Getting social media companies to collect personal data risks a privacy nightmare

Getting social media companies to collect personal data risks a privacy nightmare

(Richard Drew | AP Photo) The logo for Twitter appears over a trading post on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange on November 29, 2021.

By Michael McGrady | Specially for The Tribune

| February 20, 2023 at 5:30 p.m

Senate Bill 152 is a proposal that would require minors under the age of 18 to have parental consent to access major social media networks like TikTok and Instagram. Sen. Mike McKell, Gov. Spencer Cox’s brother-in-law, managed to introduce a replacement version of the bill instead of the original version, which would have included a mandate requiring a government ID to sign a minor for a social media account.

The current version of SB152 would allow the Utah Consumer Protection Agency to promulgate a federally sponsored age verification system through executive orders. This replacement was passed by the Senate to allow social media companies and other stakeholders to comment on how the state should handle age verification if SB152 were to become law.

In addition, the bill also intends to block ads targeted to minors by preventing advertisers from accessing data dealing with the interests and consumer behavior of minors who are allowed to join social media sites.

While this replacement allows platforms to do their part, behind McKell’s bill is a damaging belief that government-mandated screening could serve as a measure to protect the privacy rights of minors.

Even though the Utah Administrative Rulemaking Act gives social media companies the right to contribute, the Department of Consumer Protection may choose to introduce an age verification regulatory regime that incorporates only a small portion of what the industry would recommend. The governor’s government could also step in by requiring the department to implement an age verification system that conflicts with other state and federal laws and regulations regarding the privacy of minors.

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There’s a likely chance the department will adopt recommendations from partisan and religious groups that are ideologically opposed to much of the way social media networks work and do business.

The other elephant in the room is fairly easy to identify. Even if the best possible compromise is reached during the rulemaking process, the mandate mandating age verification for access to the most popular mainstream social media sites could actually lead to a potential data security nightmare. Requiring social media companies to collect this type of sensitive information could increase identity theft due to a potential data breach.

A potential data breach could also complicate the recovery process, as age verification information provided by a parent and legal guardian — whether it’s an identification or a credit card number — could be linked to the minor’s social media account. Age verification platforms aim to confirm the age of users, but in a way that retains as little information as possible.

Experts in the field of privacy law drafting (as SB152 purportedly portrays) recommend that data minimization be done only by gathering the minimum information platforms need to ensure the full and successful operation of a given service, app or platform Internets ensure function.

Unfortunately, I believe Senate Bill 152 is about to become law. Utah consumer protection agencies must seriously consider the best possible privacy safeguards for the life of the bill as new state law.

The best course of action at this point would be for Gov. Spencer Cox to simply veto the law once it has passed fully through the Utah Legislature. With veto likely out of the question, lawmakers and regulators must work hard to mitigate the potential damage and stay out of a catastrophic data breach. The ultimate goal should be to have SB152 reviewed by a state or federal court for possible constitutional violations.

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Michael McGrady is a journalist, political researcher and commentator. He covers the online adult entertainment industry, consumer technology issues and civil liberties in the United States and around the world.