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Discussion Members of the U.S. Congress trying to push controversial kids' privacy bill, KOSA, into yearend bill


The Kids Online Safety Act (KOSA) looks to be getting a push from members of both parties in congress to be included in one of the yearend spending bills. From what I understand, the bill (which you can read here) does have good intentions of keeping kids safe online, but has a lot of problems on how it approaches everyone's privacy, finding information online, and leaves a lot of things vague and up to the FTC and state attorney generals on how to interpret.

But KOSA's chief focus is not to protect young people's privacy. The bill's main aim is to censor a broad swath of speech in response to concerns that young people are spending too much time on social media, and too often encountering harmful content. KOSA requires sites to "prevent and mitigate mental health disorders," including by the promotion or exacerbation of "self-harm, suicide, eating disorders, and substance use disorders." Make no mistake: this is a requirement that platforms censor content.

This sweeping set of content restrictions wouldn't just apply to Facebook or Instagram. Platforms covered by KOSA include "any online platform that connects to the internet and that is used, or is reasonably likely to be used, by a minor." As we said before, this would likely encompass everything from Apple's iMessage and Signal to web browsers, email applications and VPN software, as well as platforms like Reddit, Facebook, and TikTok—platforms with wildly different user bases and uses, and with hugely varying abilities, and expectations, to monitor content.

A huge number of online services would thus be forced to make a choice: overfilter to ensure no one encounters content that could be construed as ambiguously harmful, or raise the age limit for users to 17. Many platforms may even do both.

Let's be clear about the dangerous consequences of KOSA's censorship. Under its vague standard, both adults and children will not be able to access medical and health information online. This is because it will be next to impossible for a website to make case-by-case decisions about which content promotes self-harm or other disorders and which ones provide necessary health information and advice to those suffering from them. This will disparately impact children who lack the familial, social, financial, or other means to obtain health information elsewhere. (Research has shown that a large majority of young people have used the internet for health-related research.)

KOSA would authorize a federal study on creating a device or operating system level age verification system, "including the need for potential hardware and software changes." The end result would likely be an elaborate age-verification system, run by a third-party, that maintains an enormous database of all internet users' data.

Many of the risks of such a program are obvious. They require every user—including children—to hand private data over to a third-party simply to use a website if that user ever wants to see beyond the government's "parental" controls.

So yeah, a lot of potential problems with this one. The Heritage Foundation even outright said in an article how they want this bill to pass so they can use it to go after trans kids. If you're American and don't like how this sounds, you can look up your senators and representatives here and write to them about your opposition. Fight for the Future also has a petition against the bill that anyone can sign, including us non-Americans.

I'd only just heard about this bill last night, and am quite worried that it could be sneaked into U.S. law with how little talk about its issues there seems to be online, but hopefully I was able to get all of the broad points written down here.

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