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Shaming Big Tech over child safety is working better than you think

Protocol Policy

Hello, and welcome to Protocol Policy! Today, I’m diving into the hard-driving nonprofit that’s in almost every conversation about the safety of kids and abuse survivors online. Plus, lawmakers who are totally fed up with Amazon, the K Street crypto boom, and how Apple’s cash is the key to its strategy of mostly ignoring app store regulation.

Name, shame and tame

Have you noticed tech companies starting to capitulate in making the internet (slightly) safer for kids and teens? Me too. One reason they’re doing it is Frances Haugen. Another is international regulation. But don’t underestimate the role of the National Center on Sexual Exploitation.

You can draw a pretty direct line between NCOSE and some of the bigger recent changes to How Tech Actually Brings Us Content.

  • Like, remember how Roku just banned a number of adult entertainment companies? That came after years of Roku landing on NCOSE’s annual list of organizations that the nonprofit thinks should shape up.
  • Or when OnlyFans briefly bowed to pressure from payments processors to ban porn? NCOSE had targeted both the site and credit card companies.
  • The group has also won court rulings that — at least temporarily — made platforms do a double-take about how much legal responsibility they face when users post content related to sex trafficking.
  • And it’s a big driver of the Earn It Act, a fast-moving bipartisan bill to get tech companies to do more on combating child sexual abuse material.

The group has a pretty explicit strategy, including naming and shaming companies.

  • NCOSE this week unveiled the latest edition of its list, which it calls the “dirty dozen.” The list includes Google, Meta and Twitter among those “facilitating, normalizing and even profiting sexual abuse and exploitation” as Lina Nealon, the group’s director of Corporate and Strategic Initiatives, put it.
  • The companies didn’t comment on their inclusion, which Nealon said could be based on the platforms putting users at risk of everything from abuse to “objectification” by fellow users.
  • NCOSE also works with state and federal lawmakers, has a litigation arm, does research that can include setting up accounts as young teenagers on various services and is happy to threaten to republicize campaigns against powerful companies when it doesn’t feel they’re acting with enough urgency, Nealon said.

Still, the group works behind the scenes with several of the companies it’s criticizing, Nealon added.

  • That can mean bringing in survivors or using their testimony to talk with company officials.
  • NCOSE worked with TikTok ahead of some of its changes last year, Nealon said, which the group then leveraged with other services.
  • “We go to Instagram and Snapchat, and we’re like, ‘TikTok did it. Why can’t you?’”

Plenty of people in tech policy grumble that what NCOSE really wants is a conservative, censored internet. They say the group gets there with smears that conflate trafficking and abuse with misogyny and objectification, or even by casting consensual sexuality as grooming or objectification.

  • Critics say the Earn It Act would undermine encryption, imperil the livelihoods of LGBTQ+ creators and make platforms take down more edgy — but not unlawful — content.
  • NCOSE has also gone after the American Library Association, Netflix and the company that maintains the Domain Name System for basically all .com and .net websites.
  • Nealon justified taking aim at all those issues together by saying abuse is of course worse than sexist name-calling, but “the links still exist.”

However you feel about it, the result is something I’ve written about before: the shift to a PG-13 internet.

  • That’s why you have pretty much every major social platform looking to put in place some form of teen protections.
  • Nealon said she hopes in coming years to celebrate content filters, easier reporting for survivors of revenge porn, more restrictions on porn generally and a norm of defaulting to safety for kids and teens.

“I feel like we’re in a very unique moment in time,” she said. “I’m sensing this urgency that I haven’t sensed before in terms of really holding Big Tech accountable.”

— Ben Brody (email | twitter)

In Washington

The House Judiciary Committee wants the Justice Department to probe Amazon for potential illegal obstruction of Congress. The company refused to provide evidence when asked about its use of third-party merchants’ data when creating Amazon’s own products, according to The Wall Street Journal.

President Biden’s executive order on crypto is here at last! OK, it’s mostly directing the government to study things or come up with plans. The issues include the impact of digital assets on financial system stability or use in criminal activity, including Russia’s possible evasion of sanctions. Still, at least one industry official viewed the order, which apparently grew out of a series of discussions called “Crypto Sundays,” as a “major milestone.”

Relatedly, crypto is one of Washington, D.C.’s hottest new businesses. There were 320 lobbyists working on crypto issues last year, up from 115 in 2018, according to a report from the consumer group Public Citizen. And lobbying spending was up to $9 million, from $2.2 million just three years earlier.

Elon Musk’s settlement with the SEC requiring that he get approval for tweets is “unworkable,” according to him. His lawyers filed to have the deal scrapped.

The war in Ukraine is giving encryption advocates a way to remind people the technology can protect them from government oppression and violence, not just give them a way to commit crimes without leaving evidence.

A coalition urged lawmakers to remove what my colleague Issie called “the ecommerce killer lurking in the House version of the chips bill. The Shop Safe Act is meant to crack down on the sale of counterfeit goods online. Companies, trade groups and civil society organizations argue, however, that the measure “threatens to undermine free speech, innovation, and consumer choice,” mostly by requiring monitoring for infringing content.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is arguing that, actually, corporate consolidation is declining. The powerful business lobbying group, which has been pushing back on the movement for expanding competition law, attacked one of the key rationales for change in a new paper.

Two siblings stand accused of defrauding thousands of retail investors who bought or invested in the Ormeus Coin cryptocurrency in a $124 million scheme, according to the SEC.

Uber, Lyft and DoorDash are readying more than $1 million on TV and online ads to push back on the Pro Act, a labor bill that would classify many gig workers as employees.

In the states

Utah’s legislature has passed a privacy bill that consumer groups previously panned as too lax. It’s unclear if the governor plans to sign it, but it could provide a template for Republican-controlled states’ approach to data protection.

Tech companies have almost nothing to say about a Florida bill limiting classroom lessons about sexual orientation or gender identity.

Two Democratic senators want the federal government to prioritize net neutrality, union jobs and affordability as it figures out how it’s going to dole out billions in broadband infrastructure funds to states.

A MESSAGE FROM INTEL

In a few years, we may be largely living “on the edge.” As the amount of data grows exponentially, there is a greater need for edge computing solutions to aid in real-time decision-making.

Learn more

On Protocol

Mykhailo Fedorov, Ukraine's vice prime minister and minister of Digital Transformation, has successfully turned to tech with his pleas that the industry punish Russia’s invasion of his country.

How does Apple plan to address the coming storm of worldwide app store regulation? The company continues to just pay fines so it can mostly ignore a Dutch antitrust ruling about its treatment of dating apps, which seems to be a signal of things to come given its $37 billion cash reserves.

Protocol’s been tracking the latest tech moves in Russia related to the war in Ukraine.

Millennial nostalgia tour

If you ever illegally downloaded “When You Were Young” by The Killers, just know that the LimeWire brand is (sorta) returning as an NFT marketplace. And, yes, I’m listening to it right now.

A MESSAGE FROM INTEL

As a form of distributed computing, edge computing enables processing to happen where data is being generated. The convergence of 5G networks with edge computing means data is not only traveling faster, but can be quickly translated via media, inferencing and analytics into insights and action, enabling new, ultra-low latency applications to come to life.

Learn more

Thanks for reading — see you Friday!

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