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Biden puts children’s privacy at the forefront, again

The Washington Post logo The Washington Post 2/8/2023 Cristiano Lima

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Below: A Senate panel re-ups Gigi Sohn’s nomination, and Elon Musk enters Republicans’ crosshairs. First:

Biden puts children’s privacy at the forefront, again

President Biden delivers the State of the Union address. (Jacquelyn Martin/AP) © Jacquelyn Martin/AP President Biden delivers the State of the Union address. (Jacquelyn Martin/AP)

President Biden reiterated his support for broad data privacy protections in his State of the Union address Tuesday. But it was his call to expand protections for children online that drew the biggest plug — and the loudest ovation.

“It’s time to pass bipartisan legislation to stop Big Tech from collecting personal data on kids and teenagers online, ban targeted advertising to children and impose stricter limits on the personal data that companies collect on all of us,” Biden said, bringing Vice President Harris, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and much of the House chamber to their feet.

The comments largely mirrored his last address, in which Biden said it was time to end “the national experiment they’re conducting on our children for profit.” But ahead of the prime-time speech, the White House released a fact sheet making a fresh case for protecting kids online and embracing regulations popularized in the United Kingdom and exported to the United States. 

The memo stated Biden’s support for requiring that platforms “prioritize the privacy and wellbeing of young people above profit and revenue in their product design, including safety by design standards.”

In 2020, the United Kingdom set new rules requiring that companies put the “best interests” of kids and teens first when designing new digital services. Since then, California state lawmakers have passed their own version of the measure and other U.S. states are pushing to replicate it. 

Biden’s remarks highlight a central conflict bogging down talks in Congress: While House leaders are seeking to pass federal privacy protections for all Americans, which include heightened guardrails for kids, Senate leaders have prioritized narrower efforts focused entirely on children. 

Children’s online safety advocates hailed Biden’s address.

Common Sense Media CEO Jim Steyer said in an emailed statement that Biden “again made it clear that he expects Congress to put the interests and wellbeing of kids and families before those of the tech industry — period, full stop.”

But one top Republican jabbed Biden’s kids-centric remarks.

“If President Biden truly wants to promote Big Tech transparency and accountability, protect our kids, and strengthen privacy protections for Americans, he should join Energy and Commerce's bipartisan efforts to enact comprehensive data privacy legislation,” said Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), who chairs the House Energy and Commerce Committee, in a statement. 

Last Congress, McMorris Rodgers and the panel advanced a broader privacy bill, the American Data Privacy and Protection Act, that would minimize how much data companies collect and ban targeted ads to children, seemingly accomplishing several of Biden’s goals. 

The White House fact sheet also called for Congress to “minimize how much information” tech companies collect and to set “clear and strict limits on the ability to collect, use, transfer, and maintain our personal data, especially for sensitive data.”

Industry groups, meanwhile, responded by re-upping calls for Congress to focus on a comprehensive privacy bill, which could create a clear set of practices nationwide.

In a new wrinkle, Biden called on Congress to “strengthen antitrust enforcement” and stop the tech giants from “giving their own products an unfair advantage.”

Biden’s comment, the first time a president has said the word “antitrust” in a State of the Union since 1979, drew bipartisan applause, including from McCarthy. 

A bipartisan group of lawmakers last year pushed to pass two proposals targeting the practice, known as self-preferencing, but the measures never made it to the House or Senate floor.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), who led the antitrust campaign last Congress, touted Biden’s comments on Twitter, calling it “Momentum!”

But the proposals still face a steep climb to passage, with McCarthy and House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) both opposing the effort in the past. 

Our top tabs

Senate panel lines up Sohn’s FCC nomination — again

Gigi Sohn, a nominee for the Federal Communications Commission, is one of a handful of Biden appointments crucial to breaking deadlocks at key regulatory agencies. © Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images Gigi Sohn, a nominee for the Federal Communications Commission, is one of a handful of Biden appointments crucial to breaking deadlocks at key regulatory agencies.

