CDD

Publishings

  •  Washington, DC                                                                                 February 15, 2024For too long social media platforms have prioritized their financial interests over the well-being of young users. Meta, TikTok, YouTube, Snap and other companies should be held accountable for the safety of America's youth. They must be required to prevent harms to kids—such as eating disorders, violence, substance abuse, sexual exploitation, and the exploitation of their privacy.  The Kids Online Safety Act (KOSA) would require platforms to implement the most protective privacy and safety settings by default. It would help prevent the countless tragic results experienced by too many children and their parents. We are in support of the updated language of the Kids Online Safety Act and urge Congress to pass the bill promptly. Katharina Kopp, Ph.D.Director of Policy, Center for Digital Democracy
  • Washington, DC                                                                                   February 15, 2024Digital marketers are unleashing a powerful and pervasive set of unfair and manipulative tactics to target and exploit children and teens.  Wherever they go online— social media, viewing videos, listening to music, or playing games—they are stealthily “accompanied” by an array of marketing practices designed to profile and manipulate them.  The Children and Teens’ Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA 2.0) will provide urgently needed online privacy safeguards for children and teens and update legislation first enacted nearly 25 years ago.  The proposed new law will deliver real accountability to the digital media as well as help limit harms now experienced by children and teens online. For example, by stopping data targeted ads to young people under 16, the endless stream of information harvested by online companies will be significantly reduced. Other safeguards will limit the collection of personal information for other purposes. COPPA 2.0 will also extend the original COPPA law protections for youth from 12 to 16 years of age.  The proposed law also provides the ability to delete children’s and teen’s data easily. Young people will also be better protected from the myriad of methods used to profile them that has unleashed numerous discriminatory and other harmful practices.  An updated knowledge standard will make this legislation easier to enforce.We welcome the bipartisan updated text from co-sponsors Sen. Markey and Sen. Cassidy and new co-sponsors Chair Sen. Cantwell (D-WA) and Ranking Member Sen. Cruz (R-Texas). Katharina Kopp, Ph.D.Director of Policy, Center for Digital Democracy
    the capitol building in washington d c is shown by Tim Mossholder
  • Press Release

    Leading Advocates for Children Applaud FTC Update of COPPA Rule

    Fairplay and the Center for Digital Democracy see a crucial step toward creating safer online experiences for kids

    Contact:David Monahan, Fairplay, david@fairplayforkids.org Jeff Chester, CDD, jeff@democraticmedia.org Leading Advocates for Children Applaud FTC Update of COPPA RuleFairplay and the Center for Digital Democracy see a crucial step toward creating safer online experiences for kids WASHINGTON, DC — December 20, 2023—The Federal Trade Commission has proposed its first update of rules protecting children’s privacy in a decade.  Under the bipartisan Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act of 1998 (COPPA), children under 13 currently have a set of core safeguards designed to control and limit how their data can be gathered and used.   The COPPA Rules were last revised in 2012, and today’s proposed changes offer new protections to ensure young people can go online without losing control over their personal information.  These new rules would help create a safer, more secure, and healthier online environment for them and their families—precisely at a time when they face growing threats to their wellbeing and safety.  The provisions offered today are especially needed to address the emerging methods used by platforms and other digital marketers who target children to collect their data, including through the growing use of AI and other techniques. Haley Hinkle, Policy Counsel, Fairplay:“The FTC’s recent COPPA enforcement actions against Epic Games, Amazon, Microsoft, and Meta demonstrated that Big Tech does not have carte blanche with kids’ data. With this critical rule update, the FTC has further delineated what companies must do to minimize data collection and retention and ensure they are not profiting off of children’s information at the expense of their privacy and wellbeing. Anyone who believes that children deserve to explore and play online without being tracked and manipulated should support this update.” Katharina Kopp, Ph.D., Director of Policy, Center for Digital Democracy:“Children face growing threats as platforms, streaming and gaming companies, and other marketers pursue them for their data, attention, and profits.  Today’s FTC’s proposed COPPA rule update provides urgently needed online safeguards to help stem the tidal wave of personal information gathered on kids. The commission’s plan will limit data uses involving children and help prevent companies from exploiting their information. These rules will also protect young people from being targeted through the increasing use of AI, which now further fuels data collection efforts. Young people 12 and under deserve a digital environment that is designed to be safer for them and that fosters their health and well-being.  With this proposal, we should soon see less online manipulation, purposeful addictive design, and fewer discriminatory marketing practices.” ### 
    girl in white sweater and blue denim jeans sitting on floor by bruce mars
  • The insatiable quest to acquire more data has long been a force behind corporate mergers in the US—including the proposed combination of supermarket giants Albertsons and Kroger. Both grocery chains have amassed a powerful set of internal “Big Data” digital marketing assets, accompanied by alliances with data brokers, “identity” management firms, advertisers, streaming video networks, and social media platforms. Albertsons and Kroger are leaders in one of the fastest-growing sectors in the online surveillance economy—called “retail media.” Expected to generate $85 billion in ad spending in the US by 2026, and with the success of Amazon as a model, there is a new digital “gold rush” by retailers to cash in on all the loyalty programs, sales information, and other growing ways to target their customers.Albertsons, Kroger, and other retailers including Walmart, CVS, Dollar General and Target find themselves in an enviable position in what’s being called the “post-cookie” era. As digital marketing abandons traditional user-tracking technologies, especially third-party cookies, in order to address privacy regulations, leading advertisers and platforms are lining up to access consumer information they believe comes with less regulatory risk. Supermarkets, drug stores, retailers and video streaming networks have massive amounts of so-called “first-party” authenticated data on consumers, which they claim comes with consent to use for online marketing. That’s why retail media networks operated by Kroger and others, as well as data harvested from streaming companies, are among the hottest commodities in today’s commercial surveillance economy. It’s not surprising that Albertsons and Kroger now have digital marketing partnerships with companies like Disney, Comcast/NBCUniversal, Google and Meta—to name just a few.The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is currently reviewing this deal, which is a test case of how well antitrust regulators address the dominant role that data and the affordances of digital marketing play in the marketplace. The “Big Data” digital marketing era has upended many traditional marketplace structures; consolidation is accompanied by a string of deals that further coalesces power to incumbents and their allies. What’s called “collaboration”—in which multiple parties work together to extend individual and collective data capabilities—is now a key feature operating across the broader online economy, and is central to the Kroger/Albertsons transaction. Antitrust law has thus far failed to address one of the glaring threats arising from so many mergers today—their impact on privacy, consumer protection, and diversity of media ownership. Consider all the transactions that the FTC and Department of Justice have allowed in recent years, such as the scores of Google and Facebook acquisitions, and what deleterious impact they had on competition, data protection, and other societal outcomes.Under Chair Lina Khan, the FTC has awakened from what I have called its long “digital slumber,” moving to the forefront in challenging proposed mergers and working to develop more effective privacy safeguards. My organization told the commission that addressing the current role data-driven marketing plays in the Albertsons and Kroger merger, and how consolidating the two digital operations is really central to the two companies’ goals for the deal, must be part of its antitrust case.Kroger has been at the forefront of understanding how the sales and marketing of groceries and other consumer products have to operate simultaneously in-store and online. It acquired a leading “retail, data science, insights and media” company in 2015—which it named 84.51° after its geo coordinates in Cincinnati. Today, 84.51° touts its capabilities to leverage “data from over 62 million households” in influencing consumer buying behavior “both in-store and online,” using “first party retail data from nearly 1 of 2 US households and more than two billion transactions.” Kroger’s retail media division—called “Precision Marketing”—draws on the prowess of 84.51° to sell a range of sophisticated data targeting opportunities for advertisers, including leading brands that stock its in-store and online shelves. For example, ads can be delivered to customers when they search for a product on the Kroger website or its app; when they view digital discount coupons; and when customers are visiting non-Kroger-owned sites.These initiatives have created a number of opportunities for Kroger to make money from data. Last year, Precision Marketing opened its “Private Marketplace” service that enables advertisers to access Kroger customers via targeting lists of what are known as “pre-optimized audiences” (groups of consumers who have been analyzed and identified as potential customers for various products). Like other retailers, Kroger has a data and ad deal with video streaming companies, including Disney and Roku. Its alliance with Disney enables it to take advantage of that entertainment company’s major data-marketing assets, including AI tools and the ability to target consumers using its “250 million user IDs.”Likewise, the Albertsons “Media Collective” division promises advertisers that its retail media “platform” connects them to “over 100 million consumers.” It offers similar marketing opportunities for grocery brands as Kroger, including targeting on its website, app and also when its customers are off-site. Albertsons has partnerships across the commercial surveillance advertising spectrum, including with Google, the Trade Desk, Pinterest, Criteo and Meta/Facebook. It also has a video streaming data alliance involving global advertising agency giant Omnicom that expands its reach with viewers of Comcast’s NBCUniversal division, as well as with Paramount and Warner Bros./Discovery.Both Kroger and Albertsons partner with many of the same powerful identity-data companies, including data-marketing and cross-platform leaders LiveRamp and the Trade Desk. Through these relationships, the two grocery chains are connected to a vast network of databrokers that provide ready access to customer health, financial, and geolocation information, for example. The two grocery chains also work with the same “retail data cloud” company that further extends their marketing impact. Further compounding the negative competitive and privacy threats from this deal is its role in providing ongoing “closed-loop” consumer tracking to better perfect the ways retailers and advertisers measure the effectiveness of their marketing. They know precisely what you bought, browsed and viewed—in store and at home.Antitrust NGOs, trade unions and state attorneys-general have sounded the alarm about the pending Albertsons/Kroger deal, including its impact on prices, worker rights and consumer access to services. As the FTC nears a decision point on this merger, it should make clear that such transactions, which undermine competition, privacy, and expand the country’s commercial surveillance apparatus, should not be permitted.This article was originally published by Tech Policy Press.
    gray shopping cart on gray brick wall by Joshua Hoehne
  • Press Release

    BREAKING: Advocates Decry Meta’s Attempt to Shut Down the FTC

    In response to an order that would prohibit Meta from monetizing minors’ data, the social media company has filed a suit claiming the agency’s structure is unconstitutional. 

