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Head of Instagram faces Senate committee grilling

U.S. Senators are calling for greater regulation of tech companies and social media platforms like Instagram.

The head of Instagram, CEO Adam Mosseri, proposes creating an industry body that would establish standards for all social media companies to follow. He pitched his idea this week before a congressional committee, and lawmakers responded with criticism and cynicism.

Mosseri recommended that the proposed industry body composed of regulators, parents of young social media users and industry partners should determine best practices for social media companies to verify user age, create age-appropriate experiences and build parental controls. Mosseri, Instagram's CEO since 2018, appeared before the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation Wednesday.

Mosseri also said he believes it's important for Instagram to be transparent about its content algorithms and provide data for research conducted by outside parties.

"I can commit to you today that we will provide meaningful access to data so that third-party researchers can design their own studies and make their own conclusions," he said during the hearing.

However, Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), said companies like Instagram had lost public trust and that an industry body setting standards would not have the same effect as new regulation to protect children and ensure algorithm transparency.

Instagram and its parent company Meta, formerly known as Facebook, have come under fire in recent months for having negative impacts on teen mental health. Whistleblower Frances Haugen leaked Facebook internal documents earlier this year showing the company's research on how Instagram harms teen mental health and has testified at numerous Congressional hearings on the issue.

The Senate Commerce Committee in particular has held multiple hearings featuring executives of Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok and YouTube to discuss possible regulatory remedies.

Blumenthal said during Wednesday's hearing that the time of "self-policing" for large tech companies and social media powerhouses is over.

Legislation is coming.
Ricard BlumenthalU.S. Senator (D-Conn.)

"Legislation is coming," Blumenthal said. "We need to make sure the responsibility is on big tech to put a safe product on the market. It can't be allowed to conceal when products are harming kids."

Blumenthal said Congress is pursuing multiple avenues of regulation, including removing content liability immunity provided by Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act for social media platforms, adding regulations for algorithms dictating content that populates the platforms and expanding privacy protections for children online.

Also this week:

  • The U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals granted Apple's request to pause an order from U.S. Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers to change its App Store rules by Dec. 9 to allow app developers to promote payment options outside of the app. The order was the result of a legal battle between Apple and Fortnite creator Epic Games. With the order paused, Apple won't have to make changes to its App Store until the appeal process of Rogers' decision is complete, which could take years.
  • The Strategic Organizing Center, a coalition of four labor unions, filed a complaint against Amazon with the Federal Trade Commission. The complaint alleges that Amazon is deceiving consumers and violating Section 5 of the FTC Act by failing to clearly disclose which of its search engine results are paid advertisements rather than organic. According to the complaint, "For the country's largest online retailer, with a growing dominance in online advertising, to be engaged in such wholesale deception of consumers demands immediate and aggressive action by the Commission."

Elsewhere:

  • Reuters is reporting that Microsoft is set to secure antirust approval from the European Union for its acquisition of speech recognition and artificial intelligence firm Nuance Communications. The $19.7 billion deal was first reported in April and has already received U.S. approval.

Makenzie Holland is a news writer covering big tech and federal regulation. Prior to joining TechTarget, she was a general reporter for the Wilmington StarNews and a crime and education reporter at the Wabash Plain Dealer.

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