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Blumenthal, Schumer to Meet

Senate Commerce Passes Kids’ Privacy Bills for Second Straight Year

The Senate Commerce Committee passed two kids’ privacy bills Thursday, for the second year in a row (see 2211160078 and 2207270057).

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Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., was scheduled to meet Thursday with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., to discuss floor time prospects for the bill, said Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., who reintroduced the Kids Online Safety Act (KOSA) (S-3663) with Blumenthal. “Needless to say, the decision about floor time is the leader’s,” said Blumenthal. “I’m very hopeful that we’ll see it come to that.”

The committee also passed the Children and Teens’ Online Privacy Protection Act (S-1628), a bipartisan bill led by Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass. “Now we have to move,” Markey told us Thursday: There’s a youth mental health “crisis.” The committee passed the bills amid a flurry of legislative announcements and efforts to attach other tech bills to the advancing legislation.

Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., received a successful voice vote to add his Filter Bubble Transparency Act to KOSA. Thune introduced S-2024 with Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii. The bill would require platforms to notify users when they’re using algorithms to manipulate feeds, and users would have the option to turn off algorithmic filters for content ranking. Thune said it’s a simple response to addressing the long-term damage of social media. He offered the bill at the 2022 markup as an amendment but withdrew it with the understanding the committee would consider his bill at a later time.

Schatz offered and withdrew his Protecting Kids on Social Media Act. Introduced with Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., the bill would “set a minimum age of 13 to use social media apps and would require parental consent for 13 through 17 year-olds.” Schatz said he withdrew the bill Thursday because he had a productive conversation with Chair Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., and a brief conversation with ranking member Ted Cruz, R-Texas, about future committee consideration. Schatz said he’s confident the committee could work toward marking up the legislation in the fall. Cantwell said she wants to work with Schatz to mark up legislation in the future, but the draft language still needs to be perfected, she said. Cruz said he’s “eager” to work with Schatz on the bill. Cantwell said the committee will turn to AI and privacy issues when Congress returns in September.

The Parents Television and Media Council urged passage of the kids’ privacy bills. “Children are up against powerful social media algorithms that promote harmful content to them and companies that seek to prey upon children’s privacy for their financial gain,” Vice President Melissa Henson said. “Congress must act to better protect children online.” The Senate Judiciary Committee is seeking Schumer’s support for its own kids’ safety legislation (see 2305240050).

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., introduced his long-awaited legislation with Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., Thursday which would create a new tech regulator (see 2307170054). The Digital Competition Protection Commission Act would establish a bipartisan commission that has “concurrent” jurisdiction with the FTC and DOJ. The new agency would be granted new statutory authority for implementing rules that “promote competition, protect privacy, protect consumers, and strengthen our national security,” said Warren’s office. The bill has support from Accountable Tech, the American Economic Liberties Project, the Center for American Progress, Color of Change, Common Sense Media, the Open Markets Institute and Public Citizen.

Tech groups opposed the bill. “Building more bureaucracy won’t help the U.S. win the global innovation race against adversaries abroad,” Computer & Communications Industry Association President Matt Schruers said. “Technology is suffused throughout our economy and technology regulation touches a host of federal agencies – from healthcare to education to defense.” NetChoice Vice President Carl Szabo urged Congress not to “cede more of its power and American freedom to these wasteful agencies who have little regard for the rule of law or congressional oversight.“