    Contact: David Monahan, Fairplay, david@fairplayforkids.orgContact: Jeff Chester, CDD, jeff@democraticmedia.org BREAKING: Advocates Decry Meta’s Attempt to Shut Down the FTCIn response to an order that would prohibit Meta from monetizing minors’ data, the social media company has filed a suit claiming the agency’s structure is unconstitutional. WASHINGTON, DC – THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 30, 2023 – Advocates for children and privacy condemned a lawsuit filed last evening by Meta against the Federal Trade Commission that seeks to shut the agency down by asserting the Commission’s structure is unconstitutional.  Meta’s suit comes in response to a proposed FTC order prohibiting Meta from monetizing children’s data for violating the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) while already operating under a Consent Decree for multiple serious privacy violations. Earlier this week, Judge Timothy Kelly of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia denied a motion filed by Meta that claimed the FTC had no authority to modify its previous settlement. Now Meta is escalating its attacks on the Commission’s authority.Meta has posed a threat to the privacy and welfare of young people in the U.S. for many years, as it targeted them to further its data-driven commercial surveillance advertising system. Scandal after scandal has exposed the company’s blatant disregard for children and youth, with nearly daily headlines about its irresponsible actions coming from former employees turned whistleblowers and major multi-state and bi-partisan investigations of states attorneys-general.  Despite multiple attempts by regulators to contain Meta’s ongoing undermining of its user privacy, including through multiple FTC consent decrees, it is evident that a substantive remedy is required to safeguard US youth. Fairplay, the Center for Digital Democracy, and the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) have issued these comments on today's announcement of a Meta lawsuit against the Federal Trade Commission: Josh Golin, Executive Director, Fairplay: “While many have noted social media’s role in fueling the mental health crisis, the Federal Trade Commission has taken actual meaningful action to protect young people online by its order prohibiting serial privacy offender Meta from monetizing minor’s data. So it’s not surprising that Meta is launching this brazen attack on the Commission, especially given the company may have $200 billion in COPPA liability according to recently unsealed documents. Anyone who cares about the wellbeing of children– and the safety of American consumers – should rally to the defense of the Commission and be deeply concerned about the lengths Meta will go to preserve its ability to profit at the expense of young people.”  Katharina Kopp, Director of Policy, Center for Digital Democracy: “For decades Meta has put the maximization of profits from so-called behavioral advertising above the best interests of children and teens. Meta’s failure to comply repeatedly with its 2012 and 2020 settlements with the FTC, including its non-compliance with the federal children’s privacy law (COPPA), and the unique developmental vulnerability of minors, justifies the FTC to propose the modifications of Meta’s consent decree and to require it to stop profiting from the data it gathers on children and teens.  It should not surprise anybody then that Meta is now going after the FTC with its lawsuit. But this attack on the FTC is essentially an attack on common sense regulation to curtail out-of-control commercial power and an attack on our children, teenagers, and every one of us.” John Davisson, Director of Litigation, Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC): “It seems there's no legal theory, however far-fetched, that Meta won't deploy to avoid a full accounting of its harmful data practices. The reason is clear. A hearing before the FTC will confirm that Meta continues to mishandle personal data and put the privacy and safety of minors at risk, despite multiple orders not to do so. The changes FTC is proposing to Meta's exploitative business model can't come soon enough. We hope the court will reject Meta's latest attempt to run out the clock, as another federal court did just this week.” ### 
    black metal window frame on brown concrete wall by Ian Hutchinson
  • Contact:David Monahan, Fairplay: david@fairplayforkids.org Day of Action as Advocates for Youth Urge Hill:Pass the Kids Online Safety Act Now Momentum keeps growing: 217 organizations call on Congress to address the youth mentalhealth crisis spurred by social media WASHINGTON, D.C. – Wednesday, November 8, 2023 – Today, a huge coalition of advocacy groups is conducting a day of action urging Congress to finally address the youth mental health crisis and pass the Kids Online Safety Act (KOSA, S. 1409). Momentum in support of the bill continues to build and today 217 groups which advocate for children and teens across a myriad of areas–including mental health, privacy, suicide prevention, eating disorders, and child sexual abuse prevention–are sending a letter urging Senate Majority Leader Schumer and Senate Minority Leader McConnell to move KOSA to a floor vote by the end of this year. “After numerous hearings and abundant research findings,” the coalition writes, “the evidence is clear of the potential harms social media platforms can have on the brain development and mental health of our nation’s youth, including hazardous substance use, eating disorders, and self-harm.” “With this bipartisan legislation,” they write, “Congress has the potential to significantly improve young people’s wellbeing by transforming the digital environment for children and teens.” KOSA, authored by Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) enjoys growing bi-partisan support; it is endorsed by 48 US Senators–24 from each side of the aisle. Today’s day of action will see supporters of the 217 organizations calling senators to urge a floor vote and support for KOSA. The letter and day of action follow: a suit by 42 attorneys general against Meta for exploiting young users’ vulnerabilities on Instagram; persistent calls to pass KOSA from parents of children who died from social media harms; and Tuesday’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Social Media and the Teen Mental Health Crisis. COMMENTS: Josh Golin, Executive Director of Fairplay:“Every day that Congress allows social media companies to self-regulate, children suffer, and even die, from preventable harms and abuses online. The Kids Online Safety Act would force companies like Meta, TikTok and Snap to design their platforms in ways that reduce risks for children, and create a safer and less addictive internet for young people. James P. Steyer, Founder and CEO of Common Sense Media:"With a new whistleblower and 42 states filing suit against Meta for its deceptive practices and dangerous platform design, the growing support and urgent need for KOSA is now too strong to ignore. Common Sense will continue to work with lawmakers and advocates on both sides of this bill to once and for all begin to curb the harms that online platforms are causing for youngpeople. Sacha Haworth, Executive Director of the Tech Oversight Project:“The disturbing revelations sadly add to a mountain of evidence proving that tech companies are willfully negligent and even openly hostile to protecting minors from the harms their products bring. As a mother, my heart breaks for the kids who experienced pain and harassment online because tech executives were willing to sacrifice their physical and emotional health in pursuit of profit. Lives are on the line, and we cannot sit on the sidelines. We need to pass KOSA to force companies like Meta to protect children and teens and treat them with the dignity they deserve.” Katharina Kopp, Director of Policy, Center for Digital Democracy:“The public health crisis that children and teens experience online requires an urgent intervention from policymakers. We need platform accountability and an end to the exploitation of young people. Their well-being is more important than the ‘bottom-line’ interests of platforms. KOSA will prevent companies taking advantage of the developmental vulnerabilities of children and teens. We urge the U.S Senate to bring KOSA to a floor vote by the end of the year.” ###
  • Blog

    Is So-called Contextual Advertising the Cure to Surveillance-based “Behavioral” Advertising?

