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Should you be able to sue companies over violating online privacy? This bill aims to give ‘young consumers’ more rights

  • July 29, 2021

Here’s the deal: A Florida Congresswoman plans to reintroduce a bill that could allow parents to, among other things, sue companies that violate their kids’ privacy online.

Rep. Kathy Castor (D-Fla.) is scheduled on Thursday to again propose the PRotecting the Information of our Vulnerable Children and Youth Act (PRIVCY Act) that she and some tech advocates believe would give both the Federal Trade Commission and parents more control. If it passes, it could affect major tech companies.

Castor’s bill stalled last year. Her supporters say the updated bill gives “young consumers” between the ages of 13 to 17 greater control over what information is collected by companies and they can do with it. Castor’s bill last year had no Republican support nor co-sponsors from her peers.

A member of the the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Castor also received some criticism within the tech industry.

“By removing the ability for young people to receive content tailored to their interests, Rep. Castor’s bill will undermine the online experiences of young people,” said Carl Szabo, vice president and general counsel at NetChoice, a trade group whose membership includes tech giants Google and Twitter.

Castor’s latest request to persuade her Congressional contemporaries comes a day after Republicans leaders of the Senate Commerce Committee reintroduced federal data privacy legislation the GOP claims “to hold Big Tech accountable by improving transparency and content moderation” and reforming Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.

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Who’s backing Castor’s online privacy bill?

Nearly 20 advocates are supporting Castor’s bill including perennials Common Sense Media, the Center for Digital Democracy, Fairplay (formerly known as the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood), and the American Academy of Pediatrics. 

Jeff Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit, calls this the “high water mark of what privacy legislation for children could look like,” and knows its going to be a tall order to get Congress onboard.

“Is this bill a strong bill that has a wish list from the groups supporting it? Yes,” Chester said. “Is it completely out of line? No.”

What’s different this time around? 

Josh Golin, the executive director of Fairplay, one of the groups working with Castor’s updated bill, claims that “This is the most comprehensive privacy bill we’ve seen for children and teens.”

As for the stall last session, Golin admits that there wasn’t enough “energy and momentum” to support the bill and that the “advocacy community didn’t rally around it as it needed to.” 

This time around, Golin argues that Castor’s “more robust and protective bill” not only updates the longstanding Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) but also expands privacy protections for kids by incorporating key elements of the Age-Appropriate Design Code in the U.K. According to the AADC, major tech companies like Facebook must set the most privacy protective setting by default for users 18 and under by Sept. 2. 

Golin also adds these three new points that weren’t included in Castor’s bill last session. The new bill now: 

• Bans data-driven advertising to children under 18.

• Applies to websites likely to be accessed by children or teens, so its scope is much broader this time around, Golin claims.

• Adopts key elements from the UK’s Age Appropriate Design Code including that sites likely to be accessed by children and teens must make the best interests of children a primary design consideration and also require those sites to do a mandatory “Privacy and Security Impact Assessment.”

There’s likely to be major backlash from Big Tech, Chester from the Center for Digital Democracy, said.

“But if there’s one place where there can be bipartisan regulation, it’s got to be on children’s privacy. This is going to be a litmus test for Congress.”

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