WASHINGTON (CBS / AP) – Senators put a leader from San Bruno-based YouTube on the defensive Tuesday, along with leaders from TikTok and Snapchat, and asked them what they are doing to ensure the safety of young users on their platforms.
With reference to the harm that vulnerable young people can get from the sites – from eating disorders to exposure to sexually explicit content and material that promotes addictive substances – lawmakers also sought the leaders’ support for legislation that strengthens the protection of children on social media. . But they only got a little firm commitment.
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“The problem is clear: Big Tech is preying on children and teens to make more money,” Senator Edward Markey, D-Mass., Said at a hearing in the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Consumer Protection.
The subcommittee recently took testimony from former Facebook data researcher Frances Haugen, who has compiled an internal business survey showing that the company’s Instagram photo-sharing service appears to be seriously harming some teens. The subcommittee is expanding its focus on exploring other technology platforms, with millions or billions of users also competing for the attention and loyalty of young people.
“We hear the same stories of harm” caused by YouTube, TikTok and Snapchat, said Senator Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., Panel chairman.
“This is a big tobacco moment for Big Tech … It’s a moment of accounting,” he said. “There will be accountability. This time is different.”
To that end, Markey asked the three leaders – Michael Beckerman, a TikTok vice president and head of public policy for America; Leslie Miller, Vice President of Government Affairs and Public Policy for YouTube owner Google; and Jennifer Stout, vice president of global public policy for Snapchat parent company Snap Inc. – if they would support his bipartisan legislation that would give children new privacy rights and ban targeted ads and video playback for children.
In a lengthy exchange, as Markey tried to pull a commitment to support, leaders avoided giving a direct approval and insisted that their platforms already comply with the proposed restrictions. They said they are seeking a dialogue with legislators as legislation is drafted.
It was not good enough for Markey and Blumenthal, who perceived a classic Washington lobby game in a moment of crisis for the social media and technology industry. “This is the talk we’ve seen over and over and over and over again,” Blumenthal told them. Approving legislative goals in a general way is “meaningless” unless supported by specific support, he said.
“Sex and drugs are violations of our societal standards; they have no place on TikTok,” Beckerman said. TikTok has tools in place, such as screen time management, to help young people and parents moderate how much time children spend on the app, and what they see, he said.
The company says it focuses on age-appropriate experiences and notes that some features, such as instant messaging, are not available to younger users. The video platform, which is wildly popular with teenagers and young children, is owned by the Chinese company ByteDance. In just five years since its launch, it has gained an estimated 1 billion monthly users.
Earlier this year, after federal regulators ordered TikTok to reveal how its practices affect children and teens, the platform tightened its privacy practices for users under 18 years of age.
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Pressured by Senator Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., About a 19-year-old who is said to have died of counterfeit painkillers he bought through Snapchat, Stout said: “We are absolutely determined to remove all drug dealers from Snapchat.” She said the platform has implemented detection measures against dealers, but acknowledged that they are often circumvented.
Stout argued that Snapchat’s platform differs from the others by relying on people, not artificial intelligence, to moderate content.
Snapchat allows people to send pictures, videos and messages that are meant to disappear quickly, a lure to its young users who seek to avoid sniffing out parents and teachers. Hence its “Ghostface Chillah” faceless (and wordless) white logo.
Only 10 years old, Snapchat says, a whopping 90% of 13- to 24-year-olds in the United States use the service. It reported 306 million daily users in the July-September quarter.
Miller said YouTube has worked to provide children and families with protection and parental controls, such as time constraints, to limit viewing to age-appropriate content. YouTube Kids, available in around 70 countries, has an estimated 35 million weekly users.
“We do not prioritize profits over security. We are not waiting to act, ”she said.
The three platforms are woven into the fabric of young people’s lives, and they often affect their attire, dance moves and diet, potentially for obsession. Peer pressure to access apps is strong. Social media can offer entertainment and education, but platforms have been misused to harm children and promote bullying, vandalism in schools, eating disorders and manipulative marketing, lawmakers say.
The panel wants to learn how algorithms and product design can magnify harm to children, promote addiction and invasion of privacy. And Blumenthal in particular asked the leaders if there had been an independent study of the platforms’ impact on young people. He said lawmakers want to receive information from companies about such research soon.
TikTok, in its first-ever testimony before Congress, received particularly harsh criticism during the hearing, especially from conservative Republican lawmakers who highlighted its Chinese ownership. The company says it stores all TikTok US data in the US with a backup facility in Singapore.
“TikTok actually collects less data than many of our peers,” Beckerman said.
Late. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, told Beckerman he avoided questions more than any witness he has ever seen in Congress.
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