What the eyes of Congress consider when buying technology.

Most Democrats and Republicans agree that the federal government should better regulate big tech companies, especially social media platforms. But there is very little consensus on how it should be done.

Should TikTok be banned? Should young children be banned from social media? Can the government ensure that personal information is secure? What about a new artificial intelligence interface? Or should users regulate themselves, leaving the government out of it?

Technology regulation is intensifying on Capitol Hill as concerns grow about China’s ownership of TikTok and parents in the post-pandemic mental health crisis worry about what their children see online. Lawmakers have raised hopes of a deal by introducing bipartisan bills. But any effort to control the mammoth industry faces major hurdles, as tech companies fight interference.

Noting that many young people are struggling, President Joe Biden said in his State of the Union speech in February that “it’s time” for bipartisan legislation to impose tighter limits on the collection of personal information and ban advertising aimed at children.

“Finally, we have to hold social media companies accountable for their attempts to profit from our children,” Biden said.

Tech companies have fiercely fought any federal intrusion, and have operated without strict federal oversight for decades now, making any new laws or regulations more complex.

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Children’s safety

Several House and Senate bills attempt to make social media, and the Internet in general, safer for children online. Lawmakers cite several examples of teenagers who have taken their own lives or engaged in risky behavior after being cyberbullied.

In the Senate, at least two competing bills focus on children’s online safety. It was approved by the Senate Commerce Committee last year by Sens. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn. It requires social media companies to be more transparent about their operations and enable child safety settings by default. Minors will have the option to disable addictive product features and algorithms that push certain content.

The idea, the senators say, is that platforms should be “secure by design.” Blumenthal and Blackburn’s bill last week would require social media companies to prevent certain risks to minors — including promoting suicide, eating disorders, drug abuse, sexual exploitation and other illegal behavior.

A second bill introduced last month by four senators — Democratic Sens. Brian Schatz of Hawaii and Rep. Chris Murphy of Connecticut, and Republican Sens. Tom Cotton of Arkansas and Kathy Britt of Alabama — takes a more aggressive approach, banning children under 13. From using social media platforms and asking for parental consent for minors. It also prohibits the companies from algorithmically recommending content to users under the age of 18.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has not weighed in on the specific legislation, but told reporters on the Internet last week that “I believe we need some kind of protection for children.”

Critics of the bill, including some civil rights groups and advocates aligned with tech companies, say the proposals threaten teenagers’ online privacy and could prevent them from accessing content that could help them, such as resources for people who are considering suicide or struggling with sexuality. and gender identity.

“Legislators need to focus on educating and empowering families to take control of their online experiences,” said Carl Szabo of NetChoice, a group aligned with Metta, TikTok, Google and Amazon, among other companies.

Data privacy

Biden’s State of the Union remarks by Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass. And Bill Cassidy, R-La., appears to support legislation that would expand children’s online privacy protections by barring companies from collecting personal information from teenagers. and banning advertising aimed at children and young people. The bill, also reintroduced last week, would create something called an “opt-out button” that would allow parents and children to remove as much personal information as possible.

A broader House effort seeks to give adults and children more control over their data through what lawmakers call a “national privacy standard.” The bill, which passed the House Energy and Commerce Committee last year with broad bipartisan support, seeks to limit the amount of data collected and make it illegal to target ads to children, violating state laws that try to enforce privacy restrictions. But the bill, which would have given consumers more rights to file lawsuits over privacy violations, has not reached the House floor.

Prospects for the House bill are unclear, as Republicans hold a majority. House Energy and Commerce Chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rogers, R-Wash…, has held several hearings on data privacy and made the issue a priority. But the committee has yet to come up with a new bill.

TikTok ban/China

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have introduced bills to ban TikTok or make it easier to block it after a battle ended after TikTok CEO Xu Zicheu objected to the company’s ties to the Chinese Communist government, data security and harmful content. The app.

Chew tried to convince lawmakers that the popular video-sharing app prioritized user safety and should not be banned because of its Chinese ties. But the testimony gave new energy to his efforts.

Shortly after the hearing, Republican Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri tried to force a Senate vote on legislation that would ban TikTok from operating in the United States. But it was blocked by his Republican colleague, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, who said the ban would violate the Constitution and anger millions of voters who use the app.

Another bill sponsored by Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida would, like Hawley’s bill, block U.S. economic transactions with TikTok, but would create a new framework for the executive branch to block foreign apps deemed hostile. The bill is sponsored by Reps. Raja Krishnamurthy, D-Ill., and Mike Gallagher, R-Wis.

Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Mark Warner, D-Va., and South Dakota Sen. John Thune, the No. 2 Senate Republican, have broad support for the Senate’s bipartisan bill, which does not specifically name TikTok but would provide the Commerce Department. Ability to assess and limit external threats across technology platforms.

The White House has indicated it supports that bill, but it’s unclear whether it will pass in the Senate or find support among House Republicans.

TikTok has launched an extensive lobbying campaign for its survival, including lobbying influencers and young voters to argue that the app is harmless.

Artificial intelligence

A new question for Congress is whether lawmakers should act to regulate artificial intelligence.

Senate Majority Leader Schumer has prioritized the emerging technology, noting that the United States must stay ahead of China and other countries looking at regulations on AI products. Working with AIA experts, it laid out a general framework for what the regulation could look like, including disclosure of the people and data involved in developing the technology, greater transparency and an explanation of how bots receive responses.

Any eventual legislation, Schumer said, “will ensure that America can and will lead with this transformative technology while simultaneously preventing the worst possible harm to our nation.”

The White House, which recently announced an investment of $140 million to establish seven new AI research institutes, also paid attention to the issue.

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