A bipartisan group of US Senators recently introduced the Kids Online Safety Act. U.S. Senators Bill Cassidy, Richard Blumenthal, and Marsha Blackburn announced that a total of 62 senators are now cosponsoring the legislation.

What is the Kids Online Safety Act?

The Kids Online Safety Act, or KOSA was introduced in February 2022 and reintroduced in May 2023. A new draft of the bill was presented to the Senate in December 2023.

As per the bill summary, this bipartisan bill aims to provide children and parents with enhanced tools to safeguard themselves online, hold Big Tech accountable for potential harm to minors, and increase transparency regarding algorithmic processes.

The bill emphasizes that children and teenagers have long been exposed to online harassment, bullying, and other harmful experiences. And it mandates that social media companies prioritize the safety of minors by designing products that mitigate risks and provide parents with tools to oversee their children's online activities.

Why are privacy advocates sounding an alarm?

The bill, in practice, can be used as a censorship tool. It will give the government the powers to decide what information is available online. It is designed to impose restrictions on technology platforms used by both adults and minors. That is what the Consumer Choice Center, an independent, non-partisan consumer advocacy group, is aiming to raise awareness about. The organization labels KOSA as a trojan horse for digital censorship.

Yaël Ossowski, the deputy director of the CCC in Washington, D.C., expressed concerns about the bill, stating that it raises constitutional questions and could lead to increased government control over online activities. Ossowski emphasized that while the bill claims to protect children online, its implementation could negatively impact all users by jeopardizing their personal information security.

The Consumer Choice Center strongly opposes the Kids Online Safety Act, arguing that it undermines parental authority and consumer choice online. The bill proposes regulations on various design features of apps used by minors, including personalized recommendations, notifications, appearance-altering filters, and in-game purchases.

Other privacy and consumer advocates have also raised alarms about the potential consequences of this legislation. The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has issued a strong warning against the latest changes to the Kids Online Safety Act (KOSA), labeling it as a dangerous and unconstitutional censorship bill. Despite the unveiling of an amended version by the bill's authors, EFF asserts that KOSA still empowers state officials to target services and online content they disapprove of.

The EFF highlights concerns about KOSA's potential impact on vulnerable communities and its delegation of censorial powers to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). A major point of concern is around KOSA's liability provisions that could lead online services to overly restrict access to lawful speech out of fear of repercussions, potentially limiting information on critical issues such as health topics like eating disorders, drug addiction, and anxiety. By allowing a small group of federal officials appointed by the President to decide what content is deemed harmful for young people, the bill raises significant free speech concerns. The enforcement power vested in the FTC continues to pose challenges from a First Amendment perspective.

Has the Kids Online Safety Act been passed?

The Kids Online Safety Act has not been passed yet. While the bill has gained significant bipartisan support and momentum in Congress, it is still in the legislative process.