Source Code: Your daily look at what matters in tech.

source-codesource codeauthorEmily BirnbaumNoneWant your finger on the pulse of everything that's happening in tech? Sign up to get David Pierce's daily newsletter.64fd3cbe9f

Get access to Protocol

Your information will be used in accordance with our Privacy Policy

I’m already a subscriber

Silicon Valley could get an easy ride on child privacy if Markey is elected out

Lawmakers, advocates and experts focused on child safety are seriously fretting about what happens if Markey loses to Rep. Joe Kennedy on Sept. 1.

Sen. Ed Markey walking down the hall

Sen. Ed Markey has doled out a forceful drumbeat of bills, letters and oversight hearings to ensure tech companies continually consider the needs of children and teens as they build their powerful products.

Photo: Samuel Corum/Getty Images

Sen. Ed Markey started working on children's online privacy issues before the modern internet was created. He authored the Children's Online Privacy and Protection Act, the only federal commercial privacy law that protects children in the U.S., in 1998 — six years before Facebook was founded and almost two decades before the rise of TikTok.

"The current situation is utterly unacceptable," Markey said in 1996, urging Congress to act quickly to pass a comprehensive privacy bill. (It still has not.) He warned that the "wondrous wire may also allow digital desperadoes to roam the electronic frontier unchecked by any high-tech sheriff or adherence to any code of electronic ethics."

His metaphors are dated, but he was pretty much right. And for over two decades, Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat currently facing the most serious primary challenge of his political career, has been an unmatched voice defending children's online privacy in Congress. He has doled out a forceful drumbeat of bills, letters and oversight hearings to ensure tech companies continually consider the needs of children and teens as they build their powerful products.

Now, those companies could be in for an easier ride. Lawmakers, advocates and experts focused on child safety are fretting about the real possibility that Markey might lose to Rep. Joe Kennedy on Sept. 1, leaving them without their champion in the Senate.

His loss "would be a setback for the cause of children's privacy, no question," Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a longtime ally of Markey on consumer rights, told Protocol. "No one can be another Ed Markey when it comes to children's privacy. In style and substance, he is simply irreplaceable."

Markey's efforts on children's privacy are only one part of his larger legacy on privacy and telecommunications policy. Already in 1993, as the head of the House Energy and Commerce technology subcommittee, he was holding oversight hearings about the "rights and responsibilities of individuals and organizations in cyberspace," and a few years later, he co-authored the Telecommunications Act of 1996. He slipped privacy provisions into multiple communications laws as the co-founder of the Congressional Privacy Caucus, and has been lauded as a giant in the tech policy world.

Kennedy campaign spokesperson Emily Kaufman pointed out that Kennedy is a member of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, which has jurisdiction over tech issues. "As a member of the Energy and Commerce Committee, Joe has been a leader in the fight for consumer protection and privacy online," Kaufman said in a statement to Protocol. "And as a dad to two young kids, he will never compromise when it comes to the privacy, security and safety of children on the internet."

'They're on the phone to you first'

Experts and allies said Markey, who is 74, has longevity on the issue that would be impossible to match. He's been working on the issue of children in technology since he co-authored the 1990 Children's Television Act, which requires broadcast television stations to air educational programming. He's hauled puppets before Congress to justify the need for quality children's television. And he recently helped push the FTC into fining Google and YouTube $170 million for violating COPPA, though he said the penalty didn't go far enough.

"The thing he was consistent about with respect to kids … is that businesses — whether they're broadcasters, television networks, or online, internet-based web companies — should not treat children like little consumers; they should be treated like children," said Colin Crowell, who worked as Markey's top tech policy aide for 20 years before serving as Twitter's vice president of global public policy until 2019.

All of the children's privacy and safety organizations Protocol reached out to said they have not yet been contacted by the Kennedy campaign.

"[Markey] has consistently, proactively defended the law from being attacked by the big tech giants, and he has worked to expand its protections, going eyeball to eyeball with the Federal Trade Commission and the Trump administration to stop them from weakening [COPPA]," said Jeff Chester, the executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy and a children's online rights advocate who has worked with Markey for decades.

"You never even have to call up Ed Markey's office to get them to act when it comes to children and the internet," he said. "They're on the phone to you first."

Some lawmakers have rubbed Big Tech the wrong way in recent years, after realizing there were political points to be won by beating up on companies such as Facebook and YouTube. But Nu Wexler, a former spokesperson for Google, Facebook and Twitter, said the Silicon Valley companies largely maintain begrudging respect for Markey despite his penchant for hitting them over privacy issues in the press, and go "out of their way" to keep his office posted on product and privacy updates.

"So much of the tech policy world now is tied up in social media content controversies," said Wexler, who also formerly served as a spokesperson for Blumenthal. "[Markey has] criticized the industry at times when they've deserved it, but has not ventured off into wacky conspiracy theories. I think the companies respect Markey for that."

