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Meta’s age-checking tech could help it woo Congress

Protocol Policy

Hello, and welcome to Protocol Policy! Today we look at how Meta’s enhanced age verification tools could solve a critical piece of the legislative puzzle. Also: the Supreme Court overruled Roe v. Wade, and tech companies now face critical questions surrounding privacy and employee benefits. Sen. Cynthia Lummis spoke to Protocol about the state of her crypto bill in the market downturn.

Meta does Congress a favor

Let’s kick this newsletter off with three inconvenient truths: Without proper verification, even the best legislation will fail to protect children online; children are often highly motivated to lie about their age on the internet (they’re also quite skilled at it); and nobody expects the government to develop the kind of tech that could fix this, so it inevitably falls to private enterprise.

That’s why Instagram’s new age-verification system could be a big deal. On Thursday, Meta announced plans to test two new methods for age verification, on top of the existing option to submit a photo ID.

  • Meta is partnering with a firm called Yoti to conduct facial feature analysis that estimates a user’s age. Meta is quick to say the tool can only recognize age, not identity; Yoti says its systems are compliant with privacy-by-design principles in the U.K.’s General Data Protection Regulation.
  • The other new option is social vouching, which lets users select three mutual followers to confirm they are at least 18 years old. The people vouching need to be adults and meet “meet other safeguards we have in place,” though Meta didn’t elaborate on that point.

Policy experts say Instagram is taking a step in the right direction, even with potential flaws. “Kids are also really smart and they can figure out ways to circumvent these methods,” said Irene Ly, policy counsel for Common Sense.

  • Some evasion techniques are low-tech, like a kid swiping their parent’s ID to sign on, Ly pointed out. Or a kid can hand their smartphone to an older sibling or friend.
  • Yoti’s facial analysis technology has a relatively wide error range. To its credit, the company offers a detailed breakdown of its accuracy rates, including by age and skin tone. Its estimates can sometimes be years off.

Enhanced age verification comes at an opportune moment for Congress. Since the Facebook Files leaks in 2021, which showed the company’s own researchers were aware of social media’s harms to youth, Congress has been churning out drafts of bills aimed at protecting younger users online.

  • Of greatest importance, the American Data Privacy and Protection Act made it through the House Subcommittee markup yesterday and will likely proceed to the full committee in a few weeks, according to Ly. She added that there’s less certainty with the bill’s future in the Senate. On Wednesday, Sen. Maria Cantwell said that “Chuck Schumer has already said there’s no way they’re bringing that bill up in the Senate,” adding that weak enforcement was a top concern. (For what it’s worth, the Big Tech lobby seems to want a bipartisan federal privacy bill.)
  • The ADPPA includes a number of provisions on child safety, including a ban on targeted advertising for any individual under the age of 17.
  • Two other bills also aim to enhance children’s safety online. Introduced last year by Sens. Ed Markey and Bill Cassidy, a proposed amendment to the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act would update the original decades-old law with protections against microtargeting. There’s also the Kids Online Safety Act, which would prevent social networks from sharing data on minors and from implementing certain design features designed to boost time spent on them.
  • “We could see either a comprehensive thing or maybe Kids Online Safety Act and a COPPA update-type bill moving together,” said Ly. But she also cautioned that midterms are coming up and that could limit any headway.

Meta has an opportunity here. The enhanced age-verification tools could help the company get on the good side of regulators for once. And even if Congress fails to pass any related bills by midterms, this problem won’t go away. Governments around the world are working on child safety and privacy online. State legislatures are too, and California has a few important pieces of related legislation in the works. Making sure the kids are alright is never a bad idea.

— Hirsh Chitkara (email | twitter)

In Washington

The Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, giving states the ability to ban or limit access to abortions. Nearly half of U.S. states are expected to ban or restrict abortion access in a post-Roe world. For tech companies, the ruling raises questions about employee benefits, data-tracking practices that could identify those seeking abortions and corporate relationships with states that are limiting access.

Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell wasn’t ready to blame inflation on economic concentration in his appearance before the House Financial Services Committee on Thursday. “It is not at all clear that there’s a connection between a more concentrated economy and, for example, inflation,” he said. He then seemed to punt back to the FTC, reminding everyone that matters of corporate concentration fall to competition authorities, not the Federal Reserve.

CEOs of smaller tech companies including Kelkoo Group and Proton are meeting with Congress to express support for the American Innovation and Choice Online Act, per POLITICO. The effort came after Big Tech CEOs launched a similar influence campaign in D.C. earlier this month, lobbying against it.

