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Sen. Klobuchar will attend hearing about protecting kids online

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

We're going to bring in another voice now. Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota is one of the senators who will be putting questions to those tech executives today. She sits on the subcommittee for Consumer Protection, Product Safety and Data Security. Senator Klobuchar, thanks for being here.

AMY KLOBUCHAR: Well, thanks, Rachel. It's great to be on again.

MARTIN: So your committee was the one that spoke with representatives from Facebook about how their platform - also Instagram, which they own - affects kids. What specifically do you want to ask the executives from TikTok, YouTube - and about how they are managing all of this?

KLOBUCHAR: Well, this is the first time we're going to hear, especially from Snap and TikTok. We've heard a bit from YouTube before. But this is our moment where we're going to say, OK, we don't have all your documents like we've been seeing with Facebook. But we know it's the same kind of thing. And I was listening to a reporter talk about the lack of data that we have on kids on these platforms. So that's a good place to start, right? We know adults spend three to four hours a day on apps of some kind. And so my guess is these kids are in that realm. And so that's question one.

What data do they collect on these kids? What do they know? How much money are they making off of them? We know that Facebook makes $51 a quarter off of every American user, and we're trying to dig deep into what they make off of kids. How are you amplifying this content? We know that kids get exposed to horrible content on eating disorders on Tik Tok. Or we know with Snapchat - horrific stories - including my home state - of kids getting access to fentanyl-laced pills simply by getting on their site. And then what are the algorithms? Can you make those transparent? You must. We're going to do something about this. What are you going to give us even before we pass a law on this, so we understand what you're doing to our children?

And last thing I'd say, in a broader way - I spent an hour with a bunch of parents in Minnesota, and it was like a support group for them. They just - we just picked some parents from around the state - just trying everything to keep these kids off these platforms. They're getting addicted to them. They want to protect them. They want to find ways to filter out bad content. They're trying to get their 19-year-old older kid to help them with the 12-year-old. It's really heartbreaking, and it is not just about, you know, stealing soap dispensers, which I know was an example you guys used earlier. It is more than that, man. This is some pretty serious stuff for parents trying their best to raise their kids in a really difficult world.

MARTIN: I mean, these companies say that they are - that, obviously, any of these effects of their platforms they would find to be abhorrent and that they are already putting in kind of measures to make sure it's safer. But by calling this hearing, you clearly think what they're doing now is insufficient.

KLOBUCHAR: Yes. And those of us that have been involved in this, Senator Blumenthal, Senator Blackburn and - have looked at this from the kids' point but also the privacy point for both adults and kids and beyond. We don't think it's enough. And for so long, these platforms - including Facebook - have said to parents - just to people - trust us. We got this. We got this for your kids.

Well, one of the things I'm going to ask them is - you know, one person that believed this was a high school kid who got injured. It was the beginning of pandemic. He had some cracked teeth, and he couldn't get access to his doctor. He knew that Percocet had worked before. He got what he thought was a Percocet from a kid in high school, and it wasn't a Percocet. It was laced with fentanyl, and he died, just like that.

And as his mom, Bridgette, said, no parent should have to bury their kid. And all of the hopes and dreams where - as parents that we had for Devin were erased in the blink of an eye - a blink of an eye. So that's how quickly things can go bad on these platforms. So I think they're going to have to answer for this because this is - should not be the Wild West anymore when you have over a billion people...

MARTIN: So if...

KLOBUCHAR: ...On this platform.

MARTIN: So if...

KLOBUCHAR: Go ahead.

MARTIN: ...Trust us is no longer sufficient, I mean, what's the next step? What is Congress's role in regulating these companies?

KLOBUCHAR: Congress should do its job. And as I said during the Facebook hearing, the problem is tech companies have over 300 lobbyists around, literally, every hallway of the Capitol. Everywhere you go, they've found someone. They've purchased the services of someone who influences someone. And we have to stand above this and get something done. It is 20% of the economy, and we have no federal privacy law that would allow users a very clear decision - whether they want their data to be used. That's number one.

Number two, better protecting our kids online, and that means changes to the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act - something Senator Markey has been working on for years. My piece of this is updating our competition policy. We'll never know what bells and whistles a different product could've had because the major platforms have bought many of them. And making sure that we have things in place that protect our competition - our economy, actually - can give us better products that users can go to.

And then, finally, as I mentioned, things unique to tech - transparency on the algorithms, allowing researchers to study those algorithms and then developing policies around that. Finally, their immunity, you know?

MARTIN: Let me...

KLOBUCHAR: If it's harmful conduct, should they really be immune?

MARTIN: A last question on Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg - who has responded to criticism, revelations out of those leaked documents, saying that this is just - it's a coordinated effort, he says, to selectively use these documents to paint a false picture of the company. Do you think he has too much power?

KLOBUCHAR: Yes. And one of the things he has done is resist every attempt - including when I first came out with disclaimers and disclosures for political ads - they later changed their position on it, but they were against that. They basically have said no apologies - that's what - something they said a few weeks ago, by the way. And we're going to do what we want. We know what their profit model - any one of your listeners should read "The Ugly Truth" (ph), a recent book that came out by two New York Times reporters - to understand that. The model is just get more people on their sites, expand, profit off of them at any cost. And now you see what's happened: polarized speech, angry speech - the leaked documents show researchers warning about the kind of content - what they were saying...

MARTIN: OK.

KLOBUCHAR: ...On January 6 - nothing happening. So no, he hasn't done enough. And I think finally...

MARTIN: OK.

KLOBUCHAR: ...We've captured the public's attention, coordinated...

MARTIN: We'll have to...

KLOBUCHAR: I didn't even know about these documents.

MARTIN: We'll have to leave it there, Senator.

KLOBUCHAR: I've been working on this forever.

MARTIN: We'll have to leave it there, Senator.

KLOBUCHAR: Thank you, Rachel.

MARTIN: Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Corrected: October 26, 2021 at 12:00 AM EDT
A previous headline incorrectly said Sen. Amy Klobuchar will oversee Tuesday's hearing.