Aug. 5, 2022

Battle of the privacy bills; Meta's meltdown? -- Tech Law & Policy This Week

Competing privacy bills may slow down kids’ protection online   Three competing privacy bills have made negotiations on the Hill even more difficult as the Senate and House have 3 different versions – two of which focus specifically on...


Competing privacy bills may slow down kids’ protection online


Three competing privacy bills have made negotiations on the Hill even more difficult as the Senate and House have 3 different versions – two of which focus specifically on creating stronger protections for kids online. 


The one in the House that passed late last month is an overarching federal privacy framework that some legislators have objected to, particularly Maria Cantwell, the Democratic Senator from Washington State, who is concerned about a forced arbitration provision in the bill that would limit you from suing a company that violates your privacy.


Some lawmakers have also raised concerns about the fact that the federal privacy bill may weaken the privacy legislation that several states have passed for you if you live in California, Virginia, Colorado. Connecticut, or Utah.


But in addition to the House bill, we have two Senate bills that will almost certainly complicate negotiations – both of which focus specifically on your kids’ privacy. Democrat Richard Blumental and Republican Marsha Blackburn’s Kids Online Safety Act would give more control to parents, allow kids to opt-out of certain data practices, and impose requirements on companies to vet their products for potential harms to children.


The second  Senate bill to make it out of committee – sponsored by Massachusetts Democrat Ed Markey and Louisiana Republican Bill Cassidy – would ban companies from collecting children’s data up to age 16, raising it from 13, which is the current minimum age imposed by the 1998 Children’s Online Privacy Protection. 


So lawmakers will need to parse through all three bills now and come up with some workable way forward. There’s plenty of analysis in the Washington Post if you want to take a deep dive.

And kids really are at risk – not just by the tech companies, but also the people we entrust them to every single day –  their schools


The Social Media Victims Law Center brought 2 lawsuits in last week against Meta, in the Northern District of California, on behalf of 2 Kentucky families who allege that Meta, through Instagram has created a "perfect storm of addiction, social comparison, and exposure to incredibly harmful content and product features,” that has given their kids eating disorders. Reuters previously reported that Meta is faced with 9 other lawsuits alleging that the company harms children’s mental health. 


And then when it comes to schools – Pia Ceres over at Wired reports on an uptick in the surveillance of students by their teachers and the police – teachers can actually monitor what kids are doing on their laptops. 


Kids should be a priority. As a parent – I simply don’t care as much about having a private right of action if someone violates my privacy – I mean it’s a good thing to have, but it’s not a must have. And we should have it. We shouldn’t be trapped into arbitration, so I’m not really sure why arbitration is even on the table – we see what arbitration has done in the context of employment at these companies, severely limiting their remedies when they discriminate against their employees. So why would we do the same thing in the context of privacy?


But it’s not a priority. Our kids are the priority. And I don’t know why we have all of these competing bills when the focus should be on the kids who clearly aren’t safe and secure in their schools, either physically or online.


Facebook still letting hate speech slip through


Facebook still lets hate speech slip through, though. It would be great to get legislation for that. But in the U.S. somehow we know what porn is when we see it, but we purport to not know what hate speech is. Anyway. I guess porn flourishes so, so should hate speech? Not really – I really don’t see some mass shooter posting all kinds of hateful garbage on 4chan before he goes on a shooting rampage, as a victimless form of speech – just like some kinds of porn aren’t victimless.


But Facebook has apparently learned nothing since Frances Haugen blew the whistle last year. AP reports that in its 3rd study of Facebook’s content moderation practices, London-based Global Witness finds that Facebook is letting ads go up in Nigeria, in both English and Swahili, that compare people to donkeys, talk about rape … just really disgusting stuff that one would think the company would be equipped by now to take down. 


But the Federal Trade Commission filed a lawsuit to block Meta’s expansion into Virtual Reality through its acquisition of Within, a move the FTC says would pave the way for Meta to own the entire metaverse. Maybe that’s why Facebook changed its name to Meta??? What a dumb name change – their whole strategy laid bare before it even got regulatory approval.


Equifax sued for shady credit scoring


Finally, here’s something folks should have a private right of action for – incorrect credit scores. Equifax screwed up credit reports by more than 20 points, causing one of the class action plaintiffs in a federal lawsuit to accept a car loan under which she has to pay $540/month since she couldn’t get the loan she should have gotten, which would have had her paying about $350/month. Equifax says it was a “coding error.” Yeah right. I’m sure the Fed hiking up interest rates had absolutely nothing to do with that – sure Equifax. 

That’s it for this week. You can find links to all of these stories in the show notes.


Stay safe, stay informed, have a great weekend. Ciao.