Feb 16, 2022 - Technology

Bipartisan Senate bill aims to protect kids online

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

New legislation Wednesday from a bipartisan Senate duo would require platforms like Instagram and TikTok to disable "addictive" features for children, allow kids to opt out of algorithmic recommendations and take other actions to ensure social media companies are prioritizing the interests of children.

The big picture: The bill from Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) arose out of a series of hearings with leaders of tech companies about their services' negative effects on children.

Driving the news: The Kids Online Safety Act would give social media platforms a duty to act in the best interests of children 16 and younger, and require them to prevent and mitigate specific harms, including the promotion of self-harm, suicide, eating disorders and substance abuse.

  • Platforms would have to enable the strongest settings by default for minors and provide them with options to protect their information.
  • The bill also would require the companies to provide parents and children a dedicated channel to report harms to the platform.

What they're saying: "The Kids Online Safety Act would finally give kids and their parents the tools and safeguards they need to protect against toxic content — and hold Big Tech accountable for deeply dangerous algorithms," Blumenthal said in a statement.

Of note: The legislation would also:

  • create a process for academic and public interest organizations to access critical datasets from social media platforms to research harms to children...
  • .... and direct the National Institute of Standards and Technology to study the most technologically feasible options for developing age verification systems at the device or operating system level, something tech companies have called for.
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