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A group of attorneys general on Tuesday asked Snap and TikTok to work more closely with parental control apps and to apply more scrutiny to inappropriate content on their platforms, the latest salvo in a growing fight over child protection between governments and social media companies.
Attorneys general from 43 states and territories said in a letter to executives at the two apps that they were worried the companies were “not taking appropriate steps to allow parents to protect their kids on your platforms.” Specifically, the officials said that Snap, which makes the Snapchat app, and TikTok should work more closely with third-party parental control services.
Some people have raised concerns that third-party parental controls surveil young people but do little to actually stop them from encountering harmful content. The attorneys general said in the letter, organized by the National Association of Attorneys General, that they were not endorsing a particular parental control product. They also called on the companies to tighten their own parental supervision tools and to do a better job of weeding out content that might be harmful to children.
Concerns that popular social media platforms can expose children to posts that are sexualized, hurt their body image or are violent have escalated in recent years. State attorneys general are currently investigating whether Facebook, owned by Meta, and TikTok, part of the Chinese conglomerate ByteDance, have put young people in harm’s way. President Biden also called for new online privacy rules for children in his State of the Union speech earlier this month.
The interest in the issue is global. Britain has laid out guidelines for how tech companies can design services without violating a child’s privacy, prompting some companies to introduce new parental controls around the world. Britain is also currently considering sweeping online safety legislation that would be enforced by its media regulator.
“We’re currently developing new tools for parents that will provide them with more insight and visibility into how their children are engaging on Snapchat and ways to report troubling content,” said Rachel Racusen, a spokeswoman for Snap. She said the tools would debut “in the coming months.”
Brooke Oberwetter, a spokeswoman for TikTok, said the company appreciated “that the state attorneys general are focusing on the safety of younger users, and we look forward to engaging with them on our existing features and ideas for future innovation in this area.”