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It’s a small data point with big implications: It’s the latest sign that leaders in Silicon Valley are rallying around efforts to boost digital safeguards for kids as policymakers around the world increasingly push for tighter restraints on industry practices.
The bipartisan California bill is modeled after a landmark set of rules from the United Kingdom known as the Age-Appropriate Design Code, which requires companies to incorporate stringent privacy settings, limits on data collection and other safety features for kids into their services.
While prominent tech companies including Snap have expressed support for aspects of the U.K. framework, Roblox is the first to publicly voice support for its U.S. counterpart, which children’s safety advocates are hoping will usher in a wave of similar bills across the country.
“The U.K.’s Age-Appropriate Design Code is closely aligned with Roblox’s values and its commitment to principle-based safety by design, and we are glad to see California taking steps to follow this model,” said Roblox CEO David Baszucki, in a company first.
The movement to pass tighter rules around children’s online safety gained significant momentum in the wake of revelations by Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen about how the tech giant’s products may harm kids and teens.
The disclosures helped fuel a high-profile Senate investigation into the issue and informed major bipartisan legislation recently unveiled on Capitol Hill. And the push picked up its biggest U.S. endorsement to date last week at the State of the Union, when President Biden called for strengthening children’s privacy protections and lauded Haugen for stepping forward.
But it remains to be seen whether lawmakers in Washington will be able to capitalize on that momentum. In lieu of federal action, state legislators are forging ahead with their own proposals, such as the California bill, which one top advocate said would be the strongest in the United States.
“If this passed in California, it would be light-years ahead of every other state, and given the importance of California and the size of that market, that would be an incredibly important advancement,” said Josh Golin, executive director for the advocacy group Fairplay.
Despite the surge in interest across the private and public sector, tech companies have largely been hesitant to fully embrace specific kids’ safety or privacy measures.
During one hearing in that Senate investigation, Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) pressed executives from TikTok, YouTube and Snapchat to say whether they would support a U.S. version of the U.K. measure — to mixed results.
“I would need to stare at the details of any specific bill, but I certainly support expansions of child safety protections,” said Leslie Miller, YouTube’s vice president of government affairs.
Senators expressed frustration throughout the session that companies wouldn’t offer their full-throated support for some of their more sweeping bills.
Roblox’s Nicky Jackson Colaco said in an interview that the company has long sought to incorporate safety by design into its products, but they felt compelled to weigh in on this bill given how “dramatically” the public conversation on the issue has changed.
“I just think the conversation has evolved and … it became more relevant and important to speak out about the kind of environment that a platform like Roblox wants to promote,” said Colaco, Roblox’s senior director of global public policy and a Google and Facebook alum.
Roblox, which allows users to program and play their own games, has faced some of its own children’s safety woes. A BBC investigation in February found that “some explicit content” has slipped through the platform’s reviews, including sexual material. (A Roblox spokesperson told BBC the issue represents “an extremely small subset of users” who try to break its rules.)
Children’s safety group Common Sense Media gave Roblox a four-star safety rating, noting that “kids' interactions can vary widely … from legitimate player engagement to iffy involvement with possibly predatory users.”
One of the bill’s co-authors said she hopes Roblox's stepping forward will encourage other companies to speak up on kids’ safety legislation.
“I’m hopeful that other companies will follow their lead in recognizing how important it is to raise the bar in the United States,” said California Assemblymember Buffy Wicks (D-Oakland).
Our top tabs
Facebook allows some calls for violence against Russia
Facebook users will be allowed to call for violence against Russian invaders, Elizabeth Dwoskin reports. It’s an unusual exception to the company’s long-standing hate speech rules, which prohibit such language.
“As a result of the Russian invasion of Ukraine we have temporarily made allowances for forms of political expression that would normally violate our rules like violent speech such as ‘death to the Russian invaders.’ We still won’t allow credible calls for violence against Russian civilians,” spokesman Andy Stone said. The new policy was first reported by Reuters.
Outright calls to commit acts of violence tend to be heavily policed by Facebook with few exceptions. Last year, “the company told Iranian activists that it would allow people to call for the death of the country’s leader, Ali Khamenei,” Elizabeth writes. “During a two-week period during anti-government protests there, users were allowed to post the words ‘Death to Khamenei’ or feature videos of people saying or chanting this phrase,” she writes.
