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New version of KOSA picks up speed

Illustration of a person hanging onto a closing laptop.

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

Senators dropped an updated version of the Kids Online Safety Act on Thursday and announced new sponsors, including Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, Maria and Ashley report.

Why it matters: Momentum is building for the children's online safety bill, which senators are determined to pass to show they're taking the issue seriously following a heated hearing with tech executives last month.

The latest: KOSA now has 62 cosponsors and includes some key legislative changes, per an announcement from bill leads Sens. Marsha Blackburn and Richard Blumenthal.

  • Many of the negotiated provisions were first reported by Maria and Ashley on Wednesday.
  • Those include moving some enforcement to the Federal Trade Commission from state attorneys general.
  • That helped assuage fears from some LGBTQ+ rights groups that political posturing from state AGs would lead to criminalizing online content for marginalized groups.
  • The "duty of care" language in the bill was limited to platform design features to prevent and mitigate specific harms, such as mental health disorders, physical violence or sexual exploitation.

The other side: Fight for the Future director Evan Greer said in a statement that, based on the group's initial read of the bill, the duty of care language doesn't go far enough.

  • "As we have said for months, the fundamental problem with KOSA is that its duty of care covers content specific aspects of content recommendation systems, and the new changes fail to address that."
  • Several industry groups also still oppose KOSA, citing concerns with too much data collection and censorship.

What they're saying: A group of seven LGBTQ+ advocacy groups said they aren't opposing KOSA as a result of the changes.

  • The changes "significantly mitigate the risk of it being misused to suppress LGBTQ+ resources or stifle young people's access to online communities," they wrote in a Feb. 15 letter to Blumenthal.
  • Youth-led coalition Design it for Us: "The latest improvements to the Kids Online Safety Act are welcome changes that would ensure this bill cannot be weaponized to restrict civil liberties — the result of the tireless advocacy of young people desperate for change to protect our generation online."
  • Sen. Ron Wyden said he's still reviewing the legislation, but "thanks to advocates and productive work by Senators Schumer and Cantwell, the new version of KOSA represents a significant improvement."

Energy and Commerce Committee chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers told Maria on Thursday she is still committed to comprehensive data privacy, even though "the timeline has slipped" on reintroducing the American Data Privacy and Protection Act.

  • "You talk to Common Sense Media and they will say they are the strongest provisions [in ADPPA] there are to protect kids online," CMR said, referring to an advocacy group that has been among the most vocal backers of KOSA.
  • Greer said Fight for the Future would "redouble" House efforts to make sure that if the bill moves forward "it is amended to ensure it will protect all kids, rather than endangering some of the most vulnerable."

What's next: Bill backers face a packed calendar as the Senate deals with impeachment drama and yet another looming government shutdown.

  • In addition to the struggle to find floor time in the Senate, the bill still lacks a House companion.
  • Meanwhile, Sen. Ed Markey announced Commerce chair Maria Cantwell and ranking member Ted Cruz are backing his updated kids online protection bill, COPPA 2.0, which is seen by supporters as a natural companion to KOSA.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to remove an incorrect pronoun reference to Evan Greer.

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