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House, Senate on collision course over children’s privacy

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Below: The FTC sues Meta over a VR acquisition, and Hulu revises its rules for political ads. First:

House, Senate on collision course over children’s privacy

The Senate took a first step toward boosting protections for children and teens online Wednesday by advancing two major bipartisan bills, as I reported. 

But the push is set to run into obstacles in the House, where lawmakers are working on broader privacy legislation that may be tough to reconcile with the narrower Senate bills. 

Together, the Senate measures would give parents greater control over their children’s online activity, ban companies from collecting the data of users 13 to 16 years old without their consent and require that companies identify and mitigate risks their products may pose to children. 

The Senate Commerce Committee approved both the Kids Online Safety Act and the Children and Teens’ Online Privacy Protection Act, a major milestone for children’s safety advocates.

The approach stands in sharp contrast to the one taken by House lawmakers, however, who earlier this month advanced a sweeping proposal to create what would be the nation’s first comprehensive data-privacy standards for all consumers — not just children and teens. 

That bill, the American Data Privacy and Protection Act, contains heightened protections for younger users, including a ban on targeted advertising to minors. But the legislation advanced in the Senate has a wider array of safeguards for younger users, including an “eraser button” that would allow children to delete their data from digital platforms like Instagram and TikTok. 

The impasse threatens to derail what otherwise has been the most progress that U.S. lawmakers have ever made in efforts to craft federal privacy and safety standards for the internet.

While there’s general agreement on the need for both protections for all consumers and expanded guardrails for kids and teens online, several senators said Congress should prioritize expanding protections for children. 

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), who is leading the online safety bill, S. 3663, said Wednesday that there’s “many other complications” to hashing out a broader privacy framework and that “the focus should be on children.”

“I want comprehensive privacy legislation, but by the end of this year we have to have protections for the children in our country, at a minimum,” said Sen. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), who for decades has pushed to boost children’s safety and introduced the kids’ privacy bill, S.1628.

Sen. Roger Wicker of Mississippi, the panel’s top Republican, took the opposite stance. 

“The need for a national law that provides data protections for everyone must be this committee’s priority,” said Wicker, who earlier this year joined House lawmakers in unveiling their privacy bill.

Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) said the decision on how to move forward will ultimately depend on Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), who chairs the Senate Commerce Committee. 

Cantwell indicated Wednesday that she’s not planning to take up the broader privacy bill, dealing another blow to negotiations. And she suggested House leadership may be reluctant to move it too. 

Asked if she plans to markup the House bill, Cantwell told me, “No. I don’t even think Nancy Pelosi has plans to bring it up, so pretty sure we’re not going to be bringing it up.”

As House speaker, Pelosi ultimately controls whether any measure gets a floor vote. But as a California Democrat, there are questions about whether she will push to address concerns from state officials that the bill would override their own privacy law.

Spokespeople for Pelosi did not return a request for comment on the remarks.

President Biden called on Congress to expand children’s privacy protections during his State of the Union address, a prime-time endorsement that advocates said they hoped would jolt discussions.

But it remains to be seen whether House lawmakers will be content with passing a law that only boosts protections for children, or whether the Senate will come around on a broader bill. Until they sort out those differences, consumers will be left with neither.

Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that Sen. Roger Wicker formally introduced the American Data Privacy and Protection Act in the Senate. He unveiled a draft.

FTC sues to block Meta’s acquisition of VR gaming firm

The Federal Trade Commission argues that Facebook parent Meta’s acquisition of virtual-reality game maker Within is illegal and should be blocked in U.S. court, Cat Zakrzewski and Naomi Nix report. It marks the first new lawsuit filed by the FTC against a tech giant since Lina Khan became the commission’s chair last year. 

“That lessening of competition may result in reduced innovation, quality, and choice, less pressure to compete for the most talented app developers, and potentially higher prices for VR fitness apps,” the FTC argued in a legal complaint. “And Meta would be one step closer to its ultimate goal of owning the entire ‘Metaverse.’ ”

Meta spokesman Stephen Peters said the lawsuit sends a “chilling message” to innovators, arguing that the deal is “good for people, developers and the VR space.”

“The FTC’s case is based on ideology and speculation, not evidence,” he said. “The idea that this acquisition would lead to anticompetitive outcomes in a dynamic space with as much entry and growth as online and connected fitness is simply not credible.”

Senate passes chips legislation

The final version of the “Chips and Science Act” includes $52 billion for microchip manufacturers. The Senate passed it in a bipartisan, 64-33 vote on Wednesday, Amy B Wang and Mike DeBonis report. It now goes to the House, where Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has said it has enough support to pass and could see a vote as early as Thursday.

“President Biden has said the legislation is one of the top priorities on his agenda and called for Congress to get the bill to his desk as soon as possible,” my colleagues write. “On Wednesday, he praised the bill as one answer to Americans’ worry about the state of the economy and cost of living.”

Hulu says it will use cable standards for political ads

Disney-backed streaming service Hulu says it will reverse its advertising policy and begin accepting political ads with the same standards as Disney’s cable channels, Michael Scherer and John Wagner report. The move comes amid an outcry by Democratic groups protesting its rejection of ads on abortion and guns.

“Hulu will now accept candidate and issue advertisements covering a wide spectrum of policy positions, but reserves the right to request edits” or other changes, “in alignment with industry standards,” the company said in a statement. It said Disney made the change “after a thorough review” over the last few months.

The Post previously reported that Hulu has a policy against running content deemed controversial. Hulu and other digital providers aren’t bound by the Communications Act of 1934, which requires broadcast television networks to give politicians equal access to the airwaves.

The FTC’s lawsuit to block Meta’s acquisition of Within prompted questions about competition in the virtual-reality space and jokes. Sacha Haworth, who leads the Tech Oversight Project:

Google delays cookie-cutting to 2024 (CNBC)

Microsoft asks Google, Oracle to help crimp Amazon’s U.S. government cloud leadership (Wall Street Journal)

Cook County, Ill., officials say ICE using data brokers to purchase protected information (StateScoop)

Bipartisan U.S. lawmakers urge Facebook, Twitter to better fight Russian disinformation (Reuters)

Facing their first recession, Twitch streamers are tightening their belts (Nathan Grayson)

  • Apple and Amazon hold earnings calls today at 5 and 5:30 p.m.
  • A Senate Commerce Committee subcommittee hosts a hearing on spectrum on Tuesday at 2:30 p.m.
  • A Senate Judiciary Committee panel holds an antitrust hearing on Tuesday at 3 p.m.

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