news & Things

Stop Collecting Children’s Personal Data, Says President Biden

08th Mar 2022

President Biden’s State of the Union address urges tech giants to strengthen privacy protections and to stop collecting personal data on children.

 

US president Joe Biden urges Congress to strengthen child safety practices online, such as on social media platforms, by instating new laws that ban digital platforms from displaying certain ads targeted at children.

He states it’s time to improve privacy protections, including increasing pressure of tech firms to cease collecting personal information on children.

With Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen in attendance, the president said that social media platforms must be held accountable for the ‘national experiment’ they are conducting on children for profit.

The mental health crisis amongst young people has been exacerbated by social media platforms and the way their data has been used to keep them clicking, according to the Biden administration, and it’s not without significant repercussions.

Biden urged the congress to put pressure on digital platforms, by making them develop products with child safety features in mind from the very beginning and not just something tacked on at the end. This must be a prerequisite to ensure the health and safety of children.

“It’s time to strengthen privacy protections, ban targeted advertising at children, and demand tech companies stop collecting personal data on our children,”

US President Joe Biden

 

There are plans for The White House to request specific funding to research and develop ways to improve children’s online safety.

President Biden states he will be requesting $5 million in his 2023 budget to increase the research efforts on how social media negatively impacts user’s mental health, as well as the clinical and societal interventions the government may utilise to aid the affected.

The Department of Health and Human Services will be launching over the next year a, ‘National Center of Excellence on Social Media and Mental Illness’, in order to create and distribute new guidelines for how social media use can impact teens.

The takeaway from Biden’s statements is that there’s a pushback against the world’s tech giants and their increasingly pervasive products.

He’s not the first to speak out against it, as campaigners, parents and lawmakers have been arguing for a long time that social media sites, including platforms like YouTube, are designed to grab and keep attention and the content is fed to young people in order to hook them.

Internal papers, released by Haugen last year, revealed that Facebook was not only aware of the fact that up to 3 per cent of teenage girls experience anxiety, depression, or self-harm as a result of using Instagram, but they were still seeking to launch a teen-targeted version of the app despite knowing this.

Within the documents was also evidence showing the company was aware that about 12.5 per cent of its users (nearly 360 million people) indulged in compulsive usage of the social media platform, impacting their sleep, work or relationships.

A majority of users who’ve been surveyed by Facebook researchers reveal that they feel their compulsive behaviour is worse on Facebook than any other social media platform.

The documents showed a number of problems, such as:

 

  • loss of productivity when people stop completing tasks in their lives to check Facebook frequently
  • a loss of sleep when they stay up late scrolling through the app
  • the degradation of in-person relationships when people replace time together with time online

Speaking about Meta’s investment into its virtual metaverse environment, Ms Haugen said that it was “unconscionable” while the firm’s own documents state that “there need to be more resources on very basic safety systems”.

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