    Contextual advertising might soon rival or even surpass behavioral advertising’s harms unless policy makers intervene

    Contextual advertising is said to be privacy-safe because it eliminates the need for cookies, third-party trackers, and the processing of other personal data. Marketers and policy makers are placing much stock in the future of contextual advertising, viewing it as the solution to the privacy-invasive targeted advertising that heavily relies on personal data.However, the current state of contextual advertising does not look anything like our plain understanding of it in contrast to today's dominant mode of behavioral advertising: placing ads next to preferred content, based on keyword inclusion or exclusion. Instead, industry practices are moving towards incorporating advanced AI analysis of content and its classification, user-level data, and insights into content preferences of online visitors, all while still referring to “contextual advertising.” It is crucial for policymakers to carefully examine this rapidly evolving space and establish a clear definition of what “contextual advertising” should entail. This will prevent the emergence of toxic practices and outcomes, similar to what we have witnessed with surveillance-based behavioral marketing, from becoming the new normal.Let’s recall the reasons for the strong opposition to surveillance-based marketing practices so we can avoid those harms regarding contextual advertising. Simply put, the two main reasons are privacy harms and harms from manipulation. Behavioral advertising is deeply invasive when it comes to privacy, as it involves tracking users online and creating individual profiles based on their behavior over time and across different platforms and across channels. These practices go beyond individual privacy violations and also harm groups of people, perpetuating or even exacerbating historical discrimination and social inequities.The second main reason why many oppose surveillance-based marketing practices is the manipulative nature of commercial messaging that aims to exploit users’ vulnerabilities. This becomes particularly concerning when vulnerable populations, like children, are targeted, as they may not have the ability to resist sophisticated influences on their decision-making. More generally, the behavioral advertising business heavily incentivizes companies to optimize their practices for monetizing attention and selling audiences to advertisers, leading to many associated harms.New and evolving practices in contextual advertising should raise questions for policy makers. They should consider whether the harms we sought to avoid with behavioral marketing may resurface in these new advertising practices as well.Today’s contextual advertising methods are taking advantage of the latest analytical technologies to interpret online content so that contextual ads will likely soon be able to manipulate us just as behavioral ads can. Artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, natural language processing models for tone and sentiment analysis, computer vision, audio analysis, and more are being used to consider a multitude of factors and in this way “dramatically improve the effectiveness of contextual targeting.” Gumgum’s Verity, for example, “scans text, image, audio and video to derive human-like understandings.” Attention measures – the new performance metric that advertisers crave – indicate that contextual ads are more effective than non-contextual ads. Moments.AI, a “real-time contextual targeting solution” by the Verve Group, for example, allows brands to move away from clicks and to “optimize towards consumer attention instead,” for “privacy-first” advertising solutions.Rather than analyzing one single URL or one article at a time, marketers can analyze a vast range of URLs and can “understand content clusters and topics that audiences are engaging with at that moment” and so use contextual targeting at scale. The effectiveness and sophistication of contextual advertising allows marketers to use it not just for enhancing brand awareness, but also for targeting prospects. In fact, the field of “neuroprogammatic” advertising “goes beyond topical content matching to target the subconscious feelings that lead consumers to make purchasing decisions,” according to one industry observer. Marketers can take advantage of how consumers “are feeling and thinking, and what actions they may or may not be in the mood to take, and therefore how likely are to respond to an ad. Neuroprogrammatic targeting uses AI to cater to precisely what makes us human.”These sophisticated contextual targeting practices may have negative effects similar to those of behavioral advertising, however. For instance, contextual ads on weight loss programs can be placed alongside content related to dieting and eating disorders due to its semantic, emotional, and visual content. This may have disastrous consequences similar to targeted behavioral ads aimed at teenagers with eating disorders. Therefore, it is important to question how different these practices are from individual user tracking and ad targeting. If content can be analyzed and profiled along very finely tuned classification schemes, advertisers don’t need to track users across the web. They simply need to track the content that will deliver the relevant audience and engage individuals based on their interests and feelings.Apart from the manipulative nature of contextual advertising, the use of personal data and associated privacy violations are also concerning. Many contextual ad tech companies claim to engage in contextual targeting “without any user data.” But, in fact, so-called contextual ad tech companies often rely on session data such as browser and page-level data, device and app-level data, IP address, and “whatever other info they can get their hands on to model the potential user,” framing it as “contextual 2.0.” Until recently, this practice might have been more accurately referred to as device fingerprinting. The claim is that session data is not about tracking, but only about the active session and usage at one point in time. No doubt, however, the line between contextual and behavioral advertising becomes blurry when such data is involved.Location-based targeting is another aspect of contextual advertising that raises privacy concerns. Should location-based targeting be considered contextual? Uber’s “Journey Ads” lets advertisers target users based on their destination. A trip to a restaurant might trigger alcohol ads; a trip to the movie theater might result in ads for sugary beverages. According to AdExchanger, Uber claims that it is not “doing any individual user-based targeting” and suggests that it is a form of contextual advertising.Peer 39 also includes location data in its ad-targeting capabilities and still refers to these practices as contextual advertising. The use of location data can reveal some of the most sensitive information about a person, including where she works, sleeps, socializes, worships, and seeks medical treatment. When combined with session data, the information obtained from sentiment, image, video, and location analysis can be used to create sophisticated inferences about individuals, and ads placed in this context can easily clash with consumer expectations of privacy.Furthermore, placing contextual ads next to user-generated content or within chat groups changes the parameters of contextual targeting. Instead of targeting the content itself, the ad becomes easily associated with an individual user. Reddit’s “contextual keyword targeting” allows advertisers to target by community and interests, discussing LGBTQ+ sensitive topics, for example. This is similar to the personalized nature of targeted behavioral advertising, and can thus raise privacy concerns.Cohort targeting, also referred to as “affinity targeting” or “content affinity targeting,” further blurs the line between behavioral and contextual advertising by combining content analytics with audience insights. “This bridges the gap between Custom Cohorts and your contextual signals, by taking learning from consented users to targeted content where a given Customer Cohort shows more engagement than the site average,” claims Permutive.Oracle uses various cohorts with demographic characteristics, including age, gender, and income, for example, as well as “lifestyle” and “retail” interests, to understand what content individuals are more likely to consume. While reputedly “designed for privacy from the ground up,” this approach allows Oracle to analyze what an audience cohort views and to “build a profile of the content types they’re most likely to engage with,” allowing advertisers to find their “target customers wherever they are online.” Playground XYZ enhances contextual data with eye-tracking data from opt-in panels, which measures attention and helps to optimize which content is most “eye-catching,” “without the need for cookies or other identifiers.”Although these practices may seem privacy neutral (relying on small samples of online users or “consented users”), they still allow advertisers to target and manipulate their desired audience. Message targeting based on content preferences of fine-tuned demographic characteristics (household income less than $20K or over $500K, for example) can lead to discriminatory practices and disparate impact that can deepen social inequities, just like the personalized targeting of online users.Hyper-contextual content analysis with a focus on measuring sentiment and attention, the use of session information, placing ads next to user-generated content as well as within interest group chats, and employing audience panels to profile content are emerging practices in contextual advertising that require critical examination. The touted privacy-first promise of contextual advertising is deceptive. It seems that contextual advertising is more manipulative, invasive of privacy, and likely to contribute to discrimination and perpetuate inequities among consumers than we all initially thought.What’s more, the convergence of highly sensitive content analytics with content profiling based on demographic characteristics (and potentially more), could result in even more potent digital marketing practices than those currently being deployed. By merging contextual data with behavioral data, marketers might gain a more comprehensive understanding of their target audience and develop more effective messaging. Additionally, we can only speculate about how modifications to the incentive structure for content delivery of audiences to advertisers might impact content quality.In the absence of policy intervention, these developments may lead to a surveillance system that is even more formidable than the one we currently have. Contextual advertising will not serve as a solution to surveillance-based “behavioral” marketing and its manipulative and privacy invasive nature, let alone the numerous other negative consequences associated with it, including the addictive nature of social media, the promotion of disinformation, and threats to public health.It is vital to formulate a comprehensive and up-to-date definition of contextual advertising that takes into consideration the adverse effects of surveillance advertising and strives to mitigate them. Industry self-regulation cannot be relied on, and legislative proposals do not adequately address the complexities of contextual advertising. The FTC’s 2009 definition of contextual advertising is also outdated in light of the advancements and practices described here. Regulatory bodies like the FTC must assess contemporary practices and provide guidelines to safeguard consumer privacy and ensure fair marketing practices. The FTC’s Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act rule update and its Commercial Surveillance and Data Security Rule provide opportunity to get it right.Failure to intervene may ultimately result in the emergence of a surveillance system disguised as consumer-friendly marketing. This article was originally published by Tech Policy Press.
    Katharina Kopp
  • FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASEThursday, September 14, 2023 Contacts:David Monahan, Fairplay, david@fairplayforkids.orgJeff Chester, CDD, jeff@democraticmedia.org Statement of Fairplay and the Center for Digital Democracy on FTC’s Announcement: Protecting Kids From Stealth Advertising in Digital MediaBOSTON, MA, WASHINGTON DC—Today, the Federal Trade Commission released a new staff paper, “Protecting Kids from Stealth Advertising in Digital Media.” The paper’s first recommendation states:“Do not blur advertising. There should be a clear separation between kids’ entertainment/educational content and advertising, using formatting techniques and visual and verbal cues to signal to kids that they are about to see an ad.”This represents a major shift for the Commission. Prior guidance only encouraged marketers to disclose influencer and other stealth marketing to children. For years – including in filings last year and at last year’s FTC Workshop—Fairplay and the Center for Digital Democracy had argued that disclosures are inadequate for children and that stealth marketing to young people should be declared an unfair practice. Below are Fairplay’s and CDD’s comments on today’s FTC staff report:Josh Golin, Executive Director, Fairplay:“Today is an important first step towards ending an exploitative practice that is all too common on digital media for children.  Influencers—and the brands that deploy them—have been put on notice: do not disguise your ads for kids as entertainment or education.”Katharina Kopp, Deputy Director, Director of Policy, Center for Digital Democracy“Online marketing and advertising targeted at children and teens is pervasive, sophisticated and data-driven. Young people are regularly exposed to an integrated set of online marketing operations that are manipulative, unfair, invasive.  These commercial tactics can be especially harmful to the mental and physical health of youth.   We call on the FTC to build upon its new report to address how marketers use the latest cutting-edge marketing tactics to influence young people—including neuro-testing, immersive ad formats and ongoing data surveillance.”###
    person holding smartphone by Rodion Kutsaiev
  • Press Release

