TTP Report: Big Tech’s Scramble to Stop Child Safety Laws
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: May 3, 2023
Contact: Michael Clauw, firstname.lastname@example.org, 202.780.5750
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Campaign for Accountability (CfA) a nonprofit watchdog group that runs the Tech Transparency Project (TTP), released a report that explores how Big Tech trade groups like NetChoice have been fighting to stop children’s online safety bills in multiple states—even as their member companies like Google, Amazon, and TikTok talk up their support for child safety. TTP’s review sheds light on the tech industry’s campaign, which includes providing support to NetChoice’s suit against a landmark California child safety law, fanning fears of litigation in other states, and arguing the child safety legislation is bad for families and small businesses.
Campaign for Accountability Executive Director Michelle Kuppersmith said, “Coming into compliance with new child safety laws would cut into Big Tech’s profits—yet opposing them publicly could lead to reputational risk. Predictably, Big Tech is using front groups to publicly fight for its preferred outcomes.”
NetChoice—whose members include Amazon, Google, Meta, and TikTok—filed a lawsuit challenging the legality of the California Age-Appropriate Design Code Act, which will require companies that provide online products or services that are “likely to be accessed” by kids under 18 to adopt a variety of safety measures. A number of other groups that receive Big Tech funding—including the Chamber of Progress, the Computer and Communications Industry Association (CCIA), and the Chamber of Commerce—have all submitted amicus briefs in support of NetChoice’s arguments in the case.
Additionally, TTP found that states considering legislation that replicates or contains elements of the California measure and another child safety law in Utah have faced similar resistance from tech-funded groups, including NetChoice, the Chamber of Progress, and TechNet. In letters and testimony to state lawmakers, these groups deploy many of the same talking points, including that NetChoice’s litigation in California creates legal uncertainty around the issue of age-appropriate tech regulations—and that states should hold off for that reason. In a letter to Utah Gov. Spencer Cox, NetChoice explicitly warned that if Utah’s legislature proceeded with legislation, it may face “unnecessary First Amendment litigation.”
TTP’s report also investigates the lobbying tactics used by tech groups to hide their affiliation with the industry. For example, the vice president and general counsel of NetChoice, Carl Szabo, appeared before the Maryland Senate Finance Committee to speak against that state’s child safety bill, but only identified himself as a “lifelong Maryland resident” and “parent” without disclosing his relationship to NetChoice. When called out by a Democratic committee member for failing to disclose his Big Tech connection, Szabo denied the label, instead insisting that NetChoice was a “small business”—echoing a favorite tactic of Big Tech influence campaigns to hold up small businesses as the real victims of tech regulation.
Ms. Kuppersmith continued, “To try to disguise the interests of Big Tech as somehow the interests of small businesses is sadly nothing new—but claiming to speak on behalf of parents when peddling Big Tech talking points is a new low. Parents may differ on the exact safeguards they support for their children, but the last thing they need are paid special interest groups attempting to sneak their way into the conversation.”
Campaign for Accountability is a nonpartisan, nonprofit watchdog organization that uses research, litigation, and aggressive communications to expose misconduct and malfeasance in public life and hold those who act at the expense of the public good accountable for their actions.