Here’s why tech companies are suddenly focusing on child safety

September 2, 2021, 1:15 AM UTC

Why does every tech company suddenly seem to care so much about the children?

This morning Gen Z-beloved TikTok started offering educational resources to help parents set in-app controls for teens, aged 13 and older. The materials aim to educate kids’ guardians about what’s sensible when it comes to slapping limits on teen accounts linked through a feature called “family pairing,” which TikTok debuted last year. Options include limiting screen-time or putting restrictions on direct messaging.

TikTok’s moves come as a raft of tech companies make similar changes. This month Facebook and Instagram said they would stop ad-targeting people under age 18 based on their “interests” (even while Facebook develops an Instagram for Kids app). Google and YouTube made similar child privacy-oriented announcements this month. And Apple also this month caused an uproar when it revealed its plans for a future software update that would help find, flag, and report potentially illicit content, such as child abuse imagery, stored on people’s phones. 

All this activity isn’t just a spontaneous, industry-wide coincidence. These tech colossi are responding to shifting political winds. In recent months, reports pointing out tech gaps exploited by sexual predators have caught attention. Big Tech CEOs got needled by lawmakers on the Hill over their child safety lapses. Even the Pope has taken up the issue as a personal cause.

In general, companies are trying to preempt new regulations that are coming down the pike—and just in the nick of time. In the U.K., the 12-month grace period on a child-protecting law passed last year—the “age appropriate design code,” introduced by the Information Commissioner’s Office, a data watchdog—ends Tuesday. Companies that don’t comply could face fines of 4% of their annual global revenue up to $24 million, penalties that are similar to one’s wielded by Europe’s better-known data protection law, GDPR.

Europe tends to be a leading indicator of global data protection laws to come. Bipartisan momentum is building in the U.S. for similarly amped up child safety regulations. Senators Ed Markey (D.-Mass.) and Bill Cassidy (R.-La.) are leading the charge, having introduced draft legislation that would update and expand the 23-year-old Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act earlier this year. It’s likely only a matter of time before this bill, or one like it, becomes law.

The COVID-19 pandemic has pushed all of us online at a neck-breaking pace. That has left the youngest and most vulnerable among us open to abuses and exploitation across tech platforms. It’s clear that companies’ recent ratcheting up of safety measures for kids wasn’t done out of pure beneficence (though employees within these organizations surely do feel for the children). Rather, the corporate set realizes—now that governments are angling for their bottom lines—that a hands-off approach will no longer fly.

Robert Hackett


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Watch doc. Apple has already begun looking at what to add in its next iteration of Apple Watch, with an eye on offering its wearers some more medical insights—an area CEO Tim Cook has said will represent the company's "greatest contribution to mankind." The Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday that the company is working on including a blood-pressure gauge and a thermometer that would help with fertility planning. Its health expansion is not expected to take shape until 2022, though. 

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This edition of Data Sheet comes courtesy of Declan Harty.


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From the article:

While typical 401(k) retirement accounts require workers to pay taxes when they remove the funds, Roth 401(k)s and Roth IRA accounts do not. They were designed to create more tax-friendly ways for working Americans to save in both private and workplace-sponsored accounts.

Highly paid workers aren't typically eligible for Roth IRAs, however. To qualify for a Roth IRA, you generally have to make less than $140,000 per year as an individual or $198,000 if you are married and file jointly, income levels below what many tech workers make. And employees can only gain access to a Roth 401(k) if their employers offer it.

The increasingly popular backdoor plans are granting tech workers and other highly paid employees access to the additional tax-protected accounts, if they first transfer the funds from a traditional 401(k) plan. 


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