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US Congress Looks at Ways to Regulate Technology Companies

A unidentified person uses a smartphone in Chicago, Sept. 16, 2017. (AP Photo, File)
A unidentified person uses a smartphone in Chicago, Sept. 16, 2017. (AP Photo, File)
US Congress Looks at Ways to Regulate Technology Companies
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Several measures are being considered by the U.S. Congress to regulate technology companies in an effort to protect the public.

Many American lawmakers have been critical of technology business operations and social media services. There is support among lawmakers to pass federal legislation to make additional rules for technology companies and for their business activities.

Some U.S. states have already passed their own laws restricting the use of online services by young users. But there is still a lot of disagreement in Congress over what kinds of laws to pass.

Tech companies have so far resisted federal efforts to regulate their business activities. This opposition has also made passing any new rules or guidelines more difficult.

Here are some of the possible ways that Congress is considering new regulations for technology companies.

Child safety

Several House and Senate bills are meant to make online services safer for children. Lawmakers have described many examples of teenagers who have taken their own lives after being bullied online. They have also pointed to the deaths of young people who copied dangerous behaviors publicized on social media.

In the Senate, there are at least two competing bills on children’s online safety. One would require social media companies to be more open about their operations and enable child safety settings by default. In addition, young users would have the ability to turn off tools designed to get them to spend more time online.

Senators proposing these rules have said the services should be “safe by design.” The legislation also aims to prevent some dangers to minors — including online restrictions on subjects like eating disorders. Other dangerous behaviors include suicide, substance abuse, sexual exploitation and other illegal activities.

Data privacy

Another Senate bill is designed to expand child privacy protections online. The measure could ban companies from collecting personal data from younger teenagers. It would also ban targeting children and teens with advertising.

A measure in the House would attempt to give adults and children more control over their data. And another bill that gained wide support last year would try to limit data collection and make it illegal to target advertisements to children.

TikTok Ban

Lawmakers have introduced a series of bills to either ban the video sharing service TikTok or make it easier to ban it. During a hearing on March 23, lawmakers from both parties expressed their concerns about the video sharing service to TikTok chief Shou Zi Chew. The criticism centered on the company’s ties to China’s communist government, data security and harmful content on the service.

Chew defended TikTok, saying the company takes user safety and privacy seriously. He said the company does not permit itself to be influenced by the Chinese government.

After the hearing, Missouri Senator Josh Hawley, a Republican Party member, tried to force a Senate vote on legislation that would ban TikTok from operating in the U.S. But he was blocked by another Republican, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul. Paul argued that such a ban would violate the U.S. Constitution and anger millions who use the app.

Another bill supported by Republican Senator Marco Rubio of Florida would ban U.S. economic dealings with TikTok. But it would also enable the U.S. president to block online services the government considers hostile to the U.S.

Artificial intelligence

There has also been much debate in Congress about whether there is a need to place limits on artificial intelligence, or AI.

The Democratic Party’s Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has been working with AI experts. He released some guidelines for what AI regulation could look like. These include increased openness about the people and data involved in developing the technology.

Schumer has said he thinks any legislative measures should prevent possible “catastrophic damage to our country.” At the same time, he has stated his desire to make sure the U.S. “is able to lead in this transformative technology.”

The administration of President Joe Biden recently announced a spending measure worth $140 million to establish seven new AI research centers. And Vice President Kamala Harris met recently with the heads of Google, Microsoft, and other companies to discuss the development of AI products.

I’m Bryan Lynn.

The Associated Press reported this story. Bryan Lynn adapted the report for VOA Learning English.

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Words in This Story

regulate – v. to control an activity or process, especially by rules

bully v. to intentionally frighten someone who is smaller or weaker than you

by default – phr. happening only because something else does not happen

exploit v. to use or develop something for your own advantage

app (application) –n. a computer program designed to do a specific job

catastrophic – adj. causing a lot of suffering or destruction

transform – v. to completely change something, usually to improve it


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