Utah on Thursday passed a pair of laws establishing groundbreaking rules for children and social media. Laws require social media companies to verify users’ ages, obtain parental consent before children can use apps like Instagram or TikTok, and prohibit anyone under the age of 18 from using social media between 10:30 p.m. and 6:30 a.m.
The laws are new and unusual, but they’re part of a larger trend not just to rule social media companies, but to set new standards for how the internet treats children. Most Americans agree that something has to be done about big tech. However, the approaches we see will create a new set of complicated problems.
“We remain very optimistic that we will be able to pass legislation not just here in the state of Utah, but across the country, that significantly alters our children’s relationship with these very destructive social media apps,” said Governor Spencer Cox. Associated press.
Juggling new rules for social media is one of the few projects that brings Democrats and Republicans together. Arkansas, Louisiana, Ohio, New Jersey and Texas are all considering proposals similar to Utah’s new digital nanny regulations. Last year, California passed the Age Appropriate Design Code, which sets additional standards for how tech companies can track and manipulate children.
Everyone can agree that we should protect our children, the only question is how we should do it. It’s unclear how the Utah law will be enforced. Verifying the age of users, for example, has an inherent violation of privacy. Indeed, new Utah laws may require social media companies to scan state IDs or other government documents. In other words, the state can hand over more sensitive data about children to tech companies than ever before.
Some tech-focused groups, like Common Sense Media, which advocates for child safety online, support Utah’s bill. Others, like the Electronic Frontier Foundation, say it violates teens’ rights to privacy and free speech. The tech industry agrees that “Utah will soon need online services to collect sensitive information about teens and families, not just to verify age, but also to verify parental relationships,” Nicole Saad said. Bembridge, Associate Director of the Dispute Center at NetChoice, a business. group that counts Google and Meta among its members.
A state-run bedtime for social media also uncomfortably resembles the way the Chinese government nurtures its citizens. A law of 2021 in China limits kids to just three hours of video games a week to curb gambling addiction, drawing widespread criticism in the United States.
The United States may soon learn another lesson from China’s practical guide to authoritarianism by banning TikTok because it may share data with the Chinese government, a hypothetical concern that has never been verified with any evidence.
THURSDAY, TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew testified before Congress in a combative five-hour hearing. Members of Congress on both sides of the aisle chastised Chew for TikTok’s effects on users, especially children, and his alleged ties to the Chinese Communist Party.
From The weirdest things about TikTok’s audience was the fact that all the politicians got along well. As Rep. Buddy Carter said in his cheerful Georgia drawl, “Mr. Chew, welcome to the most bipartisan committee in Congress!”
TikTok is owned by ByteDance, a Chinese company. There is a law in China that says the government can compel any company to hand over data whenever they want. In theory, this could cause the Chinese Communist Party to leaf through US user data, much like when the US government leafs through the data of its local technology companies. Lawmakers are also concerned China could censor content or spread propaganda through the app.
These are real concerns, but nothing about them is unique to TikTok. Anyone who understands how businesses make money from data will tell you that the Internet is designed to share information with anyone who wants it. A Gizmodo Survey 2020 showed that apps like Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and Twitter all share data with Chinese companies. The Chinese government can also buy data from American companies that sell it because the federal government allows the tech industry to violate your privacy.
Propaganda is also an issue of concern. But Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube and Google Search all manipulate content in ways no one outside of business really understands. However, Meta, Google and Twitter will all tell you that they have the best interests of the American public at heart. So, nothing to worry about there, I’m sure.
So why all the attention on TikTok? That may be because being tough on China is an easy way to score political points while the regulation of giant US corporations could antagonize your campaign donors. It could also have something to do with the fact that Meta hired a Republican lobbying firm to slander TikTok.
The federal government has spent the past four years threatening TikTok with a ban if the company cannot provide a solution to national security concerns. Thursday’s hearing made it clear as never before that the window was closed. For the first time, it seems truly inevitable that the US will ban TikTok or force ByteDance or ban the app.
That means you can expect to read about a lengthy legal battle on Gizmodo.com. If the government tries to force a sale or ban TikTok, it will hear about it in court. It’s unclear whether the government has the legal authority to ban a company from operating in the United States unless it can prove the app is acting on behalf of a hostile foreign power. Perhaps this proof exists! But we haven’t seen it.
Along the way, we’re setting a new precedent in which lawmakers will increasingly interfere with who can do what on the internet, whether it’s a child, a parent or a private company. Welcome to the land of the free.