with Aaron Schaffer

Meet Share Bear, the toy that knows everything about you … and then sells it to billion-dollar tech companies. 

This cuddly yet creepy companion is part of a new campaign launching later this week called “Twisted Toys,” which aims to raise awareness about the ways tech companies prey on children’s data. The upbeat commercials at first appear as if they would run during Saturday morning cartoons, but quickly take a dark turn. They distort familiar childhood toys with risky and addictive features common across the Internet. 

Share Bear, which has a camera for an eye, aims to highlight the exploitation of data. Another ad for a “Stalkie Talkie” touts a bright, plastic walkie talkie, and warns of the risks of children connecting with adult strangers online. There’s even a spot for a night light that wants your attention around-the-clock

The toys in the upcoming ads aren’t real, but they highlight actual concerns about how tech products affect children. 

The campaign is backed by 5Rights, a foundation advocating for children's digital rights helmed by Beeban Kidron, a member of the British House of Lords. She has backed regulation to protect kids online in the United Kingdom, and now she's working with U.S. organizations to bring that fight across the Atlantic with this new campaign. 

“Twisted toys reimagines the norms of the digital world in traditional toys, and says, ‘Is that okay?’ ” Kidron told me in an interview. “And I sort of challenge anyone to say any of these toys are okay.” 

5Rights is working with Common Sense Media, Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood, Center for Digital Democracy and Parents Together on the campaign, which will officially launch on Wednesday. 

The ads aim to show how absurd it would be to pick up a game or stuffed animal in the toy aisle if it came with the known risks of services such as YouTube, TikTok, Instagram or some video games. The ads don't focus on any individual tech companies, but rather the broader industry-wide problems of tracking, child exploitation, online harassment and excessive screen time. 

Kidron was able to gain cross-party support in Britain to pass an amendment that became the Age Appropriate Design Code, which aims to give children under the age of 18 better protections online. Now she says it's time for U.S. lawmakers to take similar steps, especially because regulations in the United States could have far-reaching consequences for how American tech giants operate throughout the world. 

“If America is back, you need to do this,” she said. 

The campaign comes amid a broader effort in the United States to protect children online. 

Members of both political parties increasingly have called for stronger regulation to protect children online, especially as children spent more time in front of screens as the pandemic forced school and socialization online. 

Rep. Lori Trahan (D-Mass.) praised the Twisted Toys campaign in a statement. As a mother herself, she said she's all too familiar with the concerns the ads highlight, and it's time for companies to design products with children's needs in mind. 

Trahan said the Age Appropriate Design Code, which took effect last year, is having a big impact, and it's time for the United States to follow suit. 

“It’s time for the United States and the rest of the world to catch up,” she said in a statement. 

Our top tabs

Europe’s antitrust regulators plan to open a formal investigation into Google’s advertising business by the end of the year.

The probe could represent the tech giant’s most significant regulatory challenge yet, Reuters’s Foo Yun Chee reports. It comes after a $268 million settlement between France and the company over its ad business. As part of that settlement, the company agreed to change its advertising practices in France.

Google did not respond to a request for comment. The European Commission declined to comment.

An appeals court sided with an FCC ban on rural phone carriers’ use of subsidies to buy Huawei equipment.

A three-judge panel on the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals refused to hear Huawei’s request to throw out the rule, saying the Federal Communications Commission was within its power to issue the ban, the Associated Press reports. The ruling came as the FCC advanced a proposed ban on purchases of equipment made by Huawei and other Chinese companies.

“Assessing security risks to telecom networks falls in the FCC’s wheelhouse,” the judges wrote, rejecting claims that it’s a “junior-varsity” agency on issues dealing with national security. Huawei did not respond to a request for comment.

Google is developing a new way of measuring skin tones.

The alternative to the industry-standard Fitzpatrick Skin Type comes as the technology industry faces a reckoning over race, discrimination and bias, which include the effects of algorithms on marginalized communities, Reuters’s Paresh Dave reports. Critics say the classification system can lead to technology that doesn’t work as well for people of color.

We are working on alternative, more inclusive, measures that could be useful in the development of our products, and will collaborate with scientific and medical experts, as well as groups working with communities of color, the company said. It declined to provide additional details about the effort.

Rant and rave

A viral petition is calling on Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, who owns The Washington Post, to buy and eat (yes, eat) the Mona Lisa, the New York Times's Anna P. Kambhampaty reports. More people, like ProPublica's Ken Schwencke, are on board:

The Boston Globe's Bina Venkataraman:

The New York Times's Caity Weaver:

Trending

Daybook

  • Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee’s antitrust subcommittee, speaks at a NetChoice event on Tuesday at noon.
  • Oliver Dowden, the United Kingdom’s Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, discusses global competition over technology at a Brookings Institution event on Wednesday at 9 a.m.
  • The House Judiciary Committee marks up antitrust legislation on Wednesday at 10 a.m. 
  • Google CFO Ruth Porat, former TaskRabbit CEO Stacy Brown-Philpot and former IBM CEO Ginni Rometty speak at a Washington Post Live event on Wednesday at 11:30 a.m.
  • Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo and Margrethe Vestager, Europe's digital enforcer, discuss artificial intelligence and bias at an event hosted by BSA | The Software Alliance on June 24 at 11 a.m.
  • Rep. Ken Buck (R-Colo.), the top Republican on the House Judiciary antitrust subcommittee, discusses antitrust legislation at a Washington Post Live event on Friday at 11 a.m.

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