Anamitra Deb
Senior Director, Beneficial Technology
&
Gus Rossi
Principal, Beneficial Technology

The KIDS Act Puts the Pressure on Big Tech (not parents) to Make Platforms Safe for Kids

March 6, 2020

Sens. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) introduced legislation yesterday that would require technology companies to change the way they design and market apps for children under 16. We welcome the greater pressure and accountability that bills like this put on the leading tech platforms.

Big tech has advantaged some and excluded others, misused personal data, and created dangerous platforms that harm many of their users, particularly threatening the development and mental health of children and teenagers. 

The Kids Internet Design and Safety Act (KIDS Act) would compel the risky-by-design platforms (such as Google’s YouTube, Facebook, and its company Instagram) to start fixing some of the problems they have created, instead of outsourcing responsibility to parents and kids. The bill would apply to all media platforms; not just those built for children, but any online service that is likely to be accessed by children and teenagers.

As written, and if passed, this bill would:

  • Limit manipulative and damaging design features that keep kids glued to the screen, getting them to share data and make online purchases. Features that increase the amount of time children spend on apps, including auto-play videos, push notifications, and reward badges, would be banned;
  • Limit marketing and commercialization by creating rules to restrict the method and content of ads that appear in front of kids. This includes the methods of social media influencers and content involving nicotine, tobacco, or alcohol;
  • Prevent the amplification of harmful content by establishing rules to address algorithms that push extreme content in front of kids;
  • Require platforms to provide parents with clear guidance on kid-healthy content; 
  • Create a grant program to support positive content creation; and 
  • Require transparency and strong enforcement, designating the Federal Trade Commission to enforce the law.

Risky-by-design

This bill comes in response to the business models and product design choices of companies like Google and Facebook that have helped expose children to dangerous content, hate speech, manipulative advertising, and disinformation. Big tech currently maximizes user engagement to collect data and sell it for targeted advertisement purposes. This behavior moves from extractive to dangerous when Google’s YouTube auto-play function recommends radicalizing and extremist content to children next to cartoons. Or when Facebook identifies insecure teenagers and sells advertisers access to them in their moments of weakness. Naturally, sustained engagement and access to risky content hurts children’s wellbeing. In fact, scientific researchers have shown children and teenagers are experiencing unprecedented levels of depression and addictive behavior as a result of tech’s dominance in their lives.

We believe that the KIDS Act is a step in the right direction, and we hope that other Members of Congress will follow suit and support additional protections. Public oversight and safeguards that address how the leading platforms interact with their users, especially children and teenagers, are necessary parts of the regulatory toolbox needed to curb in the power of big tech

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