Congressional Democrats are calling for Facebook's plans for an Instagram platform aimed at children, saying the tech giant hasn't adequately addressed concerns about online data privacy and protection against manipulative marketing.
“I have no trust, none, that Facebook will keep these young users safe. It has failed far too often,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., said during a Senate Commerce Committee hearing Tuesday, reports The Hill.
"Facebook should stop this additional intrusive and potentially dangerous interference in kids' lives and abandon plans for Instagram kids."
A leaked memo earlier this year revealed that Facebook was considering the development of a version of Instagram that would be targeted at children under the age of 13, who the site says can't use the current versions of either social media platforms, reports ABC News.
The reports have led to an outcry from public health and child advocacy experts, along with bipartisan attorneys general, as well as lawmakers.
Blumenthal, joined by Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., and Reps. Kathy Castor, D-Fla., and Lori Trahan, D-Mass., wrote to Facebook in April to push the company on the plans, asking how it will protect children. The lawmakers on Tuesday said Facebook's reply to their questions was not adequate.
“Facebook has a clear record of failing to protect children on its platforms. In its response to our recent letter, the company refused to make meaningful commitments about how it will ensure that its proposed Instagram Kids app does not harm young users’ mental health and threaten their privacy,” they said in a joint statement.
Markey said during the hearing that swift action must be taken to protect children. He's been pushing to update the Children's Online Privacy Protection Rule (COPPA) and said Tuesday that "Big Tech always fails" when it comes to companies choosing children ahead of their profits.
"They forfeited the benefit of the doubt on this issue," Markey said. "It is time for this Congress to pass comprehensive privacy legislation to protect children."
Markey last week introduced a bill with Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., to update COPPA by adding a rule that prohibits internet companies from collecting personal information from users ages 13-15 unless the user consents.
Meanwhile, the Children and Teen’s Online Privacy Protection Act, if passed, would establish a youth privacy division with the Federal Trade Commission to address privacy and marketing efforts made toward children.
It would also establish a Youth Privacy and Marketing Division at the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), which would be responsible for addressing the privacy of children and marketing directed at them.
Republicans on the committee also said they're concerned about Facebook's plans.
“As time moves forward children will be at the forefront of technology with each generation being more connected than the last," said Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn. "That’s why it's so important that we get this right we must ensure children aren’t being taken advantage of and molded into something they are not."
A Facebook spokesperson, pushing back against the Democrats' call to cancel the youth platform, said that all parents know that their children are online.
"We want to improve this situation by delivering experiences that give parents visibility and control over what their kids are doing," the spokesperson said. "We will develop these experiences in consultation with experts in child development, child safety, and mental health, and privacy advocates. We also look forward to working with legislators and regulators."
Facebook also says it won't allow ads in any Instagram platform that's aimed at users under the age of 13.
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