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An internet just for teens

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Good morning! This Wednesday, lawmakers want companies to do more to protect kids online, Biden officially nominated two Democrats to the FCC, and Stripe and Klarna join forces.

The PG-13 internet

The more things stay the same, the more they change. Yesterday, that meant a hearing about kids online with officials from YouTube, TikTok and Snapchat, held by the same senators who had heard earlier this month from Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen.

The companies suggested ways they could help. The rules around how to treat kids online are changing, and the companies showed that they're aware of this.

  • All three companies pledged, for instance, they'd at least start to share research on their impact on kids, admitting implicitly that they didn't want to end up having that research spilled into public the way Facebook's has via Haugen.
  • The firms also touted other measures they've taken recently on kids and teens.

The senators didn't like everything the companies offered. The lawmakers shared sad stories about kids and teens running into sometimes-deadly harms that the platforms failed to stop.

  • As my colleague Issie Lapowsky noted, Sen. Ed Markey, a longtime advocate of privacy for kids and teens online, got frustrated that Snap in particular wasn't buying into his bipartisan bill to pass privacy protections for young teens, and to ban ad-targeting aimed at kids.
  • TikTok policy chief Michael Beckerman also fielded a lot of questions about whether the Chinese government has a say on how the ByteDance-owned app is run.
  • Overall, Sen. Richard Blumenthal, who chaired the hearing, said the companies wouldn't get a free pass just because they're not Facebook — and pledged to move forward on initiatives to protect young users.

The pressure isn't really coming from Congress, though. Rather, like so many of the biggest shifts in tech policy right now, it's emanating from a desire not to be Facebook, and a realization that the FTC and governments around the world are already moving forward.

  • Since the 1990s, online services that knew children 12 and under would be logging on have had to obtain parental consent to collect the kids' data.
  • This is basically why you can't sign up for a Facebook account until age 13, for instance, but it also meant teens were treated like adults for privacy purposes.
  • But now "that notion is changing," as Phyllis Marcus, a lawyer who oversaw the FTC's last rewrite of rules on kids' privacy, told me.

The result: An internationally interlocking set of policy shifts that are already happening.

  • In the U.S., the FTC demanded last year that social media companies hand over information on their data practices, including how they handle not just kids' information, but teens', too. As it processes the answers, the commission is also mulling a wholesale rule governing online privacy, complicated though it would be to execute.
  • Meanwhile, the U.K., at the EU's suggestion, recently instituted rules requiring companies there to put guardrails in place for users up to age 17 (although the rules favor more freedom online for teens than they do for kids).
  • Three Democratic members of Congress led by Markey have also urged the companies, with some success, to port the protections they're offering teens in the U.K. over to the U.S.

And that's how the real policy do-si-do happens. The FTC has the ability to punish U.S. companies if they fail to fulfill promises that customers relied on to their detriment.

  • The exact execution could be complicated, but thanks to the FTC's power to police deceptions, Markey's group has made clear it hopes the promises from companies like TikTok about how they'll protect young U.S. users mean teens will actually get more privacy in practice than they do in law.
  • At the same time, it just so happens that the FTC recently fast-tracked all kinds of investigations when they involve potential harm that came to kids and teens. That sure would come in handy in any probe of these issues.

Of course, none of this can totally replace a real U.S. privacy statute for teens online, if lawmakers really want it as much as they claim to. But it does mean that, now that companies like Facebook and YouTube are teenagers themselves, they're finding that the world of their corporate childhoods is rapidly slipping away.

— Ben Brody (email | twitter)


Jack is one of 40,000 people working on safety and security issues at Facebook. Hear more from Jack on why Facebook supports updating regulations on the internet's most pressing challenges, including reforming Section 230 to set clear guidelines for all large tech companies.

Learn more

People are talking

On Protocol | Workplace: Adobe's entry into NFTs can help creators keep their identity, the company's general counsel Dana Rao said:

  • "Today there's not a way to know that the NFT you're buying was actually created by a true creator. We're allowing the creator to show their identity and attach it to the image

Logitech's Bracken Darrell thinks supply chain woes will drag into next year:

  • "We will have some issues delivering at the levels of demand that are out there. But we have strong levels of inventory."

Execs won't win the push to return to the office, MIT professor Thomas Malone says:

  • "If companies make employees who can do their jobs at home go into the office, it will be harder for them to hire, and other companies will benefit."

Donald Trump wants to make clear that his new social media network is unlike any other:

  • "We will not be treating users like lab rats for social experiments, or labeling alternative views as 'disinformation.'"

Making moves

Stripe and Klarna are doing "buy now, pay later" together. Stripe merchants will be able to use Klarna's payment system.

Jessica Rosenworcel is Joe Biden's pick to lead the FCC. Former FCC official Gigi Sohn was nominated to fill an open commissioner position.

Arezoo Riahl is Waymo's first head of equity, inclusion and diversity. She last worked on diversity and belonging at Autodesk.

Kai Chuk will reportedly lead podcast efforts at YouTube. Chuk has been with YouTube for just about a decade working on media partnerships.

Kim Wyman will lead election security at CISA. Wyman is Washington state's secretary of state.

In other news

Apple's privacy changes didn't affect Twitter ads too much, the company said. Twitter's report is a little different from those of Snap and Facebook, which have both blamed Apple's tracking changes for denting their finances.

Niantic's new AR game is out now. Pikmin Bloom is a spiritual successor to Pokemon Go, in which you tend an augmented-reality garden by walking around. (It's probably more fun than it sounds.)

Amazon wants in on quantum computing. The company's interest in this space isn't surprising; Chinese and U.S. companies like Microsoft and Google are also racing to build these machines.

Uber will benefit from Hertz's big Tesla deal. The two companies have long worked together on discounted rentals for Uber drivers, and now plan to put as many as 50,000 Teslas into Uber drivers' hands. Uber is also introducing a service in Paris called Carrefour Sprint that will get customers their goods in 15 minutes or less.

On Protocol: There's a blockchain-based video games boom, which is creating a new "play-to-earn" business model that's threatening to upend the industry.

On Protocol | China: Lesbian dating apps in China struggle to find success, and Lesdo's closure is a prime example. Regulators in China are harsher on dating apps for LGBTQ+ communities, but lesbian dating apps have a particularly hard time maintaining business.

Hand me the mic

Live audio is hot right now, and everyone wants a piece of it. Facebook is getting into it, Twitter is trying it out, Amazon is investing heavily in it. Now, Amazon is rolling out a tool that lets anyone handle the aux.

The company is creating an app dubbed "Project Mic" that lets people make their own live radio show. The hosts can throw in music, and listeners can tune in to the shows through the app or other Amazon services. Who says that radio is dead?


Jack is one of 40,000 people working on safety and security issues at Facebook. Hear more from Jack on why Facebook supports updating regulations on the internet's most pressing challenges, including reforming Section 230 to set clear guidelines for all large tech companies.

Learn more

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