Senate Democrats are renewing efforts to confirm Gigi Sohn to the Federal Communications Commission, teeing up a nomination hearing for next week after her bid fell short last Congress. The Senate Commerce Committee announced it will hold the session Tuesday.

Biden first nominated Sohn, an architect of the Obama-era push to set so-called “net neutrality” regulations, in October 2021, but her confirmation stalled amid steadfast opposition from Republicans. The delay has hindered the agency’s ability to carry out Democratic agenda items on telecom regulations. 

Biden renominated Sohn last month. Senate Democrats will need to vote her out of committee again before setting up a final confirmation vote on the floor.

Democrats may have an easier time advancing Sohn’s nomination this time around: While the panel was evenly split between the two parties last Congress, Democrats now hold a one-vote advantage, meaning they could advance Sohn with fewer procedural hurdles if none of them break ranks. 

Musk’s Twitter reinstates GOP senator after drawing conservative ire

Twitter temporarily locked the account of Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.) over a hunting photo. (Leah Millis/Reuters) © Leah Millis/Reuters Twitter temporarily locked the account of Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.) over a hunting photo. (Leah Millis/Reuters)

Elon Musk’s Twitter reinstated the account of Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.) on Monday after facing blowback from conservative lawmakers for locking him out over a hunting picture. It marked an unusual twist for Musk and Republicans, who have enjoyed a cozy relationship since the mogul bought the company pledging to address allegations of bias and censorship at the social network. 

Daines said in a statement that his account was temporarily suspended after he posted a photo of him and his wife posing with a dead antelope they hunted, but that Musk “reached out to me to resolve this issue.” Daines said he was glad Musk “recognizes that free speech is a bedrock of our country.” 

Before the reinstatement, Republicans slammed Musk and Twitter, with Rep. Buddy Carter (R-Ga.) criticizing the company for “censoring” the image and Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) questioning whether the action was taken “because they’re prominent Republicans, and therefore must be punished.” Republicans railed against Twitter for years over claims it unfairly stifled conservative comment, but those critiques had almost entirely evaporated since Musk’s takeover. 

Microsoft infuses OpenAI tech into Bing in play for the future of AI

Microsoft said it would “reimagine” its Bing search engine. (Richard Drew/AP) © Richard Drew/AP Microsoft said it would “reimagine” its Bing search engine. (Richard Drew/AP)

The race for commercial artificial intelligence supremacy heated up Tuesday as Microsoft said it would “reimagine” its Bing search engine with technology mirroring the model from ChatGPT creator OpenAI, Rachel Lerman and Nitasha Tiku report.

“The new version of Bing is designed to allow users to type queries in conversational language and receive both traditional search results as well as answers to questions on the same page,” they wrote. “It will use a new ‘generation’ of an artificial intelligence model debuted by OpenAI, the company that released popular chat bot ChatGPT.”

The move “could help Bing regain a foothold in a market completely dominated by rival Google, which launched a similar tool this week powered by its own AI,” they wrote. ChatGPT, a large language model powered by AI that is able to spit out humanlike queries to questions, has taken the internet by storm in recent months.

Agency scanner

Commerce Officials to Detail Chips Act Application Process This Month (Wall Street Journal)

Hill happenings

Republicans use Chinese spy balloon to attack TikTok (NBC News)

Inside the industry

Meta Pursues Teen Users as Horizon Metaverse App Struggles to Grow (Wall Street Journal)

Twitter Missed Deadline to Report UK Finances, Registry Says (Bloomberg)

Wikipedia again up and running as Pakistan lifts ban on site (Associated Press)

Workforce report

Zoom is laying off 1,300 employees, around 15 percent of its workforce (The Verge)

Silicon Valley Layoffs Mean Washington, D.C., Is a Hotter Tech Hiring Market (Wall Street Journal)


How the Chinese spy balloon drama played out on Chinese-owned TikTok (Drew Harwell)

Will an Apple Watch or Fitbit make you lose weight? Don’t count on it. (Geoffrey A. Fowler)

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