Off-the-rails FTC wrong answer for keeping kids safe online

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This week the Washington Post reported that the Kids Online Safety Act (KOSA) is poised to pass the Senate, but faces hurdles in the House. Let’s hope those hurdles prove insurmountable.

I’ve written about the bill’s constitutional problems and the unacceptable trade-offs for privacy with the age verification it will trigger for all Americans, but there’s another red flag: further empowering an off-the-rails Federal Trade Commission.

KOSA directs the FTC to issue guidance to regulated platforms, conduct a study with the Secretary of Health and Human Services and the National Academy of Sciences, and form a Kids Online Safety Council. Leaving aside the possible problems of mixing science and public policy, empowering the FTC to influence what kids see and are kept from seeing online is a particularly bad idea.

The idea that a group of unelected bureaucrats in Washington DC know better than parents what’s best for their kids boggles the mind. Even allowing for those with more faith in the “benevolent regulator,” tasking an FTC whose “broader agenda has attracted a blizzard of criticism” with deciding what America’s children are allowed to experience online is particularly foolish.

If House Republicans think the current FTC will enforce a conservative ideological agenda they will be sorely mistaken. But the axiom of never granting the authority to your own party that you wouldn’t want the opposing party to have should weigh heavy on congressional Democrats’ minds too. A Republican FTC endowed with these new powers will not champion progressive causes, to put it mildly.  

Subjective decisions from an either Republican- or Democrat-controlled FTC about what is and is not appropriate for children will likely leave roughly half of America’s families unhappy. Much better to leave these matters to individual parents.

Families are far from powerless here. Increasingly, there are educational resources and tools to help them do so. Granted, the Internet, like the physical world, contains a certain amount of danger. Parents will always be better at and more invested in navigating those dangers than federal regulators.