Person looking at smart phone
Photo: Yura Fresh via Unsplash

Teen protection online will require big redesigns

Protocol Policy

Hello and welcome to Protocol Policy! We’re excited to be back and fleetingly discussing something that isn’t Elon Musk or Twitter. Today, I’m delving into just how much companies are going to need to do to convince regulators they’re protecting teen users, plus signals on Republican tech policy after the midterms and, OK, still a little bit about Musk.

Not just Insta

Governments around the world are increasingly demanding that companies protect teen users, in addition to younger kids — but many firms haven’t even begun thinking about that PG-13 internet, Dona Fraser told me. She oversees programs formerly affiliated with the Better Business Bureau that help companies comply with privacy rules, and she and I spoke just after she helped launch a roadmap for companies grappling with data use, services’ sharing features and even content. As if to prove the point, right after we talked, Europe announced a deal on new content rules that will ban advertising to minors from 2024.

Here’s what Fraser said about where companies are falling down, and how completely they may need to remake their products.

It’s not just TikTok and Instagram: Pretty much everyone needs to get ready for new government policy on teen users, Fraser said, and the conversations are eventually going to get into the very guts of products.

  • “It's everything from consumer goods companies to mobile providers and the video game industry. Everything from any level of entertainment.”
  • “A lot of the [policy] conversations are really digging in on how to design certain things and how to pull out certain elements that may trigger certain harms — autoplay, having behavioral advertising [or] ad streams that are going on the side.”
  • “Companies are going to have to recognize that they probably need to go back to the drawing board on some things and really rethink design and engineering.”

The very first thing companies should think about, Fraser said, is whether they’re “engaging with teens.”

  • That can be tricky, because “where adults go, teens go” — unlike kids, who tend to drift to content just for them.
  • Once companies are aware of their teen users, they need to start thinking about: “How are you segmenting your business practices to address those specific needs and harms?”
  • “Must you be doing behavioral advertising, or can you do contextual? Must you have autoplay on, or can you shut it off?”

In some ways, companies with teen users are starting from scratch because they haven’t been working to comply with existing digital privacy laws aimed at kids, which often means simply relying on age gates to screen out users under 13.

  • “We deal with a lot of multinational companies who have never engaged in the under-13 set, but we know [they] deal with the teen set. I thought to myself, ‘They're not gonna have any idea how to use age gates.’”
  • That began the six-month convening with “consumer-facing, business-to-business social media platforms” to produce the new roadmap.
  • “This is the tip of the iceberg. There's more to talk about.”

Of course, there’s been criticism of self-regulatory approaches like Fraser’s — that they seek to take away momentum from needed government regulation or act as a rubber stamp.

  • “Our self-regulatory programs, I would argue, have great teeth,” she said. She oversaw the unit that certifies compliance with COPPA, the U.S.’s digital privacy law for kids. The program sent a complaint to the FTC about TikTok’s predecessor,
  • “Our referral to the FTC resulted in a huge fine,” she said. “In the 22 years since COPPA, we've done 200-plus investigations and cases.”
  • “We're not opposed to legislation, but we do believe that self-regulation can help any legislative proposals get it right.”

The stakes for the “egregious actors” who scoff at policies on teen users are going to include “great penalties,” Fraser said. Governments around the world are looking to act, though, and it seems like many in the rest of tech don’t yet know how much they’ll need to do to get right.

— Ben Brody (email | twitter)

In Washington

Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo endorsed Sen. Klobuchar’s big self-preferencing bill, the American Innovation and Choice Online Act. “I clearly agree we need to improve competition, which increases innovation,” Raimondo said during a congressional hearing.

The Biden administration unveiled its Declaration for the Future of the Internet, a nonbinding pledge by more than 55 countries to adhere to basic principles of internet freedom. Early versions of the much-anticipated document had faced significant pushback over fears that it could create a splintered internet. The final document takes great pains to … not do that.

Never mind on filling up the FTC for now: Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said he was ready to confirm Alvaro Bedoya for the open seat at the agency, but then a handful of Democrats came down with COVID-19, so the saga continues.

Yes, MTG introduced a bill to replace Sec. 230 with must-carry content regulations. It’s not going anywhere — but it tells us a lot about what Republicans who are poised to gain power in Congress think makes for a juicy issue.


At Intel, we have an over 50-year history of manufacturing innovation, and we believe in the power of technology to create a more responsible, inclusive, and sustainable world for all. Discover how smart infrastructure solutions from Intel can help transform the future.

Learn more

In the courts

Elon Musk still can’t tweet whatever he wants — even if he owns the joint. A judge rejected Musk’s effort to end his 2018 settlement with the SEC, which arose from Musk’s tweet claiming he had the “funding secured” to take Tesla private.

The Department of Justice is backing an attempt by Washington, D.C.’s attorney general to get its antitrust lawsuit against Amazon back on track. The federal law enforcers helped out their colleagues in the capital district by accusing a court of “errors.”

A host of environmental activist groups and 16 states are suing the U.S. Postal Service for not electrifying its fleet.

On Protocol

Starlink still has a long way to go to catch up with broadband. A Protocol progress report found that Musk’s big satellite internet play still lags traditional alternatives in speed and is way more expensive than other providers in terms of both setup and monthly costs.

Ron DeSantis bucked his state’s Republican legislature over incentives for rooftop solar. At a moment of high energy costs, the Florida governor issued a rare veto of a highly unpopular, utility-backed measure that would have removed the incentives.

Around the world

China may soon end its Big Tech crackdown, according to the South China Morning Post. The changes are expected as part of a symposium with Chinese tech giants, and are intended to give China’s economy a boost.

Francis Haugen called for the U.S. to adopt legislation similar to the EU’s Digital Services Act. In a New York Times op-ed, the Facebook whistleblower called the DSA “the most significant piece of social media legislation in history” and warned implementation of the law will be just as important as its passage.

In the media, culture and metaverse

Amazon uses Alexa voice data to target users with ads, according to researchers. They found that Amazon shares that data with as many as 41 ad partners, who use it to infer interests and place ads on Echo devices. Amazon confirmed this practice to The Verge.

If requested, Google will begin removing a broader category of personal information — including emails and phone numbers — in special circumstances. The idea is to cut down on doxxing.

In the C-Suite

Musk may already have a new Twitter CEO lined up to replace Parag Agrawal, according to Reuters. In his attempt to get banks on board, he also reportedly promised major cuts to board and executive pay and new ways to make money from tweets.

In data

$8.4 billion: That’s how much Tesla stock Musk sold this week. To allay wary investors, Musk tweeted yesterday that he had no further sales planned. As we all know, everything Musk tweets is true.

From the not-on-our-bingo-card files

Bill Clinton, crypto bro? The former president appeared onstage at the Crypto Bahamas conference alongside former British prime minister Tony Blair and FTX CEO Sam Bankman-Fried. The gang was introduced by The Mooch because apparently the original trio wasn't weird enough.


At Intel, we have an over 50-year history of manufacturing innovation, and we believe in the power of technology to create a more responsible, inclusive, and sustainable world for all. Discover how smart infrastructure solutions from Intel can help transform the future.

Learn more

Thanks for reading — see you Monday!

Recent Issues