with Aaron Schaffer

Correction: This story originally misidentified the official name of the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act. It has been updated.

Lawmakers have tried and failed for years to overhaul a children’s privacy law written in the dial-up era for the modern Internet. 

But they might finally have an opportunity to make meaningful changes in 2021, as there is growing political support in both parties to prioritize protecting children online. 

The issue is a political winner as parents and grandparents across the country grow more concerned about their children’s skyrocketing screen time during the pandemic. 

Sens. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) and Bill Cassidy (R-La.) today introduced the Children and Teens’ Online Privacy Protection Act, which would ban targeted advertising directed at children. It also would prohibit Internet companies from collecting data from teens between ages 13 and 15 without consent, expanding the protections that exist only for children 12 and under. 

The bill also seeks to close a key loophole in federal privacy law by requiring companies to get consent to collect data when they “reasonably know” youths are on their websites. Under the current law passed in 1998, federal online privacy restrictions only apply when the sites have “actual knowledge” that users are younger than 13, or they explicitly target children. 

The proposals aren’t new, but the urgency to pass them is.

The legislation is very similar to the bill Markey introduced in the last Congress with Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) (Markey’s office declined to comment on why Hawley was not co-sponsoring the latest version of the bill. The senator from Missouri has faced backlash since he became the first senator to object to the certification of President Biden’s electoral victory.)

And Markey has called for many of the bill’s provisions, such as creating an online “eraser button” that would allow parents to easily scrub children's data, for years.  

But the stakes for lawmakers to act now are higher after more than a year of online school, stay-at-home-orders and increased iPad time across the country. 

“Over the past year, parents have seen their children and teens spend more and more time online and they’re realizing that the internet simply is not safe for kids and adolescents,” Markey said in a statement. 

Child safety advocates are optimistic that this time Congress might actually pass the legislation into law. 

“I think the ground has completely shifted,” Josh Golin, executive director of the Campaign for Commercial-Free Children, said in an interview. “Bills that were more statements in the past now have a chance of passage.” 

There have been increasing signs of the bipartisan interest in addressing children’s privacy. 

A group of more than 40 state attorneys general from both parties yesterday sent a letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, calling on him to halt plans to build a version of Instagram for children, as my colleague Rachel Lerman and I reported. In their letter, they raised concerns about whether Facebook would comply with children's privacy law, given its checkered track record. 

“It appears that Facebook is not responding to a need, but instead creating one, as this platform appeals primarily to children who otherwise do not or would not have an Instagram account,” they wrote. “In short, an Instagram platform for young children is harmful for myriad reasons.”

Facebook though is plowing ahead, and argues a kid's version of its Instagram service could be safer and give parents more visibility into how children are using the service. 

Meanwhile on Capitol Hill, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (Wash.), the top Republican on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, also identified updating the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act as a key focus of her plan to crack down on Big Tech companies. It was highlighted in a memo from her staff, which outlined some areas where the parties could work together on tech regulation. That was circulated last month to other Republicans on the committee. 

And lawmakers from both political parties focused heavily on children’s privacy issues in the March hearing with the CEOs of Facebook, Twitter and Google. McMorris Rodgers made deeply personal comments about her concerns as a parent about how technology has affected her own children, and other Republicans and Democrats followed with similar lines of questioning.

There's also broad bipartisan interest in tackling privacy issues. But efforts to pass comprehensive legislation have stalled over arguments about whether consumers should be able to bring lawsuits against companies for violating laws, or whether federal law should preempt state laws. 

But advocates think child privacy could be different. Golin believes there’s a growing bipartisan consensus that digital media’s business model hurts young people. 

“Lawmakers are parents and grandparents, and they see firsthand how these powerful technologies are being used not to enlighten and educate, but to monetize children at the expense of their well-being,” he said. “Even those who normally see personal responsibility as the answer to everything recognize that these technologies are simply too powerful to deal with on a family-by-family basis.”

Rant and rave

The tweets about Instagram Jr. came swiftly. YouTuber Luke Miani:

Mattathias Schwartz, a senior correspondent at Insider:

Our top tabs

Seven Apple suppliers have been linked to allegations of forced labor against Uighurs and others in China.

One of the suppliers, Advanced-Connectek, has operated in China’s Xinjiang region, while the others operate elsewhere within China through programs that critics say are coercive, the Information’s Wayne Ma reports. The ties stand in sharp contrast to Apple’s claims that it has zero tolerance for forced labor.

“The new evidence further demonstrates how Apple’s supply chain in China is directly implicated in the ongoing human rights abuses against ethnic minorities from Xinjiang,” said Katie Paul, the director of the Tech Transparency Project.

Apple pushed back on the Information's reporting. 

“Looking for the presence of forced labor is part of every assessment we conduct in every country where we do business,” Apple said in a statement, noting that it “undertook further investigations and found no evidence of forced labor anywhere we operate. We will continue doing all we can to protect workers and ensure they are treated with dignity and respect.”

Three groups focused on diversifying artificial intelligence say they won’t accept funding from Google.

Black in AI, Queer in AI and Widening NLP said in a joint statement that they were protesting Google’s controversial decisions to oust prominent AI ethics researchers Timnit Gebru and Margaret Mitchell, as well as its firing of recruiter April Christina Curley, Wired’s Khari Johnson reports

“Until Google addresses the harm they’ve caused by undermining both inclusion and critical research,” the groups wrote, “we are unable to reconcile Google’s actions with our organizational missions.”

The groups say they’re not pressuring their members to turn down money from Google. Google did not respond to a request for comment.

The Biden administration is reviving a plan to give visas to start-up founders. 

The International Entrepreneur rule lets foreign entrepreneurs live in the United States for up to five years if their start-ups meet benchmarks, the Wall Street Journal’s Michelle Hackman reports. It’s a rebuke to the Trump administration, which tried to get rid of the Obama administration policy.

In a statement, Consumer Technology Association President and CEO Gary Shapiro praised the move, saying that “this rule is a step in the right direction” to modernizing the immigration system.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services says that 3,000 foreign entrepreneurs would qualify annually if the program is properly implemented, with 100,000 jobs being created over a decade.

Inside the industry

Workforce report

Amazon managers say they hire people with the intention of later firing them.

Three managers at the company told Insider’s Eugene Kim and Ashley Stewart they “hire to fire” to meet internal benchmarks for employee turnover. 

“We might hire people that we know we're going to fire, just to protect the rest of the team,” one manager said.

An Amazon representative denied that the company hires employees who it plans to fire. The spokesperson also denied that Amazon uses the phrase “hire-to-fire.”

(Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.)

Trending

Daybook

  • The Atlantic Council hosts an event on social media companies’ reaction to extremist content on their platforms today at 1 p.m.
  • Acting FCC chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel, acting FTC chair Rebecca Kelly Slaughter and Consumer Financial Protection Bureau acting director Dave Uejio discuss consumer protection at a National Association of Attorneys General conference along with Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) today at 3 p.m.
  • The Senate Commerce Committee meets to consider the Endless Frontier Act and the nomination of tech critic Lina Khan to be a Federal Trade Commissioner on Wednesday at 10 a.m. 
  • Sen. Thom Thillis (R-N.C.), former Google CEO Eric Schmidt and Gilman Louie, who ran the CIA’s In-Q-Tel venture capital fund, discuss artificial intelligence at a Center for Strategic and International Studies event on Thursday 3 p.m.

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