An activism director and a legislative analyst at the EFF have co-authored an essay arguing that the key to children’s safetly online “is user empowerment, not censorship,” reporting on a recent hearing by the U.S. Senate’s Judiciary Commitee:
While children do face problems online, some committee members seemed bent on using those problems as an excuse to censor the Internet and undermine the legal protections for free expression that we all rely on, including kids. Don’t censor users; empower them to choose… [W]hen lawmakers give online platforms the impossible task of ensuring that every post meets a certain standard, those companies have little choice but to over-censor.
During the hearing, Stephen Balkam of the Family Online Safety Institute provided an astute counterpoint to the calls for a more highly filtered Internet, calling to move the discussion “from protection to empowerment.” In other words, tech companies ought to give users more control over their online experience rather than forcing all of their users into an increasingly sanitized web. We agree.
It’s foolish to think that one set of standards would be appropriate for all children, let alone all Internet users. But today, social media companies frequently make censorship decisions that affect everyone. Instead, companies should empower users to make their own decisions about what they see online by letting them calibrate and customize the content filtering methods those companies use. Furthermore, tech and media companies shouldn’t abuse copyright and other laws to prevent third parties from offering customization options to people who want them.
The essay also argues that Congress “should closely examine companies whose business models rely on collecting, using, and selling children’s personal information…”
“We’ve highlighted numerous examples of students effectively being forced to share data with Google through the free or low-cost cloud services and Chromebooks it provides to cash-strapped schools. We filed a complaint with the FTC in 2015 asking it to investigate Google’s student data practices, but the agency never responded.”