Senator Markey Pleased with Pressure on Companies to Protect Children Online

Senator Edward Markey has been a proponent of increasing the age group in child privacy laws for years.

Senator Markey Pleased with Pressure on Companies to Protect Children Online
Photo of Senator Edward Markey

WASHINGTON, March 3, 2022 – Senator Edward Markey, D-Mass, on Monday praised pressure from lawsuits and whistleblower testimony against companies that violate online protections for children and praised Thursday President Joe Biden’s remarks on child protection in his State of the Union address, in the senator’s latest vocal push to pass enhanced laws for online protections for children.

Current legislation, called the Child Online Privacy Protection Act, includes online protections for children under 13. Markey has been pushing to have the age threshold increased. In May last year, senators including Markey introduced bipartisan legislation – called the Children and Teens’ Online Privacy Protection Act – that would extend greater online consumer protections to minor, including making it illegal for companies to collect data from anyone 13-15 years old without their consent.

The comments came before a coalition of attorneys general from across the nation announced Wednesday that they would be investigating the impact social media platform TikTok has on children. It also came before President Biden said during his State of the Union address that companies must be held accountable for the “national experiment they’re conducting on our children for profit.”

On Thursday, Markey and Bill Cassidy, R-La., released a joint statement praising the comments by Biden and said in a Thursday letter to the Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo that the senators are ready to work with the White House to push the CTOPPA legislation forward. “There is a direct link between the lack of online privacy protections for young people and the youth mental health crisis in this country,” the letter said.

Before that, Markey told the 2022 State of the Net conference on Monday, that he’s been pleased with actions taken by those who are challenging big technology companies, such as Facebook and Google.

Pressure mounting on social media companies

He noted testimony from Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen, who leaked documents from inside the company to the Wall Street Journal and the Securities and Exchange Commission that showed the company’s photo-sharing app Instagram was having a negative impact on children, yet the company allegedly did not address the issues.

The fallout of the testimony and pressure from lawmakers forced Facebook to pause development of its “Instagram for Kids” product.

There have also been lawsuits in the past, such as a Federal Trade Commission and New York action in 2019 against Google and its subsidiary YouTube for collecting children’s personal data without their parent’s knowledge. The case ended with Google and YouTube paying a $170 million civil penalty.

Markey’s comments come after a bipartisan bill, brought by Senator Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and Senator Marsha Blackburn, D-Tenn., was introduced. The Kids Online Safety Act would require platforms to give guardians control over their child’s use of social media and will be able to block certain content and limit screen time.

Markey cited multiple statistics, including the fact that 95 percent of teens have access to a smartphone and that young people’s screen time doubled during the pandemic, to support his claim that young Americans, especially tweens and teens, need protection.

“Do we have the courage to take on this issue?” Markey asked on Monday, in reference to protecting those under the age of 16.

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