Haugen Criticizes Facebook's Child Safety, Calls for Proactive Measures to Protect Underage Users

  • Recent Washington tech-policy discussion focuses on online child safety.
  • UK's Online Safety Act touted as a model, emphasizing duty of care on user-to-user service providers.
  • Facebook whistleblower, Frances Haugen, advocates for proactive interventions at various stages of online harm.
  • Age verification methods and regulatory approaches compared, with an emphasis on flexibility and effectiveness.
Safeguarding children online took center stage in a recent Washington tech-policy discourse. Melanie Dawes, at the helm of the UK’s Ofcom telecom regulator, championed the recently enacted Online Safety Act in the UK as a potential blueprint for US regulation.

Dawes stressed the act's imposition of a duty of care on companies delivering user-to-user services, mandating the implementation of robust systems and processes. This, she asserted, is crucial for effective online safety. Frances Haugen, a whistleblower from Facebook, concurred, criticizing prevailing tech platforms for their reactive content moderation approach and underscoring the need for intervention across various stages of the online harm life cycle.

Haugen put forth a fundamental directive for duty of care—keeping those under 13 years old away from these platforms. She scrutinized Facebook's child safety measures, pointing to instances where Instagram not only allowed underage users but also tracked them for advertising purposes. Haugen dismissed the argument that age verification is the sole defense against underage users, proposing alternatives such as social platforms encouraging reports from peers and parents.

Photo: Brookings Institution / YT

Touching upon age verification, the UK’s Online Safety Act remains broad, urging the use of age verification or estimation. Ofcom, tasked with overseeing and enforcing the law, is set to unveil draft guidance on "age assurance" in December. Dawes expressed a willingness to explore various technologies, favoring a device-side system for age verification.

In the US, specific state-level laws, like Arkansas' restrictions on porn-video sites, dictate particular age-verification systems. Notably absent from the discussion was the controversy surrounding measures threatening end-to-end encryption—a contentious issue during the UK’s parliamentary debates on the bill.
Haugen endorsed the results-based approach of the Online Services Act, emphasizing the imposition of a duty of care while allowing flexibility for companies to meet the standard. This, she contended, would discourage a race-to-the-bottom dynamic, encouraging social firms to prioritize safety without fearing diminished user engagement.

The whistleblower suggested that safety legislation would recalibrate power dynamics between private platforms and elected officials. In underscoring this point, she recounted an incident where a TikTok representative derided a Canadian government official's inquiry about the app's user base. This narrative serves as a reminder of the imperative need for regulatory frameworks ensuring online safety while fostering innovation, striking a delicate balance.

Read next: Meta Grapples with Escalating Child Exploitation Scrutiny amid EU Probe and Legal Challenges
Previous Post Next Post