Senate Questions TikTok, Snap, and YouTube—Changes to Online Privacy for Children and Teens Discussed

Published · Nov 01, 2021

Representatives from TikTok, Snap, and YouTube spoke before the US Senate, discussing the safety of children and teens on their apps. Although there was agreement about the need for legislation, for the most part, TikTok deflected questions related to data collection.

Senators from both sides of the aisle questioned the tech firms. This is the first time TikTok and Snap have participated in such a procedure. It’s more often bigger firms like Facebook, Twitter, and major cloud providers that appear before the senate.

The discussion focused on the safety of young users on the apps. The representatives of the three companies faced questions over pending legislation on the issue. The legislation is an update of the Children and Teen’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA).

The tech firms agreed that stronger privacy laws are needed. In particular, they put forward the idea that parents should be able to remove the online data of their children.

In essence, they highlighted the need for a tool that enforces the right to be forgotten. It would have a broad application, allowing parents to erase data not just on apps, but on services that collect personal data for commercial use..

Senators diverged from the topic slightly to question TikTok’s VP and Head of Public Policy, Michael Beckerman, over the company’s connection to China.

Beckerman said Tikto doesn’t give data to China. However, he danced around many other questions, replying indirectly or answering adjacent queries.

TikTok Dodges Questions

Beckerman was quizzed on TikTok’s collection of biometric data as well.

Among the questions asked were whether TikTok is building profiles on users, similar to those used by background check services. TikTok’s VP responded by explaining that the company is an entertainment platform.

In response to whether TikTok collects certain data like IP addresses, Beckerman said that “some of those items that you listed off are things that we’re not currently collecting.”

The way he skirted the questions was blatant. What’s surprising, however, is how the senators let it slide.

It is not the first time senators seem to be at a loss when it comes to hearings over tech. One of the reasons might be that they do not know enough about the technologies at hand to push questions in a meaningful way. One wonders why the Senate doesn’t bring in experts to brief them or lead the hearing on their behalf.

Still, it’s positive that the tech firms and senate agree that children need more protection online. Implementing the changes should hopefully be a smooth process—that is, if tech firms are sincere.

Garan van Rensburg
Garan van Rensburg

Garan is a writer interested in how tech reshapes the environment, and how the environment reshapes tech. You'll usually find him inoculating against future shock and arguing with bots.