Updated Legislation Aims to Protect Students Online

Earlier this week, U.S. Senators Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) introduced the Kids Online Safety Act or KOSA, a bipartisan bill that focuses on safeguarding children and their families.

Here’s a summary of what legislators hope to accomplish with this bill. It would:

  • Require social media platforms to provide minors with options to protect their information, disable addictive product features, and opt out of personalized algorithmic recommendations. Platforms would be required to enable the strongest settings by default.
  • Give parents new controls to help support their children and spot harmful behaviors and provide them and schools with a dedicated resource to report any harms to kids.
  • Demand that online platforms prevent and mitigate specific dangers to minors, including promotion of suicide, eating disorders, and substance abuse, among other issues.

If passed, this bill would also require large social media platforms to perform an annual independent audit that assesses their applications’ risks to minors and their compliance with this legislation.

This week’s announcement has renewed a national conversation around the best ways to protect kids online. However, not everyone agrees on the approach that KOSA outlines.

For example, in a statement to CNBC, ACLU Senior Policy Counsel Cody Venzke said, “KOSA’s core approach still threatens the privacy, security and free expression of both minors and adults by deputizing platforms of all stripes to police their users and censor their content under the guise of a ‘duty of care.’”

Similarly, Carl Szabo, Vice President & General Counsel for NetChoice—a coalition of trade associations, businesses, and consumers—noted that “KOSA’s requirements will, even when amended, still cause unintended consequences, such as overcollection of user data.”

Criticism of KOSA and the larger conversation about protecting kids online is likely to continue. In the meantime, there are already several federal laws on the books related to children’s online safety, including the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) and the Protecting Children in the 21st Century Act.

COPPA is a federal law that regulates the collection of personal information from children under the age of 13 by online services, such as websites and mobile apps. The law requires these services to obtain verifiable parental consent before collecting personal information from children, and to provide parents with the ability to review and delete their child’s information.

The Protecting Children in the 21st Century Act is a law that requires the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to update its regulations to promote the safe use of the Internet by children. The law also requires the FCC to examine the effectiveness of existing technologies and methods used to protect children online, and to consider new technologies and methods to improve online safety.

The overall goal of these laws is to protect children’s privacy and safety online, and to ensure that parents have control over their child’s online activities.

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