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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.