The most important federal legislation to protect kids online is about to hit the Senate floor. It’s been a long time coming.
Since we started PWF in 2015, we’ve been talking about a law most people have never heard of: COPPA (Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act). This antiquated law, passed in 1998 (long before smart phones, apps, or social media) attempted to keep online companies from collecting personal or unnecessary data on children under the age of 13 without parental consent. This law is is the reason why social media sites were not legally allowed to let kids under 13 open accounts, though millions of them easily lied to bypass the toothless age requirement. In fact, Common Sense Media found that 40% of kids 8-12 have a social media account.
Now, not only is COPPA being upgraded to the Children and TEEN Online Privacy Protection Act, but it raises the age of data protection to 18. This is a huge step forward. It’s said that before the age of 13, advertisers have over 72 million data points on a single child, information which is likely sold to advertisers and then used to manipulate online behavior and even lead to harmful or addictive tendencies. A few years back, the EU raised the age of consent for data collection to 16, which caused no small stir among European kids 15 and younger who feared getting booted from social media.
In addition to strengthening COPPA, a new piece of legislation called KOSA (Kids Online Safety Act) will be introduced. According to the Washington Post, KOSA “would require online platforms to provide parents and minors younger than 16 with “easy-to-use” tools to keep them safe, limit screen time and protect their data.” Some are calling the net-effect of KOSA creating an “eraser button” for users under 16 to opt out of algorithms.
While it’s unclear how all of this will change the day-to-day landscape of protecting kids online, one thing is certain—we need these important legal updates to pass. An entire generation of kids have endured the wreckage of at least 15 years of under-regulation when it comes to the Internet. We as parents have the opportunity to make sure that the gaping hole in child protection online gets fixed.
Here's an excerpt from a letter that child advocates have sent to the Senate majority leader Charles Schumer and minority leader Mitch McConnell:
The Kids Online Safety Act seeks to hold social media companies accountable after their repeated failures to protect children and adolescents from the practices that make their platforms more harmful. The bill establishes a duty of care for social media companies to protect minors from mental health harms, sexual trafficking, and narcotics. Additionally, the bill requires companies to go through independent, external audits, allows researcher access to platform data assets, and creates substantial youth and parental controls to create a safer digital environment.
The Children and Teens’ Online Privacy Protection Act would expand privacy protections to teens for the first time, establishing a “Digital Marketing Bill of Rights for Teens” that limits the collection of personal information. The bill would also expand protections for children under 13, including banning surveillance advertising, and preventing companies like TikTok and Instagram from turning a blind eye towards the millions of younger users on their sites.
There has been no significant federal legislation to protect children and adolescents online since the passage of COPPA in 1998 – long before smartphones and platforms like Facebook and YouTube even existed. With young people spending more time online than ever before, it is critical that Congress give them the protections they deserve when using the internet for learning, connection, and entertainment.
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