U.S. senators call for passing laws to protect online privacy for kids

FILE PHOTO: U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) asks questions to witnesses as they testify before the Judiciary Subcommittee on Competition Policy, Antitrust, and Consumer Rights in a hearing to examine big data, focusing on implications for competition and consumers on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., September 21, 2021. Ken Cedeno/Pool via REUTERS

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Two Democratic senators called Wednesday for two bills to be voted into law that will limit what children are shown online and how their data can be used for advertising by Big Tech companies like Google's YouTube and Facebook.

Senators Richard Blumenthal and Ed Markey, both Democrats, called for the passage of an update of the 1998 Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), which would, among other things, raise the age of children whose data cannot be collected without consent from 12 to 15.

They also urged the passage of legislation that would ban auto-play settings and push alerts designed to pull users onto an app and then keep them there.

"Whether your name is Facebook, YouTube, TikTok or Snapchat, these platforms all seem to operate on the same computer code of misconduct, endangering kids and teens," said Markey. "Big Tech has lost trust."

Blumenthal called for the measures to be passed within months.

The lawmakers have expressed concern about children and teenagers being shown content that they say sometimes encourages dangerous behavior, eating disorders or other kinds of self-harm.

Markey was the House author of the 1998 Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA).

Facebook and TikTok did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Google's YouTube declined comment.

A Snap Inc spokesperson said the company "built critical safety protections directly into Snapchat's architecture and products, and are constantly working to strengthen our efforts." The company, the person said, supports "thoughtful regulation."

In a hearing Tuesday, executives for TikTok, Snapchat and YouTube said that they sought to create fun, safe online experiences for kids and to exclude dangerous or unsavory content.

(Reporting by Diane Bartz; Editing by David Gregorio)

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