On September 29 and 30, 2021, the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation convened hearings on how to better protect consumer and children’s privacy.

The first hearing, titled “Protecting Consumer Privacy,” examined how to better safeguard consumer privacy rights. Chaired by Sen. Cantwell, the hearing highlighted the Senator’s push to create a privacy and data security enforcement bureau at the Federal Trade Commission and invest significant federal resources into the agency to better protect consumer privacy.

The hearing’s witness list included David Vladeck, Professor and Faculty Director of the Center on Privacy and Technology of Georgetown Law; Morgan Reed, President of the App Association; Maureen Ohlhausen, former Commissioner of the FTC; and Ashkan Soltani, Independent Researcher and Technologist.

Key views expressed by the witnesses included:

  • support for a comprehensive federal privacy law that provides clear protections for consumers, articulates specific limits and obligations of companies and grants the FTC the resources and explicit authority necessary to enforce the new law;
  • the FTC’s need for additional resources, especially more technologists and engineers, as well as funding; and
  • possible common ground for a potential private right of action in federal privacy legislation, provided the right is focused on actual redress, does not invite abusive litigation and contains certain guardrails (g., cure period, cap in monetary damages, cap in attorney’s fees, intent requirement, consideration of the nature and severity of harm).

Read the written witness testimony.

The second hearing, titled “Protecting Kids Online,” was held by the Senate Commerce Committee Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety, and Data Security. The hearing, chaired by Sen. Blumenthal, focused on the potential harms posed to children by social media platforms, particularly with respect to mental health. Following the hearing, Sens. Markey and Blumenthal and Rep. Castor reintroduced legislation, the Kids Internet Design and Safety (KIDS) Act, to protect children and teens from online manipulation and harm. Among other things, the KIDS Act would (1) ban the use of features that increase screen time and app or website usage by children and teens (e.g., auto-play settings, push alerts); (2) prohibit the amplification of harmful content on websites and apps designed for children and teens; and (3) prohibit manipulative marketing to children and teens (e.g., influencer marketing, marketing with interactive elements). The Subcommittee will hold a follow-up hearing on October 5, 2021.