Senate online safety bill gives children more control over social media

Social networks would also have to limit exposure to harmful content.

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Senators are still concerned social networks aren't doing enough to protect children. The Washington Post reports Senators Marsha Blackburn and Richard Blumenthal have introduced a bill, the Kids Online Safety Act (KOSA), that would give kids more control over their privacy and safety on social media while setting stricter guidelines for the companies in question.

Most notably, social media firms would have to give children under 16 tools to protect their data, turn off "addictive" features and bow out of algorithm-based recommendations. The "strongest settings" would have to be enabled by default, according to the bill. Parents would also get controls to help pinpoint harmful behavior, while both camps would receive a dedicated channel for reporting those harms affecting children.

Social networks, meanwhile, would have to "prevent and mitigate" exposure to inappropriate content, including self-harm, eating disorders, sexual exploitation and alcohol. They would also have to conduct yearly independent audits of their KOSA compliance and the risks to children. Similarly, the social sites would have to turn over "critical datasets" to academic and public interest researchers hoping to study child safety.

The bill is effectively a response to months of inquiries into tech giants' handling of child safety, with a particular focus on the testimony of Facebook (now Meta) whistleblower Frances Haugen. She called on the company to make multiple changes to protect children, including an end to algorithmic ranking, opening up its research and modifying the Communications Decency Act's Section 230 for more accountability. Senators also asked Instagram head Adam Mosseri to testify after concerns Meta might not have told the truth about hiding research into harmful effects on children.

We've asked Meta for comment. It has made changes in response to calls for greater child protections, including offers to share data and teen safety features like screen time tracking, break reminders and bulk content deletion.

There are no guarantees KOSA will pass the Senate, let alone become law. It would join existing legislation that includes COPPA, which protects internet privacy for children under 13. The bipartisan nature of the bill may help, though. Blumenthal is also tenacious in attempts to curb harmful online behavior. This is the second bill tackling Big Tech that Blumenthal has introduced in recent weeks, after reintroducing the controversial EARN IT Act.