Hillicon Valley — Dems press privacy groups over kids' safety

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  • Donald Trump
    Donald Trump
    45th President of the United States

Today is Monday. Welcome to Hillicon Valley, detailing all you need to know about tech and cyber news from Capitol Hill to Silicon Valley. Subscribe here: thehill.com/newsletter-signup.

Follow The Hill's tech team, Chris Mills Rodrigo (@millsrodrigo) and Rebecca Klar (@rebeccaklar_), for more coverage.

Two House Democrats are pressing privacy organizations about a program aimed at protecting children online that has drawn scrutiny from regulators.

Meanwhile, a federal judge questioned former President Trump's claim of "absolute immunity" in the face of lawsuits accusing him of fomenting the Capitol riot last year in part through social media.

Let's jump into the news.

Democrats seek info on Safe Harbor program

Rep. K Castor (D-Fla.) is seen at a House Energy and Commerce Committee oversight hearing of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission on Tuesday, July 27, 2021.
Rep. K Castor (D-Fla.) is seen at a House Energy and Commerce Committee oversight hearing of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission on Tuesday, July 27, 2021.

Reps. Kathy Castor (D-Fla.) and Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) are seeking information about enforcement of children's online safety regulations from six privacy compliance organizations.

The letter: The Democrats on Monday said they sent a letter to the organizations with questions aimed at ensuring they are fulfilling their obligation to provide protection for children as tasked by the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) Safe Harbor program.

The lawmakers underscored the need to better understand and regulate the Safe Harbor program in light of recent reports about the impact of Instagram on teen users, especially young girls. The reports were based on leaked internal Facebook documents.

The documents were first reported by The Wall Street Journal, and Frances Haugen, the Facebook whistleblower who leaked them, later testified before Congress about the internal research, among other documents.

Parental concerns: "Often parents are forced to make quick judgments about the safety of a website or app and a stamp of approval from a safe harbor deeming a site compliant with COPPA can make a significant difference in whether parents allow their children to use it," Castor and Schakowsky wrote.

"These problems are further exacerbated as children are increasingly required to use online resources for educational, informational, and other essential purposes. Therefore, it is critical that COPPA Safe Harbor organizations are working as intended," they added.

COPPA includes a provision that allows industry groups to submit self-regulatory guidelines to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) as part of a Safe Harbor program. The program lists Children's Advertising Review Unit, Entertainment Software Rating Board, iKeepSafe, kidSAFE, Privacy Vaults Online, Inc. and TRUSTe - all of which received Castor and Schakowsky's letter.

Read more here.

Judge questions Trump's 'immunity'

A federal judge on Monday questioned former President Trump's claims of "absolute immunity" in the face of a trio of civil lawsuits accusing him of fomenting the Capitol riot last year.

During a hearing, U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta appeared skeptical of Trump's argument that the suits from Democratic lawmakers and U.S. Capitol Police officers should be thrown out because a president's speech and actions while in office is completely protected from civil action.

"Is there anything the president could say while president of the United States that could subject him to civil suits?" said Mehta, who was appointed by former President Obama.

Jesse Binnall, Trump's attorney, said he could not think of a hypothetical example that would fall outside of the immunity that the former president is claiming.

"It's a purposely hard road to hoe, because the duties of the president are all-encompassing," Binnall said. "When that person holds the office, for that term of office, what a president does is constantly part of being the sole person responsible for the executive branch of government."

Read more here.


Mozilla, the company behind the Firefox browser, is partnering with the nonprofit newsroom The Markup to launch a study that will analyze how Facebook tracks data for targeted ads and to tailor content recommendations for users.

Rally ready: The study will use tools provided by Rally, a privacy-focused data sharing platform created by Mozilla in June, Mozilla announced Monday.

Firefox users can opt into the "Facebook Pixel Hunt" study through Rally. The study will collect the data sent to Facebook pixels as users browse, the URLs of the web pages users browse, the time users spend browsing pages and the presence of Facebook login cookies in users' browsers.

Mozilla said the study aims to uncover questions including what kind of data Facebook pixels collect, which sites share the data, what the data can reveal about people and how Facebook tracks people.

The Markup will use the data collected in the study to create investigative journalism around the type of information Facebook collects about users.

Read more here.


An op-ed to chew on: For media, COVID alarm is a hard habit to break

Lighter click: Not exactly the right soundtrack

Notable links from around the web:

Covid Test Misinformation Spikes Along With Spread of Omicron (The New York Times / Davey Alba)

A year into his social media exile, Trump is working to get back online (The Washington Post / Douglas MacMillan, Josh Dawsey and Elizabeth Dwoskin)

One last thing: Amazon shortens COVID leave

Amazon is shortening its paid leave policy for employees infected with COVID-19 following the change in quarantine guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Amazon told all U.S. employees on Friday that paid leave for COVID-19 quarantine will be shortened from 10 days to seven days.

"Throughout the past two years, we have consistently based our response to the evolving COVID-19 pandemic on guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the advice of our own medical experts," the company said in the announcement.

In late December, the CDC cut isolation times for people infected with COVID-19 from 10 to five days as long as they are asymptomatic. The agency said that the new policy applies to everyone, regardless of vaccination status.

The change in guidance came amid a surge in COVID-19 cases in the U.S. caused by the omicron variant and subsequent labor shortages due to those infections.

Read more here.

That's it for today, thanks for reading. Check out The Hill's technology and cybersecurity pages for the latest news and coverage. We'll see you Tuesday.

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