulatory bodies play a key role in upholding these norms.

He stated that China is looking to step up its role in these international bodies in attempts to influence policy to gain greater control over its citizens’ political activities and limit their privacy rights online.

At the beginning of November, President Joe Biden’s administration announced an initiative with several international allies to share information on surveillance programs of authoritarian regimes, with key focus landing on actions of the Chinese government.

Additionally, Biden said he would take action to limit U.S. exports to China of technology that  China uses for surveillance efforts.

U.S. technologies are on record being used in China for citizen surveillance, military modernization and persecution of Muslim Uyghurs in Xinjiang.

Looking to domestic broadband expansion efforts following the enactment of the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, Starks said the FCC will soon be collecting and posting pricing information from internet service providers which participate in the Affordable Connectivity Program.

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