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Social Media Execs to Face Senators    10/26 06:09

   

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- Bearing down on hugely popular social media platforms and 
their impact on children, the leaders of a Senate panel have called executives 
from YouTube, TikTok and Snapchat to face questions on what their companies are 
doing to ensure young users' safety.

   The Senate Commerce subcommittee on consumer protection is fresh off a 
highly charged hearing with a former Facebook data scientist, who laid out 
internal company research showing that the company's Instagram photo-sharing 
service appears to seriously harm some teens.

   The panel is widening its focus to examine other tech platforms, with 
millions or billions of users, that also compete for young people's attention 
and loyalty.

   The three executives -- Michael Beckerman, a TikTok vice president and head 
of public policy for the Americas; Leslie Miller, vice president for government 
affairs and public policy of YouTube's owner Google; and Jennifer Stout, vice 
president for global public policy of Snapchat parent Snap Inc. -- are due to 
appear at a subcommittee hearing Tuesday.

   The three platforms are woven into the fabric of young people's lives, often 
influencing their dress, dance moves and diet, potentially to the point of 
obsession. Peer pressure to get on the apps is strong. Social media can offer 
entertainment and education, but platforms have been misused to harm children 
and promote bullying, vandalism in schools, eating disorders and manipulative 
marketing, lawmakers say.

   "We need to understand the impact of popular platforms like Snapchat, TikTok 
and YouTube on children and what companies can do better to keep them safe," 
Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., the subcommittee's chairman, said in a 
statement.

   The panel wants to learn how algorithms and product designs can magnify harm 
to children, foster addiction and intrusions of privacy, Blumenthal says. The 
aim is to develop legislation to protect young people and give parents tools to 
protect their children.

   The video platform TikTok, wildly popular with teens and younger children, 
is owned by the Chinese company ByteDance. In only five years since launching, 
it has gained an estimated 1 billion monthly users.

   TikTok denies allegations, most notably from conservative Republican 
lawmakers, that it operates at the behest of the Chinese government and 
provides it with users' personal data. The company says it stores all TikTok 
U.S. data in the United States. The company also rejects criticisms of 
promoting harmful content to children.

   TikTok says it has tools in place, such as screen time management, to help 
young people and parents moderate how long children spend on the app and what 
they see. The company says it focuses on age-appropriate experiences, noting 
that some features, such as direct messaging, are not available to younger 
users.

   Early this year after federal regulators ordered TikTok to disclose how its 
practices affect children and teenagers, the platform tightened its privacy 
practices for the under-18 crowd.

   A separate House committee has investigated video service YouTube Kids this 
year. Lawmakers said the YouTube offshoot feeds children inappropriate material 
in "a wasteland of vapid, consumerist content" so it can serve ads to them. The 
app, with both video hosting and original shows, is available in about 70 
countries.

   A panel of the House Oversight and Reform Committee told YouTube CEO Susan 
Wojcicki that the service doesn't do enough to protect children from 
potentially harmful material. Instead it relies on artificial intelligence and 
self-policing by content creators to decide which videos make it onto the 
platform, the panel's chairman said in a letter to Wojcicki.

   Parent company Google agreed to pay $170 million in 2019 settlements with 
the Federal Trade Commission and New York state of allegations that YouTube 
collected personal data on children without their parents' consent.

   Despite changes made after the settlements, the lawmaker's letter said, 
YouTube Kids still shows ads to children.

   YouTube says it has worked to provide children and families with protections 
and parental controls like time limits, to limit viewing to age-appropriate 
content. It emphasizes that the 2019 settlements involved the primary YouTube 
platform, not the kids' version.

   "We took action on more than 7 million accounts in the first three quarters 
of 2021 when we learned they may belong to a user under the age of 13 -- 3 
million of those in the third quarter alone -- as we have ramped up our 
automated removal efforts," Miller, the Google vice president, says in written 
testimony prepared for the hearing.

   Snap Inc.'s Snapchat service allows people to send photos, videos and 
messages that are meant to quickly disappear, an enticement to its young users 
seeking to avoid snooping parents and teachers. Hence its "Ghostface Chillah" 
faceless (and word-less) white logo.

   Only 10 years old, Snapchat says an eye-popping 90% of 13- to 24-year-olds 
in the U.S. use the service. It reported 306 million daily users in the 
July-September quarter.

   The company agreed in 2014 to settle the FTC's allegations that it deceived 
users about how effectively the shared material vanished and that it collected 
users' contacts without telling them or asking permission. The messages, known 
as "snaps," could be saved by using third-party apps or other ways, the 
regulators said.

   Snapchat wasn't fined but agreed to establish a privacy program to be 
monitored by an outside expert for the next 20 years -- similar to oversight 
imposed on Facebook, Google and Myspace in privacy settlements in recent years.

 
 
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