    Advocates demand Federal Trade Commission investigate Google for continued violations of children’s privacy law

    Following news of Google’s violations of COPPA and 2019 settlement, 4 advocates ask FTC for investigation

    Contact:Josh Golin, Fairplay: josh@fairplayforkids.orgJeff Chester, Center for Digital Democracy: jeff@democraticmedia.org Advocates demand Federal Trade Commission investigate Google for continued violations of children’s privacy lawFollowing news of Google’s violations of COPPA and 2019 settlement, 4 advocates ask FTC for investigation BOSTON and WASHINGTON, DC – WEDNESDAY, August 23, 2023 – The organizations that alerted the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to Google’s violations of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) are urging the Commission to investigate whether Google and YouTube are once again violating COPPA, as well as the companies’ 2019 settlement agreement and the FTC Act. In a Request for Investigation filed today, Fairplay and the Center for Digital Democracy (CDD) detail new research from Adalytics, as well as Fairplay’s own research, indicating Google serves personalized ads on “made for kids” YouTube videos and tracks viewers of those videos, even though neither is permissible under COPPA. Common Sense Media and the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), joined Fairplay and CDD in calling on the Commission to investigate and sanction Google for its violations of children’s privacy. The advocates suggest that the FTC should seek penalties upwards of tens of billions of dollars. In 2018, Fairplay and Center for Digital Democracy led a coalition asking the FTC to investigate YouTube for violating the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) by collecting personal information from children on the platform without parental consent. As a result of the advocates’ complaint, Google and YouTube were required to pay a then-record $170 million fine in a 2019 settlement with the FTC and comply with COPPA going forward. Rather than getting the required parental permission before collecting personally identifiable information from children on YouTube, Google claimed instead it would comply with COPPA by limiting data collection and eliminating personalized advertising on “made for kids.” But an explosive new report released by Adalytics last week called into question Google’s assertions and compliance with federal privacy law. The report detailed how Google appeared to be surreptitiously using cookies and identifiers to track viewers of “made for kids” videos. The report also documented how YouTube and Google appear to be serving personalized ads on “made for kids” videos and transmitting data about viewers to data brokers and ad tech companies. In response to the report, Google told the New York Times that ads on children’s videos are based on webpage content, not targeted to user profiles. But follow-up research conducted independently by both Fairplay and ad buyers suggests the ads are, in fact, personalized and Google is both violating COPPA and making deceptive statements about its targeting of children. Both Fairplay and the ad buyers ran test ad campaigns on YouTube where they selected a series of users of attributes and affinities for ad targeting and instructed Google to only run the ads on “made for kids” channels. In theory, these test campaigns should have resulted in zero placements, because under Google and YouTube’s stated policy, no personalized ads are supposed to run on “made for kids” videos. Yet, Fairplay’s targeted $10 ad campaign resulted in over 1,400 impressions on “made for kids” channels and the ad buyers reported similar results. Additionally, the reporting Google provided to Fairplay and the ad buyers to demonstrate the efficacy of the ad buys would not be possible if the ads were contextual, as Google claims. “If Google’s representations to its advertisers are accurate, it is violating COPPA,” said Josh Golin, Executive Director of Fairplay. “The FTC must launch an immediate and comprehensive investigation and use its subpoena authority to better understand Google’s black box child-directed ad targeting. If Google and YouTube are violating COPPA and flouting their settlement agreement with the Commission, the FTC should seek the maximum fine for every single violation of COPPA and injunctive relief befitting a repeat offender.” The advocates’ letter urges the FTC to seek robust remedies for any violations, including but not limited to: ·       Civil penalties that demonstrate that continued violations of COPPA and Section 5 of the FTC Act are unacceptable. Under current law, online operators can be fined $50,120 per violation of COPPA. Given the immense popularity of many “made for kids” videos, it is likely millions of violations have occurred, suggesting the Commission should seek civil penalties upwards of tens of billions of dollars.·       An injunction requiring relinquishment of all ill-gotten gains·       An injunction requiring disgorgement of all algorithms trained on impermissibly collected data·       A prohibition on the monetization of minors’ data·       An injunction requiring YouTube to move all “made for kids” videos to YouTube Kids and remove all such videos from the main YouTube platform. Given Google’s repeated failures to comply with COPPA on the main YouTube platform – even when operating under a consent decree – these videos should be cabined to a platform that has not been found to violate existing privacy law·       The appointment of an independent “special master” to oversee Google’s operations involving minors and provide the Commission, Congress, and the public semi-annual compliance reports for a period of at least five yearsKatharina Kopp, Deputy Director of the Center for Digital Democracy, said “The FTC must fully investigate what we believe are Google’s continuous violations of COPPA, its 2019 settlement with the FTC, and Section 5 of the FTC Act. These violations place many millions of young viewers at risk. Google and its executives must be effectively sanctioned to stop its ‘repeat offender’ behaviors—including a ban on monetizing the personal data of minors, other financial penalties, and algorithmic disgorgement. The Commission’s investigation should also review how Google enables advertisers, data brokers, and leading online publisher partners to surreptitiously surveil the online activities of young people. The FTC should set into place a series of ‘fail-safe’ safeguards to ensure that these irresponsible behaviors will never happen again.” Caitriona Fitzgerald, Deputy Director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), said "Google committed in 2019 that it would stop serving personalized ads on 'made for kids' YouTube videos, but Adalytics’ research shows that this harmful practice is still happening. The FTC should investigate this issue and Google should be prohibited from monetizing minors’ data."Jim Steyer, President and CEO of Common Sense Media, said "The Adalytics findings are troubling but in no way surprising given YouTube’s history of violating the kids’ privacy. Google denies doing anything wrong and the advertisers point to Google, a blame game that makes children the ultimate losers. The hard truth is, companies — whether it’s Big Tech or their advertisers — basically care only about their profits, and they will not take responsibility for acting against kids’ best interests. We strongly encourage the FTC to take action here to protect kids by hitting tech companies where it really hurts: their bottom line." ### 
    a red play button with a white arrow by Eyestetix Studio
  • New research released today by Adalytics raises serious questions about whether Google is violating the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) by collecting data and serving personalized ads on child-directed videos on YouTube. In 2019, in response to a Request for Investigation by Fairplay and the Center for Digital Democracy, the Federal Trade Commission fined Google $170 million for violating COPPA on YouTube and required Google to change its data-collection and advertising practices on child-directed videos. As a result of that settlement, Google agreed to stop serving personalized ads and limit data collection on child-directed videos. Today's report - and subsequent reporting by The New York Times - call into question whether Google is complying with the settlement.  STATEMENTS FROM FAIRPLAY AND CDD:Josh Golin, Executive Director, Fairplay:This report should be a wake-up call to parents, regulators and lawmakers, and anyone who cares about children -- or the rule of law, for that matter. Even after being caught red-handed in 2019 violating COPPA, Google continues to exploit young children, and mislead parents and regulators about its data collection and advertising practices on YouTube. The FTC must launch an immediate and comprehensive investigation of Google and, if they confirm this report's explosive allegations, seek penalties and injunctive relief commensurate with the systematic disregard of the law by a repeat offender. Young children should be able to watch age-appropriate content on the world's biggest video platform with their right to privacy guaranteed, full stop. Jeff Chester, Executive Director, Center for Digital Democracy:Google operates the leading online destination for kids’ video programming so it can reap enormous profits, including through commercial surveillance data and advertising tactics.  It must be held accountable by the FTC for what appears are violations of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act and its own commitments.   Leading advertisers, ad agencies, media companies and others partnering with Google appear to have been more interested in clicks than the safety of youth. There is a massive and systemic failure across the digital marketplace when it comes to protecting children’s privacy.   Congress should finally stand up to the powerful “Big Data” ad lobby and enact long-overdue privacy legislation.  Google’s operations must also be dealt with by antitrust regulators.  It operates imperiously in the digital arena with no accountability. The Adalytics study should serve as a chilling reminder that our commercial surveillance system is running amok, placing even our most vulnerable at great risk.
  • Blog

    Profits, Privacy and the Hollywood Strike

    Addressing commercial surveillance in streaming video is key to any deal for workers and viewers says Jeff Chester, the executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy.

