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Should you be able to sue companies over violating online privacy? This bill aims to give 'young consumers' more rights

·4 min read

A Florida congresswoman plans to reintroduce a bill that could allow parents to sue companies that violate their kids' privacy online.

Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Fla., is scheduled on Thursday to again propose the Protecting the Information of our Vulnerable Children and Youth Act (PRIVCY Act) that she and some tech advocates say would give both the Federal Trade Commission and parents more control. If it passes, it could affect some major players in Big Tech.

Why such urgency?

Castor said digital technology, tracking and data gathering have outpaced privacy protections for children and consumers.

"Companies shouldn’t be allowed to unreasonably track and target children. Many companies have been violating the minimal privacy protections in place today as devices and applications have become more sophisticated in targeting kids," Castor said in a statement. "It’s time to strengthen online protections for our youngest neighbors and bring these safeguards into the 21st century."

Castor's bill stalled in Congess last year. Her supporters said the updated bill would give "young consumers" ages 13 to 17 greater control over what information is collected by companies and what they could do with it. Castor's bill last year had no Republican support nor co-sponsors from her peers.

A member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Castor received criticism within the tech industry.

"By removing the ability for young people to receive content tailored to their interests, Rep. Castor’s bill will undermine the online experiences of young people," said Carl Szabo, vice president and general counsel at NetChoice, a trade group whose membership includes tech giants Google and Twitter.

Wednesday, Republican leaders of the Senate Commerce Committee reintroduced federal data privacy legislation "to hold Big Tech accountable by improving transparency and content moderation" and changing Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.

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Who backs Castor's online privacy bill?

Nearly 20 advocates support Castor's bill, including Common Sense Media, the Center for Digital Democracy, Fairplay (formerly known as the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood), and the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Jeff Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy, a Washington-based nonprofit group, called it the "high water mark of what privacy legislation for children could look like," though he said it will be a tall order to get Congress onboard.

"Is this bill a strong bill that has a wish list from the groups supporting it? Yes," Chester said. "Is it completely out of line? No."

What's different this time around?

Josh Golin, executive director of Fairplay, one of the groups working on Castor's updated bill, claimed, "This is the most comprehensive privacy bill we’ve seen for children and teens."

Golin admitted that there wasn't enough "energy and momentum" to support the bill in the previous session and that the "advocacy community didn’t rally around it as it needed to."

Golin said Castor's "more robust and protective bill" not only updates the long-standing Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) but also would expand privacy protections for kids by incorporating elements of the Age-Appropriate Design Code in the U.K. According to the AADC, major tech companies such as Facebook must set the most privacy protective setting by default for users 18 and under by Sept. 2.

Golin said three points weren't included in Castor's bill last session. The new bill would:

• Ban data-driven advertising to children under 18.

• Apply to websites likely to be accessed by children or teens, so its scope is much broader this time around.

• Require sites likely to be accessed by children and teens to make the best interests of children a primary design consideration and to do a "Privacy and Security Impact Assessment."

There's likely to be major backlash from Big Tech, Chester said. "But if there’s one place where there can be bipartisan regulation, it’s got to be on children’s privacy. This is going to be a litmus test for Congress."

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Safer on Facebook, Google, Instagram: Bill aims at protecting privacy

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