The National Center on Sexual Exploitation hosted a briefing in early August for public policy advocates who needed to understand what the Kids Online Safety Act is all about. Highlights of the briefing include:
What KOSA Does
The Kids Online Safety Act (KOSA) was written in response to Senate hearings about how to foster a safer and healthier environment for children online, taking a three-pronged approach.
Duty of Care
KOSA establishes a duty of care for commercial software applications and electronic services that are used, or likely to be used, by a minor. It mandates platforms to responsibly design their products to ensure children are protected and not exposed to harmful content.
Rick Lane, Founder and CEO of Iggy Ventures, highlights the need for platforms to “build child safety by design.” Drawing on his experience with Myspace, he says: “What we did not do early on was to create the guardrails that were necessary to ensure when you are building the product and building the service, that you had some guidelines to follow to ensure the safety of your users.”
Online platforms will now have a legal obligation to address how the product prioritizes child health and safety.
Safeguards and Tools
KOSA creates an obligation for platforms to provide safeguards for children and tools for parents to assist and monitor their children’s activity. Collin Anderson, tech policy adviser for Senator Blumenthal, notes that KOSA “gives children the tools to manage their experience and have their parents help them in that experience.”
Youth are speaking out and asking for Big Tech to help regulate the unfiltered and harmful content they are exposed to daily. Heidi Olson, a SANE nurse who provides care to children who have been sexually assaulted, abused, or exploited, is seeing the connection between sexual abuse and social media. She cites cases of children being groomed online and then assaulted by adult predators because platforms lack any regulation on adult strangers contacting a minor.
KOSA would limit unrelated adults from contacting minors and create a legal obligation to provide a reporting mechanism when children are, or could be, harmed. Nina DeJonghe, Director of Public Policy at ECPAT USA, notes the need for this bill now more than ever. “During the pandemic, when children were expected to spend more time doing virtual learnings, the oversight and time that parents were able to supervise decreased.”
KOSA institutes a transparency obligation. Platforms will be required to participate in audits of harms, corporate response, and effectiveness. To facilitate public transparency, independent third-party audits will be publicly available and the data from platforms will be available to researchers.
Lina Nealon, NCOSE’s director of corporate and strategic initiatives explained the predatory behavior that a platform’s algorithms promote, such as suggesting more images of children to predators. These platforms claim they are not aware of the harms children face and they are working to implement safety features. Yet, when tested, they do not pass muster.
“They are oblivious at best, lying at worst,” declared Nealon. “They are profiting from our ignorance and that lack of transparency. [KOSA] would mitigate some of the most risky features that predators love to use and that kids are takings advantage of to hide problematic behaviors.”
As technology continues to advance and children’s presence online increases, it is time for Big Tech to work collaboratively with youth, parents, and subject matter experts to provide the necessary safeguards to protect children online. But Congress can no longer wait for companies with interactive internet platforms to take the lead.
KOSA has bi-partisan support in Congress and broad support from leading organizations, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, Eating Disorders Coalition, Mental Health America, and RAINN, amongst over 100 U.S. organizations.
Please call and write to your Senator, asking them to CO-SPONSOR and VOTE FOR the Kids Online Safety Act (S. 3663).