As more states introduce variations of age-appropriate design code bills, Maryland recently held a hearing on its version. The bill sponsor spoke to a local news outlet at length about his goals with the legislation, noting in part, “This isn’t about fines and damages. At the end of the day, it’s about harnessing the positive power of the internet and making sure that’s what kids are able to access.”
The state has introduced its version of an age-appropriate design code bill, the Minnesota Age-Appropriate Design Code Act, (HF 2257). The bill closely follows California’s approach and resembles the bills that have been introduced in New Mexico, Nevada, and Maryland. A local op-ed in support of the bill noted, “Anxiety and depression in Minnesotans aged 3 to 17 increased 14.8% between 2016 and 2020. It's well past time for us adults to do something more to protect our children online.”
Revisiting both the Kids and Comprehensive Privacy Legislative Pushes
Seeking to reset after promising - but ultimately failed - attempts to pass both kids’ privacy legislation and a comprehensive federal privacy bill (the American Data Privacy and Protection Act) last session, Congressional committees have been busy. Following a Senate Judiciary hearing on kids’ privacy last month, a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee held a hearing on March 1 focused on consumer privacy and ongoing challenges related to the lack of a national standard. Early indications are that policymakers will return to the American Data Privacy and Protection Act (ADPPA) as a preferred framework as “talk during the subcommittee hearing all but confirmed there will be no substitute or competing framework considered at this time.” Even in the House hearing, kids’ privacy was top of mind, as Rep. Jan Schakowsky noted, “harmful targeting of advertising on social media has exacerbated the mental health problems that we face, particularly among our young people, our adolescents, our kids are the most vulnerable…We have to make sure we’re protecting them.”
On March 1, H.R.5, the Parents Bill of Rights Act, was re-introduced by Congresswoman Julia Letlow (R-LA-05), and has since been amended and passed by the full House. “While the bill appears straightforward—and even details rights parents already largely have at the local level—some teachers worry it will push parents to fear and distrust educators and drive teachers out of the profession,” EdWeek reported.
Provisions in the bill would lead to significant practical challenges for school districts. For example, as drafted, this legislation would mark a major shift from the current legal framework that allows schools to use edtech products without vendors obtaining separate parental consent. This would interfere with the regular functioning of the school environment and create serious compliance challenges, inequities, and uncertainty.
While the bill has broad support from the Republican party, it has yet to gain Democratic support (in fact, Democrats have introduced their own version), raising questions about its prospects for advancement in the Senate. In the past several years, we have seen state legislatures introduce parental bills of rights that have not advanced through the legislative process, and this federal legislation appears to be aligned with that trend.
Senators Markey and Blumenthal on the Metaverse
Following a report that Meta planned to recruit more teen and young adult users to Horizon Worlds, its metaverse app, experts have expressed concern, and Senators Ed Markey and Richard Blumenthal wrote a letter to Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg urging him to reconsider.
In their letter, Senators Markey and Blumenthal point to concern about early but “highly concerning” research into the effects of the metaverse on teens, as well as the Meta’s “consistent failure to protect young users.” They conclude, “As our constituents grow increasingly concerned about the effects of online platforms and social media apps on teens’ well-being, your plans to imminently pull these young people into an under-researched, potentially dangerous virtual realm with consequences for their physical and mental health is unacceptable.”
Updates from Around the World
An individual who works for the 5Rights Foundation has filed what “is believed to be the first test of the ICO children's code,” the BBC reports, via a complaint alleging that YouTube is collecting viewing data on users under age 13, including what videos kids are watching, where they are watching them, and on what device.
Digital privacy legislation known as Bill C-27 appears likely to pass on second reading, Politico reports, although “there is still uncertainty about what the final outcome will look like.” Bill C-27 aims to update privacy laws in Canada. What do youth and education stakeholders need to know? It classifies all data on minors as sensitive data and would allow tutors to act on behalf of minors, in addition to parents and guardians. Additionally, the bill contemplates that if a minor wishes to and is capable, they may exercise any rights without a parent, guardian, or tutor.
The European Data Protection Supervisor (EDPS), charged with advising EU countries on privacy matters, along with European Data Protection Board criticized a proposal from the European Commission to fight the dissemination of Child Sexual Abuse Material in a joint opinion. Part of their stated concern is that the law was too broad and “will practically result in general and indiscriminate monitoring rather than a targeted one,” Euractiv reports.
The Latest on TikTok
It has been a busy few weeks for TikTok, as the platform has balanced rolling out a series of new features and tools,fending off legislation at both the state and federal levels that aims to ban it, and high-profile congressional testimony by the company’s CEO, Shou Zi Chew.