Intel told Ohio lawmakers it was indefinitely delaying the groundbreaking ceremony for its chipmaking facility. The company cited the uncertainty around the Bipartisan Innovation Act, which was supposed to include billions of dollars in subsidies to onshore domestic chipmaking. Still, the delay seems largely symbolic: Intel hasn’t actually pushed back construction, and still plans to build the facility with production starting in 2025.


Chips are the backbone of our digital economy. We must rebuild the American chip industry or suffer the consequences

Some of the most astounding tech-enabled advances of the next decade, from cutting-edge medical research to urban traffic control and factory floor optimization, will be enabled by a device often smaller than a thumbnail: the memory chip.

Click here to read more from Micron

On Protocol

In an interview with Protocol, Sen. Cynthia Lummis discussed the state of her ambitious crypto bill. In light of the crypto winter, Lummis said: “We’re trying to point out as digital assets fail where our piece of legislation would have either prevented that failure because that asset would have been unable to exist under our regulatory regime without sufficient backing, or where we can fix the bill to address the kinds of problems that arise when a digital asset implodes.”

To thwart Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s antitrust bill, Big Tech turned to Democratic consultants that regularly help elect left-leaning politicians. One such ad-buyer, Pier 91, shares the same mailing address as the Democratic-allied public relations company GMMB, which touts its work with Joe Biden, Barack Obama and Bill Clinton.

Protocol Climate has a briefer on heat pumps, which could help protect the environment and — of particular importance in this economy — save people money.

The DNC’s new Geographic Address Dataset solves a persistent problem in campaigning: getting the right address. The tool contains a repository of 260 million U.S. addresses from nearly a dozen sources, adding 25 million records that hadn’t previously been in the DNC’s records.

Cerebras wants to add a twist in the AI race. The California-based company managed to train an entire 20-billion-parameter model on a single piece of silicon. One of the reasons why? It’s a giant piece of silicon, measuring nearly a foot across. That design approach has some benefits over systems of chips that connect several smaller pieces of silicon together. It could also make advanced AI training more accessible.

Around the world

NSO Group disclosed that its Pegasus spyware has been used in at least five EU countries. The company’s general counsel spoke before the EU Parliament, which has been investigating the use of the spyware against the likes of Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez.

Cisco said it would fully pull out of Russia and Belarus, adding to the list of Western companies that made the decision.

In the media, culture and metaverse

Meta yanked $8 million in sponsorship funding for the U.S. 250th anniversary project. Originally onboarded as a “social connectivity” partner, Meta apparently decided it no longer wanted to be associated with a commemorative project that has been rife with conflict, including an ongoing discrimination lawsuit.

In San Francisco this week, Cruise became the first ride-hailing service to collect fares for fully autonomous rides. The test has been limited to 30 cars within a portion of the city, but the CEO said they could cover all of San Francisco with hundreds of vehicles before the end of the year.

The Food and Drug Administration booted Juul from the U.S. market. Is vaping tech? Juul certainly grew out of that same system, with its founder crediting the Stanford-born “design thinking” concept with guiding product development.

In data

“Billions of dollars”: That’s how much money Elon Musk said his Tesla factories in Texas and Berlin were losing. Production has slowed in the face of port issues in China and a battery shortage, Musk added. In the interview — originally from the end of May, but published this week — Musk said the problems would “get fixed real fast.” Still, that doesn’t bode well for the ambitious EV adoption goals promoted by the Biden administration.


Chips are the backbone of our digital economy. We must rebuild the American chip industry or suffer the consequences

In January 2021, Congress passed the Chips for America Act. This bipartisan legislation authorized a series of programs to promote the research, development and fabrication of semiconductors within the United States. Together, the Fabs and Chip Acts are meant to renew American competitiveness in chip manufacturing, processing, packaging and design.

Click here to read more from Micron

Alexa's resurrection act

Amazon is working on an Alexa upgrade that will allow it to mimic anyone’s voice with less than a minute of training audio. An executive said that “while AI can’t eliminate that pain of loss, it can definitely make the memories last.” Alternatively, you could string together some clips from “Reservoir Dogs” and get the $5 Samuel L. Jackson Alexa personality for free. It might not have as much character, but hey, $5 buys nearly a gallon of gas these days.

Thanks for reading — see you Monday!

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