Big Tech is Invading Your Kid’s Privacy

May 19, 2021

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Senator Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) spoke on the Senate floor to express her concerns with Big Tech and online privacy for children.

 

To watch Senator Blackburn’s speech, click below or here.

 

 

You can read the transcript recorded in the Congressional Records below or click here.

 

Mrs. BLACKBURN. Madam President, one of the benefits of vaccine rates

going up is that school districts will no longer have an excuse to keep

kids and teachers at home for virtual learning. But if I know kids--and

as a mom and a grandmom, I can assure you, I understand the kiddos--

getting them back in the classroom won't get them away from the

screens.

These big tech companies in China and the Silicon Valley have done

their jobs well. For many American kids, devices are integrated into

their everyday lives. There is no escaping that 4-inch plate of glass

in their pockets. It has become a part of their culture.

Now, this addiction to tech doesn't sit well with many parents and

watchdogs. We have all heard arguments that in order to break this

addiction, we need to somehow change the culture and persuade young

people to break their own ties with Big Tech. I have a different

argument: It is Big Tech that needs to change its culture.

As we all know, many of these companies are little more than

glorified ad agencies. Facebook, Twitter, Google, and TikTok have all

been successful because of their advertising strategies. Their job is

to get eyeballs on content and keep fingers scrolling up and down the

screen. This means that with every shiny new update, their advertising

algorithms have also gotten an update.

The more complex and pervasive these tracking figures become, the

harder it is for users to understand what data these companies are

collecting and how that data is going to be used. Not even tech-savvy

adults can keep up with the legalese in those updated privacy policies.

I think if I went around this Chamber and asked ``When is the last

time you read the terms of service on an app update?'' I am willing to

bet the answer for most of us would be ``Well, it was a long time

ago,'' or it could be maybe even never.

Big tech companies have taken advantage of that, and they have

created

within their sphere a culture of pushing boundaries. It is do first,

apologize later, and never ever respond to questions about their

policies with a straight answer.

This Congress, I reintroduced the BROWSER Act as a way of pushing

that culture toward a more consumer-friendly consent model. It would

require tech companies to add opt-in and opt-out features to their data

collection policies and inject some transparency into the relationship

between the user and the service provider. It is a great place to start

and a key element of my virtual new protection agenda.

Regulation hasn't kept up with innovation--that much is clear--but

neither has demand for corporate responsibility and transparency. It is

time to change that, and I encourage all of my colleagues on each side

of the aisle to take a look at the BROWSER Act.

But what about those kids? Tech companies are increasingly catering

to young demographics, which means the kids are exposed to more of the

online world every day, which, depending on what corner you find

yourself in, is a productive educational experience, or it could be a

life-and-death situation

Now, the science tells us that, physically, children do not have the

cognitive ability to understand the advertisements and data collection

scenarios that they are being thrown into. Their brains are simply not

developed enough. But the security moms out there are keeping an eye on

all of this, and they will tell you they do not need an anatomy lesson

to know when their child is in over their head. They see their children

following trails left for them by predators, and they are bothered.

They see their daughters falling apart over body image and self-esteem

issues made worse by photoshopped images. They see the violence and the

sexual content in music and movies that is created for adults, but

children are being exposed to this.

They have a really bad feeling about the expanding role of technology

in their child's life. The stats and the scandals we are seeing every

day back up their concerns.

According to Common Sense Research, 98 percent of children in this

country--98 percent of children in this country--under the age of 8

have access to a mobile device at home. In 2011, just over half of the

children had that kind of access. This means that 98 percent of

children under age 8 are subjected to unprecedented levels of

surveillance, data collection, and advertising attacks, even in

supposedly kid-friendly apps.

Alphabet, Google's parent company, got caught tracking children on

their school-provided devices outside of school hours. Amazon got

caught collecting recordings from children's Echo Dot Kids devices.

Parents and regulators have raked Google, TikTok, and Facebook over the

coals for pushing products to children that would increase social media

addiction.

In 2020, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children

received a recordbreaking 21.7 million reports of suspected child

sexual exploitation, and 21.4 million of those reports came from

electronic service providers. If you are looking for the danger, there

it is.

During yesterday's meeting of the Commerce Committee's Consumer

Protection Subcommittee, Baroness Kidron had it right when she said

that Facebook has not earned our trust, and I would encourage my

colleagues working with me on this issue to apply this fact to Big Tech

in general.

These companies are entangled in our daily lives and in the lives of

our children, and they have no incentive to loosen their grip on our

attention by making things easier to understand. Therefore, we have no

incentive to assume they are acting with the interest of their

customers in mind.

Remember that terms of service agreement we talked about earlier?

Well, imagine standing by and asking a child to read, understand, and

make an informed choice about whether to click the ``accept'' button.

This is preposterous. We need to bring the parents back into the

conversation and inject accountability and transparency into the

process.

Last Congress, I introduced the SAFE DATA Act with my colleagues,

Senators Wicker, Thune, and Fisher. This bill contained a requirement

that companies not transfer data collected from children between the

ages of 13 and 16 without the explicit consent of their parent or

guardian. This Congress, I hope my colleagues, Democratic and

Republican, will be willing to work with me on similar legislation that

truly targets this problem of child exploitation online.

We will never change the culture of Big Tech--the culture Big Tech

has created for itself--if we don't take steps right now to

deincentivize the monetization of children's attention and browsing

habits. This is a bipartisan issue.

The Zuckerbergs and the Dorseys and the Pichais of the world who have

come to testify before the Commerce Committee--they understand this. It

wasn't a pleasant experience for them, but I do believe they have

gotten the point. They need to understand that when it comes to privacy

and safety mistakes, there is no safe harbor to be found here in the

U.S. Senate, especially when it concerns the exploitation of our

precious children.

What we have going on is going to be even more unpleasant when these

security moms start upping the ante and start cutting off the flow of

all that valuable underage data that is produced by their children

online that is being data-mined by these big tech companies and then

sold to advertisers, sold to the highest bidder. That is the breaking

point we are rapidly approaching.

I yield the floor.