Commentary

GOP Floats New Curbs On Tech Companies

Some Republicans on Capitol Hill suggested this week that Congress should pass new privacy laws that could affect how tech companies collect data from minors.

In the memo “Big Tech Accountability Platform,” issued Thursday, Republican staff on the House Energy and Commerce Committee floated a proposal to expand the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act, which currently prohibits web companies from collecting a host of data from children ages 12 and under, without parental consent.

The memo authors don't offer many specifics, but a bipartisan bill introduced last year, “Preventing Real Online Threats Endangering Children Today (PROTECT) Kids Act,” would have required companies to obtain parental consent before collecting data from anyone younger than 16.

A separate bill unveiled last year, “The Protecting the Information of our Vulnerable Children and Youth Act (Kids PRIVCY Act),” would have forced companies to obtain opt-in consent from users between the ages of 13 and 17 before collecting, transferring or using their data. 

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Thursday's memo also floats the idea that Big Tech -- defined by the authors as companies with an annual revenue of at least $1 billion -- should issue detailed reports about ads shown to children.

The companies issuing those reports would be required to include information such as what types of ads are displayed to minors, how companies verify users' ages and whether content on the platforms is generated by children.

The memo authors also set out various proposals that could affect how large tech companies handle users' speech.

Among other possibilities, the memo floats a plan for Congress to declare large tech platforms places of public accommodation, and then prohibit them from discriminating against users based on their political views. That idea seems designed to address the perception among some Republicans that tech companies suppress conservative speech -- despite a growing body of evidence to the contrary.

An alternative suggestion would require the companies to “provide a measure of due process to users” as part of content-moderation procedures.

A separate proposal would strip large companies of the protections of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act -- which immunizes websites from lawsuits over posts made by users -- if the companies engage in “targeted behavioral advertising.”

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