Durbin unveils bill to protect kids’ personal info from internet companies

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Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., questions Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg as he testifies before a joint hearing of the Commerce and Judiciary Committees on Capitol Hill in Washington. |AP Photo

Sen. Dick Durbin on Monday announced a bill that would give every American the option of deleting personal information that was collected on them by internet companies before the age of 13.

“We don’t want our children to be victimized by things that they gave away as children for the rest of their lives,” the Springfield Democrat said at a news conference in the Loop. “And so this bill will allow them to clean the slate of things that they gave up before the age of 13.”

The announcement comes seven weeks after Durbin made international headlines, and proved a point, by asking embattled Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to share some of his personal information with the public.

Zuckerberg, who was testifying before Congress and a live television audience, politely declined.

Durbin referenced his interactions with Zuckerberg as he explained why he felt it was important to pass The Clean Slate for Kids Online Act to protect kids from companies that may seek to exploit them with the information they collect.

“They may collect their name, their address, they may even have access to a Social Security number that they give up, their geolocations, their voice, their face, and God knows what else. And all that information becomes part of a big file on a little kid,” Durbin said.

Parents, he said, are often also unaware what’s happening, and, like many Americans, only beginning to comprehend the breadth of their exposure to online manipulation.

“Most of us don’t realize. Have you covered up the lens on your laptop? Do you have Alexa spying on you? I mean, these are basic questions that might not have dawned on us. … What’s an 8-year old know? Or a 10-year-old?” Durbin said.

He compared the legislation to protecting kids from alcohol and tobacco.

“Children don’t have the maturity or the understanding to make decisions that could be harmful, and so we have to protect them. We did it with tobacco, and so we’re doing it here,” Durbin said.

Durbin, while crafting the bill, had in mind new services such as Facebook’s Messenger Kids, which allows children aged six to 12 to send video and text messages.

Regular Facebook accounts are not available to children until they are 13.

“I think it’s a step in the right direction, but it’s only the beginning of the conversation,” Durbin said of the bill.

Facebook officials were unavailable for comment on Monday.

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