Social Media Bill Would Ban Covert Data Collection

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Two American senators want to crack down on social media companies that they say trick underage users into giving up personal data, according to Reuters.

The senators, Democrat Mark Warner and Republican Deb Fischer, introduced the bill on Tuesday (April 9). It would ban companies that have more than 100 million monthly active users, including Twitter and Facebook, from employing addicting content for children younger than 13.

The bill is targeted toward practices called “dark patterns,” which are developed using behavioral psychology to trick users into giving up personal information.

“Misleading prompts to just click the ‘OK’ button can often transfer your contacts, messages, browsing activity, photos or location information without you even realizing it,” Fischer said in a statement issued by the two senators.

Social media companies use data to help sell advertisements, and a potential restriction could hurt profit. Warner said the proposed bill might be included in a federal privacy bill being drafted by the Senate Commerce Committee. California passed a stringent privacy law that will soon go into effect, and Congress has been expected to follow suit.

Warner said he has gotten support for the bill from the likes of Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg and Google. “The platform companies are now going to have an opportunity to put their money where their mouth is, to see if they support this legislation and other approaches,” he said.

The bill would also ban companies from picking groups of people for behavior-related experiments without informed consent. The terms of the bill specify that social media companies would have to create a professional standards body to come up with the best ways to deal with the issues.

The proposed group would work with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), which is responsible for investigating deceptive advertising practices. Companies like Facebook, Google and Twitter are beholden to advertising for revenue, and they use the collected data to sell targeted ads.

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