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The Technology 202

A newsletter briefing on the intersection of technology and politics.

Lawmakers aim to make California a national leader on kids online safety

The Technology 202

A newsletter briefing on the intersection of technology and politics.

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Happy Tuesday! Have thoughts on how the Supreme Court’s leaked draft ruling on abortion rights may impact the tech industry? Let me know: cristiano.lima@washpost.com.

Below: Amazon organizers could face a long road to unionizing, and another Apple store is set to make a run at unionizing. First:

Lawmakers aim to make California a national leader on kids online safety

Legislators in California are mounting a sweeping campaign to boost protections for children online that advocates say could give the state the toughest safety laws in the United States. 

On Tuesday, a state panel is set to consider legislation to open social media companies up to liability if their platform designs cause addiction that leads to harm in kids and teens. 

Amid a lack of action on Capitol Hill, it’s the latest instance of state officials pushing to pass new rules for the Internet. And California’s effort marks the most ambitious state-level play yet on kids’ safety. 

The proposal zeroes in on the features platforms like Facebook, Snapchat and TikTok use to keep consumers engaged — like advertisements and notifications — that children’s safety groups say feed into a cycle of addiction and exploitation for younger users. And it would give parents and regulators a tool to seek monetary damages if it does lead to harm. 

“If you're going to create a product that children use, you need to design that product in a way that doesn't result in some of those children having to seek psychiatric care,” Assemblymember Jordan Cunningham (R), who is leading the bill with Assemblymember Buffy Wicks (D), said during an interview Monday. 

In February, Cunningham and Wicks unveiled a separate bill styled after new regulations in the United Kingdom that would create an “age-appropriate” standard that companies would have to follow in designing their platforms, including limiting how much data they collect from kids. The measure drew its first endorsement from a tech company in March, as we first reported.  

Jim Steyer, CEO of advocacy group Common Sense Media, said that if passed, the two proposals would make California a national leader on children’s online safety. 

“This will be a major step forward in terms of … reining in the companies,” he said. 

And he said it would be particularly impactful for California to pass such a measure, given that it’s home to many of the technology giants that would be most impacted. 

“California is going to lead the way and should lead the way,” Steyer said. 

The state-level effort comes as a bipartisan group of senators, led by Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), push to pass new federal safety standards for digital platforms and other sites. 

The campaign gained new life after Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen disclosed internal research suggesting the company’s products made some young users’ mental health problems worse. But it’s still unclear whether there’s enough support or momentum in Congress to get children’s safety measures signed into law in the near future. 

Steyer said that in lieu of federal action, his group is urging states to act. 

“Our strategy is, okay, if we can't regulate [in Congress], if Washington is too dysfunctional … then we're going to pass it in California to become the law of the land,” he said. 

“I think it will be a model that can be copied in other states, and eventually if Congress gets around to doing it,” Cunningham said. 

But the campaign is facing pushback from groups funded by the tech industry, who argue the bills won’t fix the issues its proponents claim they will. 

Carl Szabo, vice president and general counsel for trade group NetChoice, said the addiction legislation would penalize harmless services companies use to attract users. And he argued it would paint too broad a brush on what constitutes addictive features. 

“If you have a feature or design feature that encourages people to use your product, that is considered addiction,” he said of the bill. “The problem is the term is unclear.”

And he argued it raised constitutional concerns. “What you're essentially doing is chilling the ability for businesses to develop content, show content and produce content,” said Szabo, whose group counts Facebook, Google and Twitter as members. 

Cunningham said tech groups have been more willing to engage with legislators on their bill to create an age-appropriate design code but have pushed back harder on the bill targeting addictive features. 

Steyer called that unsurprising because the bill would bring “financial accountability” to the companies. “This is time to get tough and time to make it clear that you can't do this to kids and genes,” he said.

Our top tabs

Amazon could delay unionization efforts for years

As labor organizers work to unionize Amazon warehouses, experts warn that the company could delay unionization for years if it decides to dig in its heels and put up a fight, Gerrit De Vynck and Rachel Lerman report

Workers at a warehouse on Staten Island voted against unionization as recently as Monday, but the Amazon Labor Union (ALU) and national unions say they expect more Amazon warehouses to vote to organize in the coming months.