    Leading studios, networks and production companies in Hollywood—such as Disney, Paramount, Comcast/NBCU, Warner Bros. Discovery and Amazon—know where their dollars will come from in the future. As streaming video becomes the dominant form of TV in the U.S., the biggest players in the entertainment industry are harvesting the cornucopia of data increasingly gathered from viewers. While some studio chiefs publicly chafe over the demands from striking actors and writers as being unrealistic, they know that their heavy investments in “adtech” will drive greater profitability. Streaming video data not only generates higher advertising and commerce revenues, but also serves as a valuable commodity for the precise online tracking and targeting of consumers.Streaming video is now a key part in what the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) calls the “commercial surveillance” marketplace. Data about our viewing behaviors, including any interactions with the content, is being gathered by connected and “smart” TVs, streaming devices such as Roku, in-house studio and network data mining operations, and by numerous targeting and measurement entities that now serve the industry. For example, Comcast’s NBCUniversal “One Platform” uses what it calls “NBCU ID”—a “first-party identifier [that] provides a persistent indicator of who a consumer is to us over time and across audiences.” Last year it rolled out “200 million unique person-level NBCU IDs mapped to 80 million households.” Disney’s Select advertising system uses a “proprietary Audience Graph” incorporating “100,000 attributes” to help “1800 turnkey” targeting segments. There are 235 million device IDs available to reach, says Disney, 110 million households. It also operates a “Disney Real-time Ad Exchange (DRAX), a data clean room and what it calls “Yoda”—a “yield optimized delivery allocation” empowering its ad server.Warner Bros. Discovery recently launched “WBD Stream,” providing marketers with “seamless access… to popular and premium content.” It also announced partnerships with several data and research companies designed to help “marketers to push consumers further down the path to purchase.” One such alliance involves “605,” which helps WBD track how effective its ads are in delivering actual sales from local retailers, including the use of set-top box data from Comcast as well as geolocation tracking information. Amazon has long supported its video streaming advertising sales, including with its “Freevee” network, through its portfolio of cutting-edge data tools. Among the ad categories targeted by Amazon’s streaming service are financial services, candy and beauty products. One advantage it touts is that streaming marketers can get help from “Amazon’s Ads data science team,” including an analysis of “signals in [the] Amazon Marketing Cloud.”Other major players in video streaming have also supercharged their data technologies, including Roku, Paramount, and Samsung, in order to target what are called “advanced audiences.” That’s the capability to have so much information available that a programmer can pinpoint a target for personalized marketing across a vast universe of media content. While subscription is a critical part of video revenues, programmers want to draw from multiple revenue streams, especially advertising. To help advance the ability of the TV business to have access to more thorough datasets, leading TV, advertising and measurement companies have formed the “U.S. Joint Industry Committee” (JIC). Warner Bros. Discovery, Fox, NBCU, TelevisaUnivision, Paramount, and AMC are among the programmers involved with JIC. They are joined by a powerhouse composed of the largest ad agencies (data holders as well), including Omnicom, WPP and Publicis. One outcome of this alliance will be a set of standards to measure the impact of video and other ads on consumers, including through the use of “Big Data” and cross-platform measurement.Of course, today’s video and filmed entertainment business includes more than ad-supported services. There’s subscription revenue for streaming–said to pass $50 billion for the U.S. this year– as well as theatrical release. But it’s very evident that the U.S. (as well as the global) entertainment business is in a major transition, where the requirement to identify, track and target an individual (or groups of people) online and as much offline as possible is essential. For example, Netflix is said to be exploring ways it can advance its own solution to personalized ad targeting, drawing its brief deal with Microsoft Advertising to a close. Leading retailers, including Walmart (NBCU) and Kroger (Disney), are also part of today’s streaming video advertising landscape. Making the connections to what we view on the screen and then buy at a store is a key selling point for today’s commercial surveillance-oriented streaming video apparatus. A growing part of the revenue from streaming will be commissions from the sale of a product after someone sees an ad and buys that product, including on the screen during a program. For example, as part of its plans to expand retail sales within its programming, NBCU’s “Checkout” service “identifies objects in video and makes them interactive and shoppable.”Another key issue for the Hollywood unions is the role of AI. With that technology already a core part of the advertising industry’s arsenal, its use will likely be integrated into video programming—something that should be addressed by the SAG-AFTRA and WGA negotiations.The unions deserve to capture a piece of the data-driven “pie” that will further drive industry profits. But there’s more at stake than a fair contract and protections for workers. Rather than unleashing the creativity of content providers who are part of a environment promoting diversity, equity and the public interest, the new system will be highly commercialized, data driven, and controlled by a handful of dominant entities. Consider the growing popularity of what are called “FAST” channels—which stands for “free ad supported streaming television.” Dozens of these channels, owned by Comcast/NBCU, Paramount, Fox, and Amazon, are now available, and filled with relatively low-cost content that can reap the profits from data and ads.The same powerful forces that helped undermine broadcasting, cable TV, and the democratic potential of what once was called the “information superhighway”—the Internet—are now at work shaping the emerging online video landscape. Advertising and marketing, which are already the influence behind the structure and affordances of digital media, are fashioning video streaming to be another—and critically important—component fostering surveillance marketing.The FTC’s forthcoming proposed rulemaking on commercial surveillance must address the role of streaming video. And the FCC should open up its own proceeding on streaming, one designed to bring structural changes to the industry in terms of ownership of content and distribution.  There’s also a role for antitrust regulators to examine the data partnerships emerging from the growing collaboration by networks and studios to pool data resources.  The fight for a fairer deal for writers and actors deserves the backing of regulators and the public. But a successful outcome for the strike should be just “Act One” of a comprehensive digital media reform effort. While the transformation of the U.S. TV system is significantly underway, it’s not too late to try to program “democracy” into its foundation. Jeff Chester is the executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy, a DC-based NGO that works to ensure that digital technologies serve and strengthen democratic values and institutions. Its work on streaming video is supported, in part, by the Rose Foundation for Communities and the Environment.This op-ed was initially published by the Tech Policy Press.
    Jeff Chester
  • Press Release

    Transatlantic Consumer Dialogue (TACD) Calling on White House and Administration to Take Immediate Action on Generative AI

    Transatlantic Consumer Dialogue (TACD), a coalition of the leading consumer organizations in North America and Europe, asking policymakers on both side of the Atlantic for action

    The Honorable Joseph R. BidenPresident of the United StatesThe White House1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NWWashington, DC 20500 June 20, 2023  Dear President Biden,We are writing on behalf of the Transatlantic Consumer Dialogue (TACD), a coalition of the leading consumer organizations in North America and Europe, to ask you and your administration to take immediate action regarding the rapid development of Generative Artificial Intelligence in a growing number of applications, such as text generators like ChatGPT, and the risks these entail for consumers. We are calling on policymakers and regulators on both sides of the Atlantic to use existing laws and regulations to address the problematic uses of Generative Artificial Intelligence; adopt a cautious approach to deploying Generative Artificial Intelligence in the public sector; and adopt new legislative measures to directly address Generative Artificial Intelligence harms. As companies are rapidly developing and deploying this technology and outpacing legislative efforts, we cannot leave consumers unprotected in the meantime.  Generative Artificial Intelligence systems are now already widely used by consumers in the U.S. and beyond. For example, chatbots are increasingly incorporated into products and services by businesses. Although these systems are presented as helpful, saving time, costs, and labor, we are worried about serious downsides and harms they may bring about.Generative Artificial Intelligence systems are incentivized to suck up as much data as possible to train the AI models, leading to inclusion of personal data that may be irremovable once the sets have been established and the tools trained. Where training models include data that is biased or discriminatory, those biases become baked into the Generative Artificial Intelligence’s outputs, creating increasingly more biased and discriminatory content that is then disseminated. The large companies making advances in this space are already establishing monopolistic market concentration. Running Generative Artificial Intelligence tools requires enormous amounts of water and electricity, leading to heightened carbon emissions. The speed and volume of information creation with these technologies speeds the generation and spread of increasing misinformation and disinformation. Three of our members (Public Citizen, The Electronic Privacy Information Center, and The Norwegian Consumer Council) have already published reports setting forth the specific harms of Generative Artificial Intelligence and proposing steps to counter these harms – we would be happy to discuss these with you. In addition, TACD has adopted policy principles which we believe are key to safely deploying Generative Artificial Intelligence. Our goal is to provide policymakers,                                lawmakers, enforcement agencies, and other relevant entities with a robust starting point to ensure that Generative Artificial Intelligence does not come at the expense of consumer, civil, and human rights.  If left unchecked, these harms will become permanently entrenched in the use and development of Generative Artificial Intelligence. We are calling for actions that insist upon transparency, accountability, and safety in these Generative Artificial Intelligence systems, including ensuring that discrimination, manipulation, and other serious harms are eliminated. Where uses of GAI are clearly harmful or likely to be clearly harmful, they must be barred completely.  In order to combat the harms of Generative Artificial Intelligence, your administration must ensure that existing laws are enforced wherever they apply. New regulations must be passed that specifically address the serious risks and gaps in protection identified in the reports mentioned above. Companies and other entities developing Generative Artificial Intelligence must adhere to transparent and reviewable obligations. Finally, once binding standards are in place, the Trade and Technology Council must not undermine those binding standards.We welcome the administration’s efforts on AI to protect Americans’ rights and safety, particularly your efforts to center civil rights, via executive action. Furthermore, we are encouraged to see the leading enforcement agencies underscore their collective commitment to leverage their existing legal authorities to protect the American people. But more must be done, and soon, especially for those already disadvantaged and the most vulnerable, including people of color and others who have been historically underserved and marginalized, as well as children and teenagers. We want to work with you to ensure that privacy and other consumer protections remain at the forefront of these discussions, even when new technology is involved.Sincerely, Finn Lützow-Holm Myrstad                                Director of Digital Policy, Norwegian Consumer European Co-Chair of TACD’s Digital Policy Calli SchroederSenior Counsel and Global Privacy Counsel, EPIC U.S. Co-Chair of TACD’s Digital PolicyTransatlantic Consumer Dialogue (TACD)Rue d’Arlon 80, B-1040 Brussels  Tel. +32 (0)2 743 15 90  www.tacd.org  @TACD_ConsumersEC register for interest representatives: identification number 534385811072-96                                       
  • Press Release