Crowell, Markey's former aide, pointed out that Markey has also been a forceful advocate for "creating opportunities for technology companies," as one of the primary advocates for net neutrality and against efforts to regulate encryption. "He's not just anti-tech and this is just one more thing where he's anti-tech," Crowell said. "He loves technology, but he wants to wring out all the potential benefits without being oblivious to the potential downsides."

That respect from the industry has resulted in campaign contributions — his campaign has received $40,585 from Alphabet, $10,316 from Facebook and $15,757 from IBM during this election cycle — signaling that the industry considers him at least somewhat of an ally, even as he calls for significant overhauls to their business practices.

The future of COPPA

At this moment, Markey has multiple bills moving through Congress on the issue of children's privacy, including an update to COPPA (dubbed COPPA 2.0) to expand protections for teens online; the tech-backed CAMRA Act to research the effects of technology on child development; and the KIDS Act to outlaw the use of addictive features in digital products geared toward children.

"We're certainly concerned about what will happen to the legislative proposals he's been driving," said Josh Golin, the executive director of the Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood, a coalition that is closely allied with Markey.

Markey himself has conceded that COPPA was a flawed piece of legislation. For instance, it only protects children under 12 and has hardly prevented companies from continuing to track and surveil millions of young kids as they lie about their age and skirt the parental consent rules.

"Is it perfect? No," said Chester, who approached Markey's office around 1996 about the need for a children's privacy law and has continued to press for updates.

So Markey has spent years pushing COPPA 2.0, legislation that would expand COPPA to cover teenagers and create an "eraser button" for children's personal information, among other fixes. Most recently, he introduced the legislation alongside Republican Sen. Josh Hawley, garnering praise from advocates who said their effort had more momentum than usual as lawmakers negotiated over a federal privacy bill.

Markey is also one of the most attentive lawmakers watching the FTC as it reviews the existing rules around COPPA, warning that the agency could use this opportunity to weaken the law.

David Vladeck, who formerly led the FTC's consumer protection division, said Markey and his staff were instrumental the last time the FTC reviewed COPPA in 2013. Vladeck, who oversaw the FTC's COPPA overhaul, said Markey "made his views known" that the law needed to be interpreted as broadly as possible in order to rein in all forms of tracking children online.

"His role was laying out what he thought was the right approach, and advocating for it the way Facebook and Google and everybody else in the world was also advocating for changes," Vladeck said.

Who replaces a pioneer?

The country is at an inflection point when it comes to children's privacy, as students flood online for remote learning amid the coronavirus pandemic and continue to flock to TikTok, which has a user base of largely minors, in their spare time.

Some advocates argue that it's useful to have someone with longstanding knowledge and expertise in Congress to confront the moment. Earlier this year, Markey and Blumenthal called for an investigation into TikTok's children privacy practices.

Kathryn Montgomery, a digital rights advocate who has advised Markey on multiple pieces of legislation and wrote the book "Generation Digital: Politics, Commerce, and Childhood in the Age of the Internet," said it's notable how intently Markey has kept up with the changing world of children's digital lives. "Knowing at the outset that this notion of 'one-to-one' marketing was the model in the late '90s, which has now fully blossomed into this incredibly powerful commercial surveillance system … I think made him very much a pioneer," Montgomery said.

Now, it's difficult to anticipate where the energy that Markey has exuded will come from if he is elected out. A spokesperson for Hawley, who introduced the latest version of COPPA 2.0 with Markey, said Hawley will continue to push forward on COPPA 2.0 regardless of the outcome. And multiple lawmakers, including Reps. Bobby Rush and Kathryn Castor, have introduced bills that would update children's privacy laws. But the effort will take a different shape without Markey.

"Senator Markey is really the point person for Republicans and Democrats in the Senate on the protections of kids and teens, in addition to his general view on privacy," said Ariel Fox Johnson, senior counsel with Common Sense, a children's advocacy org. "I've talked to people in various offices across the spectrum who knew he was the person to look for for kids and teens."

"If he's not around, then I just don't know," she said. "They're going to have to look for someone else."

Blumenthal said he'll continue to be a "stoic advocate and aggressive worker" for the cause alongside other lawmakers who have pressed the issue over the years. But he said he suspects "it will take a number of people" to replace Markey.

"I cannot imagine the cause of children's privacy without his being at the tip of the spear," Blumenthal said.

Protocol | China

China’s era of Big Tech Overwork has ended

Tech companies fear public outcry as much as they do regulatory crackdowns.

Chinese tech workers are fed up. Companies fear political and publish backlashes.

Photo: Susan Fisher Plotner/Getty Images

Two years after Chinese tech workers started a decentralized online protest against grueling overtime work culture, and one year after the plight of delivery workers came under the national spotlight, a chorus of Chinese tech giants have finally made high-profile moves to end the grueling work schedules that many believe have fueled the country's spectacular tech boom — and that many others have criticized as exploitative and cruel.

