Today, senators can use Snap to Tell Senators and TikTok YouTube: We're not Facebook

Today, senators can use Snap to Tell Senators and TikTok YouTube: We're not Facebook

According to prepared remarks, social media companies TikTok, Snap, and YouTube will highlight established privacy protections for teens to counter questions from lawmakers at a Tuesday hearing. They are trying to distance themselves form the criticism faced by Facebook rivals.

Senators are facing executives from the companies after 17 news outlets including Bloomberg published dozens of articles that were based on leaked Facebook Inc. data. These articles detailed how the company placed profits above safety, particularly teens, for its products.

The Senate Commerce Committee's consumer panel will review Alphabet Inc.’s YouTube, ByteDance Ltd’s TikTok, and Snap Inc.'s efforts to protect children's privacy online. It is headed by Richard Blumenthal, a Connecticut Democrat, and Marsha Blackburn, a Tennessee Republican. These companies will emphasize privacy protections already in place for young users.

Blumenthal stated in a Bloomberg statement that "Big Tech's use of powerful algorithms is reckless and heedless." They profit from the insecurity of children, including eating disorders, to make more money.

He said, "The shocking reports about Facebook/Insta--their toxic effects on young users and their lack of truth and transparency--raise serious concerns over Big Tech's approach to kids across the board."

Blumenthal and Blackburn will focus on the dangers of apps being used to harm children and encourage bullying, vandalism and eating disorders, as well as manipulative marketing.

Blackburn will say in her opening remarks, "For too long we have allowed platforms that promote and glorify harmful content for its kid or teen users,"

She will also voice concerns about TikTok's data security and how it is shared with China, the parent company of ByteDance. According to comments shared with Bloomberg, she will state that TikTok has "not alleviated my worries in the slightest" despite vague assurances.

TikTok claims it stores its data in countries other than China.

Safety is the main focus

Blumenthal and Blackburn's Subcommittee heard previously from Frances Haugen (Facebook whistle-blower), who was a former product manager and leaked documents to the commission. Haugen explained how Facebook's engagement-based algorithm allows for harmful content to go viral on the platform. These algorithms are particularly harmful to teenage girls with negative body views.

These three social media companies will be attempting to distinguish themselves from Facebook when it comes to online safety. Leslie Miller (Vice President of YouTube Government Affairs and Public Policy); Michael Beckerman (Vice President of TikTok and Head of Public Policy for the Americas); and Jennifer Stout (President of Global Public Policy at Snap).

Blumenthal invited Mark Zuckerberg, the CEO of Facebook, to testify in an individual hearing last week.

According to Bloomberg comments, YouTube will tell the panel that YouTube Kids was created in 2015 and provides parents tools to customize the app for their children. YouTube will inform the panel that children under 13 are not permitted to use YouTube if they are not in a "supervised experience" with parents. YouTube removed 7 million accounts over the first three quarters 2021. 3 million were removed due to automation.

TikTok will highlight the specific actions it took to safeguard children's safety over the past years. TikTok told Bloomberg that the company disabled direct messaging for users younger than 16. All users were also banned from sending videos, photos, or website links to certain websites. Only videos that have been approved by content moderation are permitted.

"We believe that trust can only be earned through action," TikTok's Beckerman stated to Bloomberg in a statement.

Snap will stress that its strongest privacy protections are that it allows only 13-year-olds to register and that it has no plans to market directly to children under 13. Individuals under 13 years old cannot register.

Legislative Efforts

Blumenthal and Ed Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat, sponsored legislation to amend the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act. This law was enacted in 1998 years before the advent of social media companies. The law currently prohibits the collection of personal data from children under 13. The legislation would extend the protections to 16-year-olds. The bill is supported bipartisanly by Republican Senators Bill Cassidy from Louisiana and Cynthia Lummis, of Wyoming.

Blumenthal supported legislation that would prohibit manipulative marketing tactics aimed at online users younger than 16 years old, including the banning of auto-play and algorithms that increase violent and dangerous content. To date, the bill has not been sponsored by Republicans.