    Advocates call for FTC action to rein in Meta’s abusive practices targeting kids and teens

    Letter from 31 organizations in tech advocacy, children’s rights, and health supports FTC action to halt Meta’s profiting off of young users’ sensitive data

    Contact:David Monahan, Fairplay: david@fairplayforkids.orgKatharina Kopp, Center for Digital Democracy: kkopp@democraticmedia.org Advocates call for FTC action to rein in Meta’s abusive practices targeting kids and teensLetter from 31 organizations in tech advocacy, children’s rights, and health supports FTC action to halt Meta’s profiting off of young users’ sensitive data BOSTON/ WASHINGTON DC–June 13, 2023– A coalition of leading advocacy organizations is standing up today to support the Federal Trade Commission’s recent order reining in Meta’s abusive practices aimed at kids and teens.  Thirty-one groups, led by the Center for Digital Democracy, the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), Fairplay, and U.S. PIRG, sent a letter to the FTC saying “Meta has violated the law and its consent decrees with the Commission repeatedly and flagrantly for over a decade, putting the privacy of all users at risk. In particular, we support the proposal to prohibit Meta from profiting from the data of children and teens under 18. This measure is justified by Meta’s repeated offenses involving the personal data of minors and by the unique and alarming risks its practices pose to children and teens.”  Comments from advocates: Katharina Kopp, Director of Policy, Center for Digital Democracy:“The FTC is fully justified to propose the modifications of Meta’s consent decree and to require it to stop profiting from the data it gathers on children and teens.  There are three key reasons why.  First, due to their developmental vulnerabilities, minors are uniquely harmed by Meta’s failure to comply repeatedly with its 2012 and 2020 settlements with the FTC, including its non-compliance with the federal children’s privacy law (COPPA); two, because Meta has failed for many years to even comply with the procedural safeguards required by the Commission, it is now time for structural remedies that will make it less likely that Meta can again disregard the terms of the consent decree; and three, the FTC must affirm its credibility and that of the rule of law and ensure that tech giants cannot evade regulation and meaningful accountability.” John Davisson, Director of Litigation, Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC): "Meta has had two decades to clean up its privacy practices after many FTC warnings, but consistently chose not to. That's not 'tak[ing] the problem seriously,' as Meta claims—that's lawlessness. The FTC was right to take decisive action to protect Meta's most vulnerable users and ban Meta from profiting off kids and teens. It's no surprise to see Meta balk at the legal consequences of its many privacy violations, but this action is well within the Commission's power to take.” Haley Hinkle, Policy Counsel, Fairplay: “Meta has been under the FTC's supervision in this case for over a decade now and has had countless opportunities to put user privacy over profit. The Commission's message that you cannot monetize minors' data if you can't or won't protect them is urgent and necessary in light of these repeated failures to follow the law. Kids and teens are uniquely vulnerable to the harms that result from Meta’s failure to run an effective privacy program, and they can’t wait for change any longer.” R.J. Cross, Director of U.S. PIRG’s Don’t Sell My Data campaign: “The business model of social media is a recipe for unhappiness. We’re all fed content about what we should like and how we should look, conveniently presented alongside products that will fix whatever problem with our lives the algorithm has just helped us discover. That’s a hard message to hear day in and day out, especially when you’re a teen. We’re damaging the self-confidence of some of our most impressionable citizens in the name of shopping. It’s absurd. It’s time to short circuit the business model.”  ###
    a white and blue square with a blue and white facebook logo by Dima Solomin
  • “By clarifying what types of data constitute personal data under COPPA, the FTC ensures that COPPA keeps pace with the 21st century and the increasingly sophisticated practices of marketers,” said Katharina Kopp, Director of Policy at Center for Digital Democracy.“As interactive technologies evolve rapidly, COPPA must be kept up to date and reflect changes in the way children use and access these new media, including virtual and augmented realities. The metaverse typically involves a convergence of physical and digital lives, where avatars are digital extension of our physical selves. We agree with the FTC that an avatar’s characteristics and its behavior constitute personal information. And as virtual and augmented reality interfaces allow for the collection of extensive sets of personal data, including sensitive and biometric data, this data must be considered personal information under COPPA. Without proper protections this highly coveted data would be exploited by marketers and used to further manipulate and harm children online.”
    person holding black game controller by Hardik Sharma
  • Contact: Katharina Kopp, kkopp [at] democraticmedia.org“We welcome the FTC ‘s action to address the rampant commercial surveillance of children via Internet of Things (IoT) devices, such as Amazon’s Echo, and for enforcing existing law,” said Katharina Kopp, Director of Policy at Center for Digital Democracy. “Children’s data is taken away from them illegally and surreptitiously on a massive scale via IoT devices, including their voice recordings and data gleaned from kids’ viewing, reading, listening, and purchasing habits. These violations in turn lead to further exploitation and manipulation of children and teens. They lead to violating their privacy, to manipulating them into being interested in harmful products, to undermining their autonomy and hooking them to digital media, and to perpetuating discrimination and bias. As Commissioner Bedoya’s separate statement points out, with this proposed order the FTC warns companies that they cannot take data from children and teens (and others) illegitimately to develop even more sophisticated methods to take advantage of them. Both the FTC and the Department of Justice must hold Amazon accountable.”
    white and black Amazon Echo Dot 2 by Find Experts at Kilta.com
  • FACT SHEETSummary of the Kids Online Safety ActAs Congressional hearings, media reports, academic research, whistleblower disclosures, and heartbreaking stories from youth and families have repeatedly shown, social media platforms have exacerbated the mental health crisis among children and teens fostering body image issues, creating addiction-like use, promoting products that are dangerous for young audiences, and fueling destructive bullying.  The Kids Online Safety Act (KOSA) provides children, adolescents, and parents with the tools, safeguards, and transparency they need to protect against threats to young people's health and wellbeing online. The design and operation of online platforms have a significant impact on these harms, such as recommendation systems that send kids down rabbit holes of destructive content, and weak protections against relentless bullying.KOSA would provide safeguards and accountability through:   Creating a duty of care for social media platforms to prevent and mitigate specific dangers to minors in their design and operation of products, including the promotion of suicidal behaviors, eating disorders, substance use, sexual exploitation, advertisements for tobacco and alcohol, and more.Requiring social media platforms to provide children and adolescents with options to protect their information, disable addictive product features, and opt out of algorithmic recommendations. Platforms are required to enable the strongest settings by default.  Giving parents new tools to help support their children and providing them (as well as schools) a dedicated reporting channel to raise issues (such as harassment or threats) to the platforms.How Online Harms Impact LGBTQ+ CommunitiesSocial media can be an important tool for self-discovery, expression, and community. However, online platforms have failed to take basic steps to protect their users from profound harm and have put profit ahead of safety. Companies have operationalized their products to keep young users on their sites for as long as possible, even if the means to get people to use their platforms more are harmful. From documents provided by a whistleblower, Facebook’s own researchers described Instagram itself as a “perfect storm” that “exacerbates downward spirals” and produces hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue annually.  This “perfect storm” has been shown by academic research and surveys to weigh most profoundly on LGBTQ+ children and adolescents, who are more at risk of bullying, threats, and suicidal behaviors on social media. Some harms and examples of the protections KOSA would provide include:  LGBTQ+ youth are more at risk of cyberbullying and harassment.LGBTQ+ high school students consistently report higher rates of cyberbullying than their heterosexual peers, and suffer more severe forms of harassment, such as stalking, non-consensual imagery, and violent threats.Surveys have found that 56% of LGBTQ+ students had been cyberbullied in their lifetime compared to 32% for non-LGBTQ+ students.One in three young LGBTQ+ people have said that they had been sexually harassed online, four times as often as other young people.  LGBTQ+ youth are more at risk for eating disorders and substance use.Young LGBTQ+ people experience significantly greater rates of eating disorders and substance use compared to their heterosexual and cisgender peers. Transgender and nonbinary youth are at even higher risk for eating disorders, and Black LGBTQ+ youth are diagnosed at half the rate of their white peers.Prolonged use of social media is linked with negative appearance comparison, which in turn increases risk for eating disorder symptoms.Engagement-based algorithms feed extreme eating disorders through recommending more eating disorder content to vulnerable users (every click or view sends more destructive content to a user).For example, TikTok began recommending eating disorder content within 8 minutes of creating a new account and Instagram was found to deluge a new user with eating disorder recommendations within one day.How KOSA Will Help:KOSA would require that platforms give users the ability to turn off engagement-based algorithms or options to influence the recommendation they receive. A user would be able to stop recommendation systems that are sending them toxic content.  