Over the past two months, at least four Chinese tech giants have announced plans to cancel mandatory overtime; some of the changes are companywide, and others are specific to business units. ByteDance, Kuaishou and Meituan's group-buying platform announced the end of a policy called "Big/Small Week," where a six-day workweek is followed by a more moderate schedule. In early June, a game studio owned by Tencent rolled out a policy that mandated employees punch out at 6 p.m. every Wednesday and take the weekends off.

Keep Reading Show less
Shen Lu

Shen Lu is a reporter with Protocol | China. She has spent six years covering China from inside and outside its borders. Previously, she was a fellow at Asia Society's ChinaFile and a Beijing-based producer for CNN. Her writing has appeared in Foreign Policy, The New York Times and POLITICO, among other publications. Shen Lu is a founding member of Chinese Storytellers, a community serving and elevating Chinese professionals in the global media industry.

Over the last year, financial institutions have experienced unprecedented demand from their customers for exposure to cryptocurrency, and we've seen an inflow of institutional dollars driving bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies to record prices. Some banks have already launched cryptocurrency programs, but many more are evaluating the market.

That's why we've created the Crypto Maturity Model: an iterative roadmap for cryptocurrency product rollout, enabling financial institutions to evaluate market opportunities while addressing compliance requirements.

Keep Reading Show less
Caitlin Barnett, Chainanalysis
Caitlin’s legal and compliance experience encompasses both cryptocurrency and traditional finance. As Director of Regulation and Compliance at Chainalysis, she helps leading financial institutions strategize and build compliance programs in order to adopt cryptocurrencies and offer new products to their customers. In addition, Caitlin helps facilitate dialogue with regulators and the industry on key policy issues within the cryptocurrency industry.

Brownsville, we have a problem

The money and will of Elon Musk are reshaping a tiny Texas city. Its residents are divided on his vision for SpaceX, but their opinion may not matter at all.

When Musk chose Cameron County, he changed its future irrevocably.

Photo: Verónica G. Cárdenas for Protocol

In Boca Chica, Texas, the coastal prairie stretches to the horizon on either side of the Gulf of Mexico, an endless sandbar topped with floating greenery, wheeling gulls and whipping gusts of wind.

Far above the sea on a foggy March day, the camera feed on the Starship jerked and then froze on an image of orange flames shooting into the gray. From the ground below, onlookers strained to see through the opaque sky. After a moment of quiet, jagged edges of steel started to rain from the clouds, battering the ground near the oceanside launch pad, ripping through the dunes, sinking deep into the sand and flats.

Keep Reading Show less
Anna Kramer

Anna Kramer is a reporter at Protocol (Twitter: @ anna_c_kramer, email:, where she writes about labor and workplace issues. Prior to joining the team, she covered tech and small business for the San Francisco Chronicle and privacy for Bloomberg Law. She is a recent graduate of Brown University, where she studied International Relations and Arabic and wrote her senior thesis about surveillance tools and technological development in the Middle East.


Facebook’s push to protect young users is a peek at the future of social

More options, more proactive protections, fewer one-size-fits-all answers for being a person on the internet.

Social media companies are racing to find ways to protect underage people on their apps.

Image: Alexander Shatov/Unsplash

Social media companies used to see themselves as open squares, places where everyone could be together in beautiful, skipping-arm-in-arm harmony. But that's not the vision anymore.

Now, Facebook and others are going private. They're trying to rebuild around small groups and messaging. They're also trying to figure out how to build platforms that work for everyone, that don't try to apply the same set of rules to billions of people around the world, that bring everyone together but on each user's terms. It's tricky.

Keep Reading Show less
David Pierce

David Pierce ( @pierce) is Protocol's editor at large. Prior to joining Protocol, he was a columnist at The Wall Street Journal, a senior writer with Wired, and deputy editor at The Verge. He owns all the phones.


Who owns that hot startup? These insiders want to clear it up.

Cap tables are fundamental to startups. So 10 law firms and startup software vendors are teaming up to standardize what they tell you about investors' stakes.

Cap tables describe the ownership of shares in a startup, but they aren't standardized.

Illustration: Protocol

Behind every startup, there's a cap table. Startups have to start keeping track of who owns what, from the moment they're created, to fundraising from venture capitalists, to an eventual IPO or acquisition.

"Everything that happens that is a sexy thing that's important to the tech world, it really is something having to do with the cap table," said David Wang, chief innovation officer at the Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati law firm.

Keep Reading Show less
Biz Carson

Biz Carson ( @bizcarson) is a San Francisco-based reporter at Protocol, covering Silicon Valley with a focus on startups and venture capital. Previously, she reported for Forbes and was co-editor of Forbes Next Billion-Dollar Startups list. Before that, she worked for Business Insider, Gigaom, and Wired and started her career as a newspaper designer for Gannett.

Latest Stories