Tonight, President Biden will speak about tech policy priorities as part of his State of the Union address, and he’s expected to focus on pushing lawmakers to enact protections specifically for kids. Digital rights group Fight for the Future issued the following statement, which can be attributed to the groups Director, Evan Greer (she/her):
“If President Biden wants to truly ensure the safety and fundamental rights of children, he should use his bully pulpit to advocate for strong Federal data privacy protections that apply to everyone. While kids-focused legislation may be politically expedient, these proposals often fail to meaningfully protect kids from the most serious harms of Big Tech. And worse, some proposals like the Kids Online Safety Act (KOSA) would do more harm than good, putting vulnerable young people, especially LGBTQ+ youth, at risk of surveillance and cutting them off from lifesaving online resources and community.
Allowing companies like Meta and Google to plow full steam ahead with their surveillance advertising business model but with some cosmetic guardrails in place for underage users doesn’t actually make the world better or safer for our kids. If kids’ parents are being fed a constant stream of transphobia or vaccine misinformation because of surveillance driven algorithms, those kids are not made safer by age verification requirements or narrowly tailored privacy provisions. If the viral spread of hateful content and disinformation, supercharged by corporate data harvesting and algorithmic manipulation, leads to the passage of legislation that strips young people of their right to education or reproductive health care, that puts kids in far more danger than content they may encounter online. Kids don’t live in a bubble. Their rights and safety are enormously impacted by the broader social and political context around them, which Big Tech giants are shaping and distorting through their business practices.
The best way to protect our kids online is to protect everyone online. We should start by outlawing the harmful and predatory commercial surveillance practices that are at the root of Big Tech’s harm. That means passing a strong Federal data privacy law that prevents tech companies from collecting so much sensitive data about all of us in the first place, and gives individuals the ability to sue companies that misuse their data. And it means passing antitrust reforms, to crack down on the monopoly power of the largest companies, creating space for alternatives with better business practices to grow.
Instead of asking, “how do we turn the Internet into Disneyland for kids,” we should be asking, “what policies governing the Internet will lead to the type of world we want our kids to grow up in?” That points us away from misguided ideas like gutting Section 230 or involving government in policing online speech, and toward policies that keep kids safe while also upholding basic principles like free expression and human rights for all.”