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USA: NTIA requests comments on Initiative to Protect Youth Mental Health, Safety & Privacy Online

On September 28, 2023, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) under the United States Department of Commerce requested public comments on an Initiative to Protect Youth Mental Health, Safety & Privacy Online. In particular, the Initiative highlights recent developments regarding children's safety, health, and privacy online including the formation of the Kids Online Health and Safety Task Force (the Task Force) and the Surgeon General of the United States Advisory on Social Media and Youth Mental Health.

Concerns

Although recognizing the benefits of social media to youth, the Initiative outlines the impact of social media on children's mental health, brain development, attention span, sleep, addiction, anxiety, and depression, stemming from both the design of the social media environment and the specific types of content to which minors are exposed, often over long periods of time. Further, the Initiative stipulates that social media and online platforms pose a particular risk to minors' privacy, including images of a sensitive nature, other personally identifiable information such as educational records, and minors' exposure to comprehensive surveillance. Notably, the Initiative detailed the new risks posed by artificial intelligence (AI), noting an example of an AI-powered chatbot that provided harmful advice on eating orders.

Efforts taken

Likewise, the Initiative recognizes efforts to address social media use and harms, including legislation in multiple US states to adopt default privacy settings, and the enforcement of the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) among others. Outside of the US, the Initiative notes the UK Age-Appropriate Design Code as a method of aiming to keep children and teenagers safe while maximizing the benefits of social media and other online platforms. Regarding the Task Force, the Initiative provides examples of steps taken to advance minors' health, safety, and privacy, including working with the NTIA to improve ID verification and authentication that might be relevant to age verification.

The Initiative

More specifically, the Initiative provides that the NTIA is seeking feedback on current industry practices, and ways that the private sector, parents, and guardians, the US government, and any other party may improve the online safety and privacy of children. 

Public comments may be submitted until November 16, 2023.

You can read the press release here and the Initiative here.