KOSA’s duty of care requires platforms to prevent and mitigate cyberbullying. It also requires that platforms give users options to restrict messages from other users and to make their profile private.It would require platforms to provide a point of contact for users to report harassment and mandates platforms respond to these reports within a designated time frame.  LGBTQ+ youth are more at risk of suicide and suicidal behaviors.Young people exposed to hateful messaging online in tandem with self-harm material on social media, increases the risk of suicidal behaviors and/or suicide.These risks are exacerbated when platform recommendation systems amplify hateful content and self-harm content.For example, after creating a new teen account on TikTok, suicide content was recommended under three minutes.Surveys have found 42% of LGBTQ+ youth seriously considered attempting suicide, including more than half of transgender and nonbinary youth.Moreover, eating disorders, depression, bullying, substance use, and other mental health harms that fall harder on LGBTQ+ communities further increase risks of self-harm and suicide.  How KOSA Will Help:In addition to the core safeguards and options provided to kids, such as controls and transparency over algorithmic recommendation systems, KOSA’s duty of care would require platforms consider and address the ways in which their recommendation systems promote suicide and suicidal behaviors, creating incentives for the platforms to provide self-help resources, uplift information about recovery, and prevent their algorithms from pushing users down rabbit holes of harmful and deadly content.Protections for LGBTQ+ CommunitiesThe reintroduction of the Kids Online Safety Act takes into account recommended edits from a diverse group of organizations, researchers, youth, and families.The outcome from experts in the field and those with lived experience is a thoughtful and tailored bill designed to be a strong step in advancing a core set of accountability provisions to provide children, adolescents, and families with a safer online experience. Below is a summary comparing previous bill text and changes that were made for reintroduction.Concerns with Previous DraftHow Current Draft Protects LGBTQ+The “duty of care” is too vague, creating liabilities for broad and undefined harms to children and teens.The duty of care is now limited to a set of specific harms that have been shown to be exacerbated by online platforms’ product designs and algorithms. Specific harms are focused on serious threats to the wellbeing of young users, such as, eating disorders, substance use, depression, anxiety, suicidal behaviors, physical violence, sexual exploitation, and the marketing of narcotics, tobacco, gambling, alcohol. The terms used to describe those harms are linked to clinical or legal definitions where there  is a perceived risk of misuse. In addition, the duty of care includes a limitation to ensure it is not construed to require platforms to block access to content that a young user specifically requests or block access to evidence-informed medical information and support resources.The inclusion of “grooming” in the duty of care could be weaponized against entities providing information about gender-affirming care.“Grooming” was cut from the bill. Sexual exploitation and abuse are now defined using existing federal criminal statutes to prevent politicalization or distortion of terms.The duty of care to prevent and mitigate “self-harm” or “physical harm” could be weaponized against trans youth and those who provide information about gender-affirming care.The specific reference to “self-harm” has been removed from the duty of care. “Physical harm” has been changed to “physical violence” to enhance clarity. Other covered harms related to “self-harm” are covered using terminology that is anchored in a medical definition.Will allow non-supportive parents to surveil LGBTQ+ youth online.The legislation clarifies the tools available to protect kids and differentiates the developmental differences between children and young teens.KOSA has always included requirements that children and adolescents are notified if parental controls are turned on, and required kids know before parents are informed about creating a new account. For teens, the bill requires platforms to give parents the ability to restrict purchases, view metrics on how much time a minor is spending on a platform and view - but not change - account settings. It does not require the disclosure of a minor’s browsing behavior, search history, messages, or other content or metadata of their communications.KOSA will lead to privacy-invasive age verification across the internet.KOSA never required age verification or gating, nor did it create liability for companies if kids lie about their age.The bill explicitly states that companies are not required to age-gate or collect additional data to determine a user’s age.Additionally, a knowledge standard is more consistently applied across the bill for the purpose of clarifying that companies are not liable if they have no knowledge whether a user is a child or adolescent.KOSA will affect access to sexual health information, schools, or nonprofit services.KOSA requirements only apply to commercial online platforms, such as social media and games that have been the largest source of issues for kids online.Nonprofits, schools, and broadband services are exempt from KOSA and a previous reference to “educational services” was removed from the “covered platform” definition of the bill.KOSA does not apply to health sites or other information resources.
    group of people under garment by Mercedes Mehling
  • The Honorable Joseph R. BidenPresident of the United StatesThe White House1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NWWashington, DC 20500May 23, 2023Dear President Biden:The undersigned civil rights, consumer protection, and other civil society organizations write to express concern about digital trade negotiations underway as part of the proposed Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF).Civil society advocates and officials within your own administration have raised increasing concern about discrimination, racial disparities, and inequities that may be “baked into” the algorithms that make decisions about access to jobs and housing, health care, prison sentencing, educational opportunity, insurance rates and lending, deployment of police resources, and much more. To address these injustices, we have advocated for anti-discrimination protections and algorithmic transparency and fairness. We have been pleased that these concepts are incorporated into your recent Executive Order on racial equity,1 as well as the White House’s AI Bill of Rights2 and many other policy proposals. The DOJ, FTC, CFPB, and EEOC also recently released a joint statement underscoring their commitment to combating discrimination in automated systems.3 Any trade agreement must be consistent with, and not undermine, these policies and the values they are advancing.Now, we have learned that the U.S. may be considering proposals for IPEF and other trade agreement negotiations that could sabotage efforts to prevent and remedy algorithmic discrimination, including provisions that could potentially preempt executive and Congressional legal authority to advance these goals. Such provisions may make it harder or impossible for Congress or executive agencies to adopt appropriate policies while also respecting our international trade commitments. For example, trade provisions that guarantee digital firms new secrecy rights over source code and algorithms could thwart potential algorithmic impact assessment and audit requirements, such as testing for racial bias or other violations of U.S. law and regulation. And because the trade negotiations are secret, we do not know how the exact language could affect pivotal civil rights protections. Including such industry-favored provisions in trade deals like IPEF would be a grievous error and undermine the Administration’s own policy goals. We urge the administration to not submit any proposals that could undermine the ability to protect the civil rights of people in the United States, particularly with regard to digital trade. Moreover, there is a great need for transparency in these negotiations. Text already proposed should be made public so the civil rights community and relevant experts can challenge any provisions that could undermine administration goals regarding racial equity, transparency, and fairness. We know that your administration shares our goals of advancing racial equity, including protecting the public from algorithmic discrimination. Thank you for your leadership in this area. For questions or further discussion, please contact Harlan Yu (harlan@upturn.org), David Brody (dbrody@lawyerscommittee.org), and Emily Peterson-Cassin (epetersoncassin@citizen.org).Sincerely,American Civil Liberties Union Center for Democracy & Technology Center for Digital Democracy Data & Society Research Institute Demand Progress Education Fund Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) Fight for the Future Lawyers’ Committee for Civil RightsUnder LawThe Leadership Conference on Civil andHuman Rights NAACPNational Urban League Public Citizen Sikh American Legal Defense andEducation Fund UpturnCC:Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo U.S. Trade Representative Katherine TaiNational Economic Council Director Lael BrainardNational Security Advisor Jake SullivanDomestic Policy Council Director Susan RiceIncoming Domestic Policy Council Director Neera TandenDomestic Policy Council Deputy Director for Racial Justice and Equity Jenny Yang1 Exec. Order No. 14091, 88 Fed. Reg. 10825, Feb. 16, 2023, available at https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2023/02/22/2023-03779/further-advancing-racial-equity-and-support-for-underserved-communities-through-the-federal.2 The White House, Blueprint for an AI Bill of Rights, Oct. 22, 2022, available at https://www.whitehouse.gov/ostp/ai-bill-of-rights.3 Joint Statement on Enforcement Efforts Against Discrimination and Bias in Automated Systems, CFPB, DOJ, EEOC, FTC, April 25, 2023, available at https://www.ftc.gov/system/files/ftc_gov/pdf/EEOC-CRT-FTC-CFPB-AI-Joint-Statement%28final%29.pdf.
    woman in white tank top and white shorts standing on gray concrete road during daytime by Clay Banks
  • CDD urges Congress to adopt stronger online safeguards for kids and teensContact: Katharina Kopp, kkopp [at] democraticmedia.orgThe Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA 2.0), introduced by Senators Markey and Cassidy, will provide urgently needed online safeguards for children and teens. It will enact real platform accountability and limit the economic and psychological exploitation of children and teens online and thus address the public health crisis they are experiencing.By banning targeted ads to young people under 16, the endless streams of data collected by online companies to profile and track them will be significantly reduced. The ability of digital marketers and platforms to manipulate, discriminate, and exploit children and teens will be curtailed. COPPA 2.0 will also extend the original COPPA law protections for youth from 12 to 16 years of age.  The proposed law provides the ability to delete children’s and teen’s data with a click of an “eraser button.”  With the creation of a new FTC "Youth Marketing and Privacy Division,” COPPA 2.0 will ensure young peoples’ privacy rights are enforced.