Amazon has strongly opposed unionization at its facilities. The company’s “employees have the choice of whether or not to join a union” and “they always have,” Amazon spokesperson Kelly Nantel said. “As a company, we don’t think unions are the best answer for our employees.”

One Amazon warehouse in Staten Island voted to unionize in April, giving upstart ALU a boost. But Amazon wants to overturn that vote, arguing that organizers and the National Labor Relations Board acted improperly. If its objections are dismissed, the company could choose to bargain with the union or even refuse to negotiate.

Apple workers near Baltimore launch union drive

The effort by workers at the Towson Mall store near Baltimore represents the third Apple store to try to unionize at the world’s most valuable company, Aaron Gregg and Reed Albergotti report. Organizers have been drumming up support at the store for nearly a year with the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, three people involved in the effort told Aaron and Reed.

“In recent interviews with The Post, nine of the Towson Mall employees said they hope organizing will give them a seat at the table on things like coronavirus safety, hours and pay,” Aaron and Reed write. “They complained that the company’s scheduling system — run by a corporate office in Austin — gives too little control to specific stores, making it difficult for people to balance work with other life pursuits.” They also complained about benefits not being commensurate with tenure at the company and slow pay increases at a time when the company’s profits are soaring.

An Apple spokesperson didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment, but the company previously said it values its workers and offers “very strong compensation and benefits for full time and part time employees, including health care, tuition reimbursement, new parental leave, paid family leave, annual stock grants and many other benefits.”

E.U. regulators accuse Apple’s mobile payments service of breaking antitrust rules

Apple can ask for a hearing and can send a written response before the European Commission issues its decision in the case, Reuters’s Foo Yun Chee reports. The company could be forced to pay billions of dollars in fines.

“We have indications that Apple restricted third-party access to key technology necessary to develop rival mobile wallet solutions on Apple's devices,” said European antitrust commissioner Margrethe Vestager, who also said that “we preliminarily found that Apple may have restricted competition, to the benefit of its own solution Apple Pay,” 

Apple defended itself. “Apple Pay is only one of many options available to European consumers for making payments, and has ensured equal access to [near-field communication] while setting industry-leading standards for privacy and security,” it told Reuters.

Rant and rave

Facebook's podcast service is soon to be no more, Bloomberg News's Ashley Carman reports. Many people had the same reaction: “Facebook had a podcast service?” Here's journalist Olivia Solon:

Relay FM co-founder Myke Hurley:

Republic's Chris Messina:

Inside the industry

Boris Johnson joins last-ditch bid to win Arm listing for London (Financial Times)

DeSantis says he won’t lure Twitter to Florida because of increased costs (Bloomberg)

FCC shuts down talk of blocking Twitter acquisition (Protocol)

Hill happenings

Judge rules January 6 committee can obtain RNC and Trump campaign email data (CNN)

Privacy monitor

Grindr user data was sold through ad networks (Wall Street Journal)

Mental health apps have terrible privacy protections, report finds (The Verge)

Mentions

  • Drew Pusateri, a spokesman at Facebook parent Meta, has left the company. Pusateri hasn’t announced his plans.
  • Arvind Narayanan, an associate professor who leads Princeton University’s Center for Information Technology Policy, and J. Nathan Matias, an assistant professor who leads Cornell University’s Citizens and Technology Lab, are joining the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University later this year as visiting researchers.

Daybook

  • A Senate Health, Education Labor and Pensions Committee panel holds a hearing on the broadband workforce today at 9:30 a.m.
  • CrowdTangle founder Brandon Silverman and other experts testify at a Senate Judiciary Committee panel’s hearing on platform transparency on Wednesday at 2 p.m.
  • Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas testifies before the Senate Homeland Security Committee on Wednesday at 2:30 p.m. He is expected to be pressed on DHS’s Disinformation Governance Board.
  • Amazon Labor Union president Christian Smalls testifies at a Senate Budget Committee hearing on whether companies that violate labor laws should get federal contracts on Thursday at 11 a.m.

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