(Updates throughout to reflect Biden’s speech.)
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President Joe Biden highlighted the need to protect children online in his State of the Union address to Congress Tuesday night, giving a boost to congressional privacy efforts.
Social media’s mental health impact on children is one of the few issues lawmakers may be able to agree on in a divided Congress. Efforts to pass greater protections for kids came close in the last Congress, and senators are gearing up to reintroduce legislation.
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This is the second year Biden dedicated time in his address to Congress to advocate for privacy protections for kids. The president also called for a ban on advertising targeted at children.
“We must finally hold social media companies accountable for the experiment they are doing, running on our children for profit,” Biden said.
Biden’s words are likely to resonate with lawmakers as they debate kids’ privacy protections. The Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing on protecting kids online next week. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) recently took over as chairman of the committee’s investigations panel, where he vowed to continue work on kids’ privacy.
Blumenthal and Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) are the sponsors of the Kids Online Safety Act, a bill they fought unsuccessfully to include in a spending package late last year. The senators plan to reintroduce the legislation but not before the hearing next week, Blumethal told Bloomberg Goverment.
Blumenthal said he was “very excited” about Biden’s inclusion of kids’ online safety in his speech. “His talking about it will be important for the momentum.”
Blumenthal and Blackburn continue to face some opposition to their bill. Fight for the Future, a digital rights advocacy group, said the bill would do more harm than good by putting LGBTQ youth at risk of surveillance and preventing them from accessing online resources and community.
Blumenthal said his staff are having conversations with groups that have concerns, which is part of the reason the bill hasn’t been reintroduced. “We really want to take account of what they have to say,” Blumenthal said. However, he added he probably won’t satisfy all the objections.
In a statement ahead of the State of the Union speech, Fight for the Future said Congress should instead focus on passing a comprehensive privacy law that would protect all Americans.
In addition to doing just that, Biden also called on Congress to seek transparency of platform algorithms he will say discriminate against Americans and sow division. The speech proposed strict limits on personal data use, especially for sensitive data such as location and health information.
“The burden must fall on companies — not consumers — to minimize how much information they collect,” a White House fact sheet released before Biden’s speech stated.
To contact the reporter on this story: Maria Curi in Washington at firstname.lastname@example.org