  • Meta’s Virtual Reality-based Marketing Apparatus Poses Risks to Teens and OthersWhether it’s called Facebook or Meta, or known by its Instagram, WhatsApp, Messenger or Reels services, the company has always seen children and teens as a key target. The recent announcement opening(link is external) up the Horizon Worlds metaverse(link is external) to teens, despite calls to first ensure it will be a safe and healthy experience, is lifted out of Facebook’s well-worn political playbook—make whatever promises necessary to temporarily quell any political opposition to its monetization plans. Meta’s priorities are intractably linked to its quarterly shareholder revenue reports. Selling our “real” and “virtual” selves to marketers is their only real source of revenue, a higher priority than any self-regulatory scheme Meta offers(link is external) claiming to protect children and teens.Meta’s focus on creating more immersive, AI/VR, metaverse-connected experiences for advertisers should serve as a “wake-up” call for regulators. Meta has unleashed a digital environment designed to trigger the “engagement(link is external)” of young people with marketing, data collection and commercially driven manipulation. Action is required to ensure that young people are treated fairly, and not exposed to data surveillance, threats to their health and other harms.Here are a few recent developments that should be part of any regulatory review of Meta and young people:Expansion of “immersive(link is external)” video and advertising-embedded applications: Meta tells marketers it provides “seamless video experiences that are immersive and fueled by discovery,” including the “exciting(link is external) opportunity for advertisers” with its short-video “Reels” system. Through virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR(link is external)) technologies, we are exposed to advertising content designed to have a greater impact by influencing our subconscious and emotional processes. With AR ads, Meta tells(link is external) marketers, they can “create immersive experiences, encourage people to virtually try out your products and inspire people to interact with your brand,” including encouraging “people who interact with your ad… [to]take photos or videos to share their experience on Facebook Feed, on Facebook and Instagram Stories or in a message on Instagram.” Meta has also been researching(link is external) the use of AR(link is external) and VR(link is external) that will ensure that its ad and marketing messaging becomes even more compelling.Expanded integration of ads throughout Meta applications: Meta allows advertisers to “turn organic image and video posts into ads in Ads Manager on Facebook Reels,” including adding a “call-to-action” feature. It permits marketers to “boost their Reels within the Instagram app to turn them into ads….” It enables marketers “to add a “Send Message” button to their Facebook Reels ads [that] give people an option to start a conversation in WhatsApp(link is external) right from the ad.” This follows last year’s Meta “Boosted Reels” product(link is external) release, allowing Instagram Reels to be turned into ads as well.“Ads Manager” “optimization(link is external) goals” that are inappropriate when used for targeting young people: These include “impressions, reach, daily unique reach, link clicks and offsite conversions.” “Ad placements” to target teens are available for the “Facebook Marketplace, Facebook Feed, … Facebook Stories, Facebook-instream video (mobile), Instagram Feed, Instagram Explore, Instagram Stories, Facebook Reels and Instagram Reels.”The use of metrics for delivering and measuring the impact of augmented reality ads: As Meta explains, it uses:(link is external)Instant Experience View Time: The average total time in seconds that people spent viewing an Instant Experience. An Instant Experience can include videos, images, products from a catalog, an augmented reality effect and more. For an augmented reality ad, this metric counts the average time people spent viewing your augmented reality effect after they tapped your ad.Instant Experience Clicks to Open: The number of clicks on your ad that open an Instant Experience. For an augmented reality ad, this metric counts the number of times people tapped your ad to open your augmented reality effect.Instant Experience Outbound Clicks: The number of clicks on links in an Instant Experience that take people off Meta technologies. For an augmented reality ad, this metric counts the number of times people tapped the call to action button in your augmented reality effect.Effect Share: The number of times someone shared an image or video that used an augmented reality effect from your ad. Shares can be to Facebook or Instagram Stories, to Facebook Feed or as a message on Instagram.These ad effects can be designed and tested(link is external) through Meta’s “Spark Hub” and ad manager. Such VR and other measurement systems require regulators to analyze their role and impact on youth.Expanded use of machine learning/AI to promote shopping via Advantage(link is external)+: Last year, Meta rolled out “Advantage+ shopping campaigns, Meta’s machine-learning capabilities [that] save advertisers(link is external) time and effort while creating and managing campaigns. For example, advertisers can set up a single Advantage+ shopping campaign, and the machine learning-powered automation automatically combines prospecting and retargeting audiences, selects numerous ad creative and messaging variations, and then optimizes for the best-performing ads.” While Meta says that Advantage+ isn’t used to target teens, it deploys(link is external) it for “Gen Z” audiences. How Meta uses machine learning/AI to target families should also be on the regulatory agenda.Immersive advertising will shape the near-term evolution of marketing, where brands will be “world agnostic and transcend the limitations of the current physical and digital space.” The Advertising Research Foundation (ARF) predicts(link is external) that “in the next decade, AR and VR hardware and software will reach ubiquitous status.” One estimate is that by 2030, the metaverse will “generate(link is external) up to $5 trillion in value.”In the meantime, Meta’s playbook in response to calls from regulators and advocates is to promise some safeguards, often focused on encouraging the use of what it calls “safety(link is external) tools.” But these tools(link is external) do not ensure that teens aren’t reached and influenced by AI- and VR-driven marketing technologies and applications. Meta also knows that today, ad-targeting is less important than so-called “discovery(link is external),” where its purposeful melding of its video content, AR effects, social interactions and influencer marketing will snare young people into its marketing “conversion”(link is external) net.Last week, Mark Zuckerberg told(link is external) investors his vision of bringing “AI agents to billions of people,” as well as into his “metaverse” that will be populated by “avatars, objects, worlds, and codes to tie” online and offline together. There will be, as previously reported, an AI-driven “discovery(link is external) engine” that will “increase the amount of suggested content to users.”These developments reflect just a few of the AI- and VR-marketing-driven changes to the Meta system. They illustrate why responsible regulators and advocates must be in the forefront of holding this company accountable, especially with regard to its youth-targeting apparatus.Please also read(link is external) Fairplay for Kids’ account of Meta’s long history of failing to protect children online.   metateensaivr0523fin.pdf
    Jeff Chester
  • Reining In Meta’s Digital ‘Wild West’ as FTC protects young people’s safety, health and privacyContacts:Jeff Chester, CDD, 202-494-7100David Monahan, Fairplay, 781-315-2586Children’s advocates Fairplay and Center for Digital Democracy respond to today’s announcement that the FTC proposes action to address Facebook’s privacy violations in practices impacting children and teens.  And see important new information compiled by Fairplay and CDD, linked below.Josh Golin, executive director, Fairplay:The action taken by the Federal Trade Commission against Meta is long overdue. For years, Meta has flouted the law and exploited millions of children and teens in their efforts to maximize profits, with little care as to the harms faced by young users on their platforms. The FTC has rightly recognized Meta simply cannot be trusted with young people’s sensitive data and proposed a remedy in line with Meta’s long history of abuse of children. We applaud the Commission for its efforts to hold Meta accountable and for taking a huge step toward creating the safe online ecosystem every young American deserves.Jeff Chester, executive director, Center for Digital Democracy:Today’s action by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is a long-overdue intervention into what has become a huge national crisis for young people. Meta and its platforms are at the center of a powerful commercialized social media system that has spiraled out of control, threatening the mental health and wellbeing of children and adolescents. The company has not done enough to address the problems caused by its unaccountable data-driven commercial platforms. Amid a continuing rise in shocking incidents of suicide, self-harm and online abuse, as well as exposés from industry “whistleblowers,” Meta is unleashing even more powerful data gathering and targeting tactics fueled by immersive content, virtual reality and artificial intelligence, while pushing youth further into the metaverse with no meaningful safeguards. Parents and children urgently need the government to institute protections for the “digital generation” before it is too late. Today’s action by the FTC limiting how Meta can use the data it gathers will bring critical protections to both children and teens. It will require Meta/Facebook to engage in a proper “due diligence” process when launching new products targeting young people—rather than its current method of “release first and address problems later approach.” The FTC deserve the thanks of U.S parents and others concerned about the privacy and welfare of our “digital generation.”NEW REPORTS:META HAS A LONG HISTORY OF FAILING TO PROTECT CHILDREN ONLINE(link is external)(from Fairplay)META’S VIRTUAL REALITY-BASED MARKETING APPARATUS POSES RISKS TO TEENS AND OTHERS(from CDD)
     by