Snap, TikTok and YouTube must do more to protect children, lawmakers say

The Senate Trade Committee has just completed another three-hour hearing on the impact of social media on children and teenagers. But the last hearing was significantly different from the previous ones: it was attended by representatives of TikTok, Youtube and Snap.

While these three apps are some of the most popular among teens and younger users, all three have attracted less attention from lawmakers than Facebook and even Twitter. It was the first time that TikTok and Snap appeared at such a hearing. All three companies tried to refute criticism by drawing differences between their platforms and Facebook, which recently made a comparison with tobacco companies. And each company has promised new features to increase parental control and other child protection in its services.

YouTube vice president Leslie Miller said the company is working on a new feature that will allow parents to “choose a locked autoplay default setting” in the YouTube Kids app, along with other new parental controls. She did not give more details, but said it would be launched “in the coming months”.

Snap also said he was working on new functions for parents, and Jennifer Stout, the company’s vice president of global public policy, said those functions would be “available soon.” She said the update will allow parents to see information about how their children use Snapchat, such as who they spend the most time talking to and what their privacy and location settings are.

TikTok said it will add additional controls to allow parents and children to better customize their feeds, but little is about the details. “We’re investing in new ways for our community to enjoy age-based or family-friendly content,” said Michael Beckerman, the company’s vice president of public policy.

But the senators of the Trade Committee were not impressed by these promises. During the hearing, they pushed companies on issues such as algorithmically improved content about self-harm on YouTube and TikTok. Snap’s Stout has been pushed to what the company is doing to stop at its platform.

Several Republican senators have also pushed Beckerman about TikTok’s ties to Chinese parent company ByteDance and how it handles user data in the United States. In one particularly memorable exchange, Senator Ted Cruz said Beckerman was avoiding questions about TikTok’s affiliation with a company called Beijing ByteDance Technology, which was reportedly addressed to the Chinese government. Beckerman also dismissed questions about what data TikTok collects, saying Facebook and Instagram collect more user data than TikTok.

Although Facebook was not officially part of the hearing, the findings of the whistleblower Frances Haugen were mentioned several times. Senator Richard Blumenthal, who said at a previous hearing that Facebook and other companies are facing a “big moment of smoking tobacco”, said that “technology is not irreparably bad like big tobacco”.

But he said companies have to do much more than prove they are “different” from Facebook. “I understood from your testimony that your defense is ‘we are not Facebook,'” he said. “Being different from Facebook is not a defense. That bar is in the gutter. It’s not a defense to say you’re different. “

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Naveen Kumar

Friendly communicator. Music maven. Explorer. Pop culture trailblazer. Social media practitioner.

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