“In one of the most aggressive moves yet by a social media company to prevent teens from endlessly scrolling,” TikTok recently announced new screen time and parental control features that will roll out in the coming weeks and aim to help make teens more aware of and intentional about the time they spend on the platform. While an accompanying company blog post noted “there's no collectively-endorsed position on the 'right' amount of screen time or even the impact of screen time more broadly,” a one-hour screen time limit will become the default setting for all TikTok users under 18; if a teen hits the one-hour limit, they will have to enter a password to keep watching and if a user under 13 hits the limit, they will need a password from a parent or guardian to continue for another 30 minutes. If teens opt out of the 60-minute limit - but spend more than 100 minutes a day - they will get another prompt. This news has been quickly met with “skepticism about the effort and its framing.” Even Vogue asked, “Will TikTok’s New Screen Time Limit Actually Change Anything?”
Several other updates are designed for all users, including a sleep reminder that will notify users when it is time to log off, and the ability to set their own screen time limits, customized by the day of the week. TikTok also recently announced a new feed focused on science and math content that will appear next to the platform’s Following and For You pages.
Meanwhile. “a TikTok ban is closer than it’s ever been,” The Verge reports, following the introduction of a bipartisan bill known as the RESTRICT Act (Restricting the Emergence of Security Threats that Risk Information and Communications Technology). While the bill does not mention TikTok by name, it would in effect give the federal government power to ban it by granting the Commerce Department the power to review software updates, deals, or data transactions in which a foreign adversary has an interest for their potential to pose an “undue or unacceptable risk” to U.S. national security. The White House endorsed the bill, urging Congress to act “quickly” in its first public stance in support of a TikTok bill. One of the bipartisan bill’s sponsors, Senator Mark Warner, highlighted this stance again following the CEO’s congressional testimony, telling CBS, “I think the White House is very in favor of this bill.”
A growing number of colleges and universities continue to move to ban TikTok on campus (via public wi-fi) causing “a general sense of frustration,” especially among college content creators who rely on the app for work, exposure, and/or income. But a lot of students are “pretty quick to figure it out and navigate it” noting that ultimately “it’s hard to care...I don't think anything on my TikTok is that important.”
Teachers Are Stressed - And Considering Leaving
A higher-than-normal number of teachers left the profession at the end of the last school year, a new analysis from Chalkbeat found, as “spiking stress levels, student behavior challenges, and a harsh political spotlight have all taken their toll on many American teachers.” While Chalkbeat’s analysis looked at data from eight states, a recent, nationally representative RAND survey draws a similar conclusion and new research by McKinsey found that one-third of teachers are considering leaving their jobs. Of those teachers who are considering leaving, McKinsey notes their top motivators included “compensation, unreasonable expectations, and an inability to protect their well-being.” Sadly, none of those concerns are totally surprising, as one recent study found that teachers experienced more stress than healthcare workers during the pandemic; stories of how teachers are “navigating the burnout crisis in education” are eye-opening.
Teacher turnover also affects students and schools, harming student achievement and increasing costs. One contributing factor to the increased stress that teachers so clearly feel is online harassment, as nearly half of all teachers reported that they were interested in quitting or transferring during the pandemic due to concerns about school climate and safety. If you - or a loved one - are worried about your online presence as an educator, don’t miss our online safety tips for education professionals.
An “Encryption Event” Gets Escalated
If it feels like data security comes up in most of our newsletters (our last two editions, for reference), you’re right - it does - and it should. It’s an ongoing and high-stakes challenge facing schools and districts, and it is clear we have a long way to go. The latest news: what the Minneapolis school district initially referred to as an “encryption event” quickly escalated as the hackers turned to “particularly aggressive” extortion tactics, The 74 reports. Hackers posted a video online (which has since been taken down) that appeared to show a sample of the stolen files, and demanded $1 million from the district by March 17. The district rejected that claim, and several days after the deadline, the hackers posted what appears to be part of the stolen data. The district has provided regular updates on the situation and advised on steps that victims can follow to protect themselves. The 74 has more details, including about the district’s response and advice from cybersecurity experts for parents, students, and staff who believe they may have been impacted. Two other helpful stories with cybersecurity tips are in CBS Minnesota and the Sahan Journal.
While this is not an issue that can or will be solved overnight, several recent developments feel like small steps in the right direction, even if only for helping call further attention to the issue. One example: the White House’s recently-released National Cybersecurity Strategy focuses in part on shifting the security burden away from individuals, businesses, and local governments (potentially including schools) to tech companies. The Strategy also highlights the need to address the cybersecurity workforce shortage - a significant challenge facing school districts - through investments in training and education. Another small step: Senator Ron Wyden recently urged the Department of Education to provide model contracts that would help often under-resourced schools and districts better negotiate privacy-protective terms with technology vendors.