Privacy and kids’ safety are dominating state tech rules in 2023
State policymakers are putting together what could be their most active year to date on two key tech battlegrounds: data privacy and children’s online safety.
But nearly halfway through 2023, states have been far quieter on other closely watched policy fronts for Silicon Valley, including online competition and content moderation on social media.
While federal lawmakers have pushed to set the agenda on those issues for years, the trend underscores that state officials are increasingly dictating which efforts go into law.
“Privacy and child … have been and continue to be the most active areas in state tech policy,” said J. Scott Babwah Brennen, a senior policy associate at the University of North Carolina.
Coming into the year, five states had already passed so-called comprehensive privacy laws that set limits on the collection and use of consumer data: California, Colorado, Connecticut, Virginia and Utah. But that number could more than double by the end of 2023.
Four states have signed other broad privacy laws this year — Iowa, Indiana, Montana and Tennessee — while Texas could soon become the fifth and Florida recently signed its own privacy bill that focused more narrowly on the largest technology companies.
On kids’ online safety, meanwhile, there’s been an unprecedented flurry of activity.
California last year signed a first-of-its-kind law requiring that tech companies vet their platforms for potential harms to kids. But this year other states, including Arkansas, Utah and Louisiana, have followed up by passing more stringent measures — prohibiting young children from accessing social media or requiring that teens obtain parental consent to access platforms.
President Biden has called on Congress to pass new privacy protections, particularly for children, and lawmakers have pushed to do so. But political infighting has stalled their efforts.
Matt Perault, a UNC professor of practice and former Facebook public policy director, said while states are not converting at a prolific rate, it still dwarfs the amount of advancement in Washington, where conversions have been “minuscule if not zero.”
“States really are able to be the laboratories of tech policy reform in a way that the federal government hasn’t figured out a way to do much of anything,” said Perault, who co-authored a report with Brennen previewing state tech action in 2023, as I wrote last year.
While state movement on privacy and children’s safety exceeded their expectations, that was not the case for efforts to regulate content moderation and competition online.
Brennen said that while they expected there to be “a lot of action” on content moderation following recent efforts by Republicans to crack down on alleged bias by social media companies and by Democrats to curb medical misinformation, that has not panned out.
Perault said states may have been waiting to see how courts will rule on a series of blockbuster social media cases dealing with laws in Texas and Florida, but it’s not immediately clear how significant a factor that has been. “I’ve been surprised that there hasn’t been more,” he said.
The researchers had forecast that legislation on tech competition at the state level was unlikely, following defeated efforts to regulate app stores in Georgia and Arizona in 2021, but the relative silence on that front in 2023 was still notable, Perault said.
While we’ve yet to hit the halfway mark in 2023, more than two-thirds of state legislatures have already wrapped for the year, signaling the trends are likely to hold.
Another unexpected pattern, researchers said, was the flood of proposals targeting TikTok over concerns about its Beijing-based parent company ByteDance, mostly notably the law in Montana banning use of the app across the state.
“I would have thought that would have been primarily a federal issue, not a state one,” Perault said.
Democratic critic of tech antitrust push selected to key House post
Rep. Lou Correa (D-Calif.) — a lawmaker who has opposed legislative efforts to rein in large tech companies — was picked as the lead Democrat on the House Judiciary antitrust subcommittee, Lauren Feiner reports for CNBC.
“Correa’s elevation … marks a likely change in tone. That shift was already set in motion on the Republican side, when the top champion of the tech reform bills, Rep. Ken Buck, R-Colo., was passed over for the chairmanship in favor of Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky.,” Feiner writes.
“While Correa’s new role likely won’t result in immediate changes given that Republicans control the House and the ability to set committee agendas, some opponents fear his ascension could make it harder to replace him should Democrats take back the House in the next election,” the CNBC report adds.
Correa succeeds David N. Cicilline (D-R.I.), who spearheaded a 16-month investigation into allegations of anti-competitive abuses by tech giants — as well as a major legislative effort to rein in their conduct — when he led the House’s antitrust panel.
FCC launches privacy and data protection task force
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) on Wednesday launched a task force aimed at “rulemaking, enforcement, and public awareness needs in the privacy and data protection sectors,” according to an agency announcement.
The Privacy and Data Protection task force led by Enforcement Bureau Chief Loyaan Egal would address current-day security challenges, including data breaches and supply chain vulnerabilities linked to communications equipment.
“Connection is no longer just convenient. It fuels every aspect of modern civic and commercial life. To address the security challenges of this reality head-on, we must protect consumers’ information, ensure data security, and require cyber vigilance from every participant in our communications networks,” agency chair Jessica Rosenworcel said.
The announcement marks an expansion of FCC scrutiny into communications privacy and security, areas that have often been led by agencies mandated for consumer protection and cyberdefense.
House lawmakers lead inquiry into Instagram pedophile network
Lawmakers are asking Meta for answers on how child sexual abuse material (CSAM) is disseminated and sold on its Instagram platform.
The announcement from Reps. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) and Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.) of the House Energy and Commerce Committee follows reporting from the Wall Street Journal depicting a network of pedophilia accounts on Instagram openly advertising CSAM for sale.
“We are in the process now of scheduling briefings with Meta and Instagram. Meta must be transparent about why this egregious content is allowed on its platform and why its own algorithms promoted it for users to view and engage with,” the notice said.
A Meta spokesperson acknowledged to the Wall Street Journal that the company had received reports of CSAM on Instagram “and failed to act on them,” according to the Journal report. The company also said it actively seeks to remove such accounts and that the platform in January disabled 490,000 accounts that violated its child safety policies.
The company in 2021 paused development of an Instagram for kids app amid pushback from policymakers and child welfare advocates.
The E.U. on Wednesday brought an antitrust lawsuit against Google’s ad tech business. Tech entrepreneur Ana Milicevic:
The Verge’s Tom Warren:
Cloud computing economist Corey Quinn:
Europe seeks break-up of Google ad business, adding to antitrust woes (Cat Zakrzewski and Aaron Gregg)
They helped train Google’s AI. Then they got fired after speaking out. (Gerrit De Vynck)
Parts of Reddit are staying dark. Our search results may suffer for it. (Chris Velazco)
Europe moves ahead on AI regulation, challenging tech giants’ power (Cat Zakrzewski and Cristiano Lima)
- The Center for Strategic and International Studies holds an event on semiconductor security at 9:30 a.m.
- The Bipartisan Policy Center holds a discussion on the recent SCOTUS Gonzalez v. Google ruling at 10 a.m.
- Tim Wu and U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai speak at an Open Markets Institute event on U.S. trade policy beginning at 1:30 p.m.
- The R Street Institute convenes a panel to discuss protecting children online at 4 p.m.