Whistleblower complaint details ethical lapses, retaliation at White House science office
The new complaint lays out the most detailed portrait yet of purported unlawful behavior and harassment by former White House Office of Science and Technology Policy director Eric Lander, Tyler Pager reports. Lander stepped down last month after an investigation found credible evidence that he had bullied staff, and Lander acknowledged at the time that he had “caused hurt” to his colleagues.
The latest complaint was submitted to the Office of Special Counsel as well as House and Senate committees. It seeks reinstatement and damages, and claims to have identified at least 15 people who reported abuse while working at OSTP.
“The complaint also alleges that Lander’s behavior was enabled and assisted by other senior managers at OSTP, and according to people familiar with the allegations, some of those individuals remain employed at the White House,” Tyler writes. A White House official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss personnel matters said that “appropriate action” was taken in Lander’s case and that complaints against other OSTP employees “will be thoroughly investigated.”
Lander's attorney disputed the allegations. Attorney Michael N. Levy said the White House's investigation found that Lander “acted completely lawfully,” and that “any suggestion that Dr. Lander treated anyone differently on the basis of gender or race is simply not true.”
TikTok is close to a deal for Oracle to store U.S. user data
It’s part of the company’s attempt to assuage U.S. national security concerns that TikTok user data could be shared with China’s government, Reuters’s Echo Wang and David Shepardson report. Under the agreement, a U.S. data team would be set up to control U.S. user information. The companies are discussing potentially having the team work autonomously, so they’re not supervised or controlled by TikTok.
In 2020, Oracle was in talks to acquire a minority stake in the app when ByteDance came under pressure to sell it. A proposal by a group including Oracle and Walmart was put on hold amid legal and federal reviews. It’s not clear whether the national security panel, the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, will be satisfied by the new arrangement.
A TikTok spokesperson declined to comment to Reuters on the partnership with Oracle. “We continue to invest in data security as part of our overall work to keep our users and their information safe,” they told the outlet. Oracle did not respond to Reuters’s requests for comment.
Rant and rave
A Vanity Fair writer discovered during an interview that Grimes and Tesla chief executive Elon Musk had a second baby. The Big Issue's Greg Barradale:
This interview, where a reporter discovers Grimes and Elon Musk's secret second baby because it's crying upstairs, is one of the wildest things I've read https://t.co/te5K9e4aEU pic.twitter.com/vlKyU6KViP— Greg Barradale (@GregBarradale) March 10, 2022
Science writer Shawn Radcliffe:
I should pay more attention to the background sounds during my interviews with researchers.— Shawn Radcliffe (@ShawnRadcliffe) March 10, 2022
"So, is that a new dog?"
"Cool. Okay, back to COVID ..." https://t.co/rGFCUkfLe7
Breaking Defense's Valerie Insinna:
Like if I grew up and saw an article where my mom was like, "We raised our son to basically be a messiah figure from birth, but society is tough on girls so we're definitely not doing that for our daughter" I would be PISSED— Valerie Insinna (@ValerieInsinna) March 10, 2022
BuzzFeed News's Caroline O'Donovan:
Grimes and Elon had Baby X, then apparently Baby Y. Now they only need Baby S and Baby 3 to have a full suite of children name after the Tesla model lineup! https://t.co/YTumhUTQrT— Caroline O'Donovan (@ceodonovan) March 10, 2022
Inside the industry
Google stops selling cloud services in Russia, ending most of its business in the country (Gerrit De Vynck)
Schadenfreude at sea: The Internet is watching with glee as Russian oligarchs’ yachts are seized (Rachel Lerman and Heather Kelly)
- The FCC holds a public hearing on broadband Internet labels today at 1:30 p.m.
- The Brookings Institution hosts an event on the future of changes to Section 230 on Monday at 10 a.m.
- Federal Reserve of Richmond senior economist and research adviser Nicholas Trachter and former Justice Department official Gregory Werden speak at an Information Technology & Innovation Foundation event on antitrust Wednesday at 10 a.m.
- The R Street Institute hosts an antitrust event on Wednesday at noon.
Before you log off
Tonight, no doubt, one of the wildest finishes in Georgia High School basketball history. And I was blessed enough to call it…1/2… pic.twitter.com/FtchqpaQeK— Chris Mooneyham (@MooneyhamOnAir) March 10, 2022
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