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The Technology 202

A newsletter briefing on the intersection of technology and politics.

Advocates call on Congress to bolster protections for kids in privacy bill

The Technology 202

A newsletter briefing on the intersection of technology and politics.

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Below: Europe is set to force tech companies to hand over more data about how they're fighting disinformation, and Microsoft pledges to respect unionization at Activision Blizzard. First:

Advocates call on Congress to bolster protections for kids in privacy bill

When President Biden called on Congress to “strengthen privacy protections” and “ban targeted advertising to children” during his State of the Union address in March, kids’ safety advocates lauded the endorsement as a game changer that could jump-start negotiations.

But as lawmakers consider their most significant proposal to date on the subject, some advocates warn that the bill’s protections for kids aren’t strong enough and language around age verification could give companies an easy way to skirt enforcement. 

On Tuesday, House lawmakers will hold a legislative hearing on the American Data Privacy and Protection Act, a recently unveiled draft privacy bill that marked the biggest breakthrough for efforts to pass a federal law in years. The proposal includes a number of provisions aimed at safeguarding children’s data in particular, including a ban on targeted advertising.

The proposal has drawn praise from a broad coalition of groups, including tech trade associations such as TechNet and children’s safety groups like Fairplay, even as many have called for at-times conflicting changes to the legislation. 

But many kids’ privacy advocates are sounding the alarm that the bill contains major loopholes, which could help tech companies like YouTube and Instagram dodge accountability. 

“I think it’s a step in the right direction, but we need to see it fleshed out a lot more,” Fairplay Executive Director Josh Golin told me. “As written now, I don't think it would be enough.”

Currently, the proposal would prohibit companies from serving targeted ads to users if they have “actual knowledge” that they are under 17. 

Advocates said that type of standard would allow companies to feign ignorance when they are caught breaking the rule, which could lead to underenforcement of the protections. Similar language requiring knowledge of a users’ age has been a major hurdle in enforcing existing children’s federal privacy laws, advocates said. 

Katharina Kopp, deputy director of the consumer group Center for Digital Democracy, said the proposal shouldn’t “let most companies get away with claiming that they did not know that minors were on their sites or used their apps and services.”

Some suggested the ban should extend to situations where a company would be expected to know that a user is under 17 if they acted in due diligence. It’s a concept that has drawn pushback from some industry and civil society groups, who argue that imposing a duty on companies to proactively vet users’ ages would be overly burdensome.

Spokespeople for Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.), one of the lawmakers leading the push, declined to comment. Spokespeople for Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) did not return a request for comment.

A legislative aide familiar with the negotiations, who was not authorized to speak on the record, noted that the language requiring companies to have “actual knowledge” that they are serving ads is bracketed in the draft bill, meaning it’s still a live debate and subject to negotiation.

Children’s privacy advocates also expressed concern that the federal measure would override surging efforts at the state level to expand protections for kids, including proposals in California that experts say would make the state a national leader.

Golin called it “deeply concerning” that the federal proposal would preempt a bipartisan proposal in California to create an “age appropriate design code” for digital platforms, which he said is “significantly stronger than this bill” when it comes to children’s protections. 

Assemblymember Buffy Wicks (D), who introduced the California measure, called the federal bill “limited in terms of its protections for children” and urged officials in Washington to reject efforts backed by industry groups to override state-level children’s privacy laws.

“California shouldn't be penalized for doing more aggressive action,” Wicks, who said she expects her bill to be signed into law later this year, told The Technology 202.

“Without preemption like we have in our draft bill, protections for children will change across state lines,” said Sean Kelly, a spokesperson for Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.). “That isn't effective or safe.”

The legislative aide noted that industry groups have expressed concern that the language preempting state measures doesn’t go far enough and needs to be expanded. 

The dispute underscores the delicate balance lawmakers will need to strike to reach a final deal on a privacy bill, which has been subject to intense debate for years.

And it highlights how lawmakers continue to face some of the same pressure points. For years, California lawmakers have warned their colleagues against passing a broader privacy bill that would override the state’s landmark California Consumer Privacy Act. Now, as advocates push to pass children’s privacy laws in statehouses nationwide, a similar dynamic is emerging.

“I think we have an opportunity here in California to really drive that change, and it would be very unfortunate if our federal partners thwarted our ability to do that,” Wicks said.

Our top tabs

Major tech companies plan to sign on to E.U.’s updated anti-disinformation rules

Under an updated “code of practice on disinformation,” companies like Facebook, Google, TikTok and Twitter would have to share country-by-country breakdowns on how they tackle disinformation, the Financial Times’s Javier Espinoza reports. The voluntary code is set to be updated Thursday.

“The new requirements will force tech companies to provide other detailed data such as the number of bots removed, the artificial intelligence systems deployed to weed out fake news and the number of content moderators deployed per country,” he writes.

The rules will eventually be enforced through Europe’s Digital Services Act. The rules, which would force tech companies to more aggressively police their platforms, hang in the balance as the European Parliament and France hammer out their differences.

Microsoft says it will respect Activision Blizzard unionization

The company says it will enter a labor neutrality agreement with the Communications Workers of America union, which will be legally binding, Shannon Liao reports. The agreement will go into effect two months after Microsoft’s $68.7 billion deal to buy Activision is finalized. The deal is set to close by June 2023.

The agreement “means that we respect the right of our employees to make informed decisions on their own,” Microsoft President Brad Smith told The Post. “It means that we don’t try to put a thumb on the scale to influence or pressure them. We give people the opportunity to exercise their right to choose by voting. … It’s something that’s respectful of everyone, more amicable and avoids business disruption.”

The agreement comes amid a unionization push in the North American gaming industry and other parts of the U.S. economy. Activision last week announced that it was entering negotiations with Raven Software quality assurance testers.

To appease E.U. regulators, Google proposes letting rivals place ads on YouTube

The offer could pave the way for Google to resolve a European antitrust case without a fine, Reuters’s Foo Yun Chee reports. For months, Google has reportedly sought to settle the investigation. A fine could cost the company billions of dollars.

“The E.U. competition watchdog singled out Google's requirement that advertisers use its Ad Manager to display ads on YouTube and potential restrictions on the way in which rivals serve ads on YouTube,” Yun Chee writes. “It is also looking into Google's requirement that advertisers use its services Display & Video 360 and Google Ads to buy YouTube ads.” 

The European Commission and Google declined to comment to Reuters.

Rant and rave

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Inside the industry

Amazon builds property empire, quietly buying land across the US (Bloomberg)

Agency scanner

Wall Street's top cop warns on encrypted texts, market FOMO (Bloomberg)

Hill happenings

Lawmakers make bipartisan push for new government powers to block U.S. investments in China (Wall Street Journal)

Competition watch

Amazon offers to share data, boost rivals to dodge EU antitrust fines (Reuters)


Musk to attend Twitter staff Q&A meet for first time since launching bid (Reuters)


  • Spotify has announced the founding members of its Safety Advisory Council.


  • The House Energy and Commerce Committee holds a hearing on privacy legislation on Tuesday at 10:30 a.m.
  • The German Marshall Fund of the United States hosts an event on algorithmic auditing on Wednesday at 11 a.m.

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