Controversy Swirls Around New Kids Online Safety Legislation

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A heated debate is unfolding around the Kids Online Safety Act (KOSA), new legislation aimed at protecting children online that critics say goes too far. On a recent episode of the popular tech podcast This Week in Tech, host Leo Laporte and guests discussed the Senate Judiciary Committee’s recent hearing on KOSA with tech executives like Mark Zuckerberg. They also debated the merits and potential unintended consequences of this new bill.

KOSA, introduced with bipartisan support, would require digital platforms to take "reasonable measures" to curb harm to kids online, ranging from sexual exploitation to mental health issues. Companies would need to enable their strongest privacy and safety settings for children by default, give parents more control, and regularly audit products for risks.

Laporte’s guests had mixed views on the need for regulation but agreed that KOSA has flaws as written. Lisa Schmeiser worried it could restrict kids’ access to helpful information, like LGBTQ+ resources, if parents don't approve of the subject. Wesley Faulkner compared different parenting philosophies when it comes to preparing kids for the realities of the online world. The group also discussed how the bill could violate rights around free speech and access to information. There are also questions about enforceability and the feasibility of auditing impacts on such a massive scale. Faulkner posited that companies might use privacy as justification for storing more data on users.

While not overtly political, the episode touched on the polarization around technology regulation. The right-leaning R Street, for example, has expressed deep concerns about KOSA and the effects it could have. Georgia Dow suggested some politicians may have more sinister aims to stoke fears about social media in order to assert control. But Leo Laporte questioned whether motivations are ideological or if lawmakers simply don’t understand the damaging implications around censorship. The prevailing view, however, was that while protecting children is important, KOSA, in its current form, raises too many concerns around access to information.

With Big Tech firmly in the crosshairs of both parties, expect robust debate around bills like KOSA to continue. But if major regulatory changes are to come, more consideration may need to go to the potential unintended side effects.

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