KLOBUCHAR: “Our kids aren’t cash cows and that is exactly what’s been going on. Because when you look at the marketing budget and you look at what your company has done, it’s to try to get more and more of them”
WASHINGTON – At a Senate Commerce Committee hearing titled “Protecting Kids Online: Instagram and Reforms for Young Users,” U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) highlighted the urgent need for reforms to stop Instagram from profiting off of kids’ and teenagers’ data.
“Our kids aren’t cash cows and that is exactly what’s been going on. Because when you look at the marketing budget and you look at what your company has done, it’s to try to get more and more of them,” Klobuchar said.
She continued, noting rising concerns about kids and teens becoming addicted to the platform: “When I look at your company’s quotes from one document…your company…viewed losing teen users as an ‘existential threat.’ Whereas parents are viewing their kids' addictions to your product and other products as an existential threat to their families.”
Senator Klobuchar: Thank you. Mr. Mosseri, I’m looking at this from a perspective of parents, and I guess I’ll talk to parents, since so many of them have told me they have done everything they can to try to get their kids off your product, kids who are addicted at age 10. And they are scared for their kids. They want their kids to do their homework and not get addicted to Instagram. And yet we then find out that what your company did was to increase your marketing budget to try to woo more teens, from $67 million in 2018 to $390 million dollars focused on kids this year. And so when I hear that you’re going to suddenly, with all your technological wizards, develop some kind of new way to check to see if really young kids are on there, you could have been spending this money, $390 million dollars, to do that for years. You have the money to do it.
I think that we are in diametrically opposed goals, the goals of parents out there and the goals of your company. Our kids aren’t cash cows and that is exactly what’s been going on. Because when you look at the marketing budget and you look at what your company has done, it’s to try to get more and more of them on board. And when I look at your company’s quotes from one document, you -- not you personally, but your company – viewed losing teen users as an “existential threat.” Whereas parents are viewing their kids' addictions to your product and other products as an existential threat to their families. So my first question is that is that in fact the truth, that you have been advertising money to woo more teen kids onto your platform?
Mr. Mosseri: Senator, no, I don’t believe those statistics are correct. We increased our overall marketing budget between last year and this year, but it was not -- I think as you characterized it as the majority of it was focused on teens – and that’s not true.
Klobuchar: Okay, so have you viewed the kids as a feeder way for people to get into your product? Have you not done things to get more teenagers interested in your product? Are you not worried about losing them to other platforms? You better tell the truth, you are under oath.
Mosseri: Absolutely, Senator. Senator, we try and make Instagram as relevant as possible for people of all ages, including teens. Teens do amazing things on Instagram everyday. But we also invest -- I believe more than anyone else – in keeping people, including teens, safe. We will spend around $5 billion this year alone, and we have over 40,000 people working on safety integrity at the company.
Klobuchar: And do you think three hours a day is an appropriate amount of time for kids to spend on Instagram?
Mosseri: Senator –
Klobuhcar: I’m asking this because just, when you put out those new rules, that was an option for parents, three hours a day. Is that a good use of kids' time?
Mosseri: Senator, I appreciate the question.
Klobuchar: And it was in your safety tools that you just put out there. The first option given to kids -- to parents -- was three hours a day. I have them, can I put them on the record, Mr. Chair? Thank you.
Mosseri: If I may, Senator, I’m a parent and I can understand that parents have concerns about how much screen time their kids have. I think every parent feels that way. I ultimately think that a parent knows what’s best for their teen, so the appropriate amount of time should be a decision by a parent about a specific teen. If one parent wants to set that limit at 10 minutes, and another parent wants to set that limit at three hours, who am I to say that they don’t know what’s best for their children?
Klobuchar: And do you believe your company has invested enough in identifying that young children are not on your platform? When you know that they’re not supposed to be on there, and making sure you’re registering and using all of your technology not to just increase your profits, but to make sure that kids aren’t on there? Do you think you’ve done enough?
Mosseri: Senator, two things. One, yes, I believe that we have invested more than anyone else, but I also believe that it’s still a very challenging industry-wide issue. I think there’s a number of things we can do at the industry level to better verify age. Specifically, I believe it would be much more effective to have age verification at the device level – have a parent who gives their 14-year-old a device, tell the phone that the child is 14, as opposed to having every app, and there's millions of apps out there, trying to verify age on their own. That should happen at the device level. We understand that might not happen, that might take time. And in the meantime, we are going to invest heavily in getting more sophisticated in how we identify the age of people under the age of 18.
Klobuchar: And is it true that someone in your company said it was an “existential threat” if you lost teen users?
Mosseri: Senator, I don’t –
Klobuchar: Is that true or not? Because we have a document that said that.
Mosseri: Senator, I assume that’s true.
Klobuchar: Okay. So you understand what we’re thinking up here when it’s our job to protect kids and we have parent after parent calling our office, emailing us. One of the parents likened to me that it was like a water faucet going off and it was overflowing, and she’s sitting there with a mop trying to figure out how to use all of the tools you give them that she can’t figure out how to use. So I think at some point the accountability is on you guys. And that means everything from the privacy bills to expanding the child protections online to the competition policy, because maybe if we had actual competition in this country instead of Meta owning you and owning most of the platforms and most of the back and forth for kids, maybe we could have another platform developed that would have the privacy protections that you have not been able to develop in terms of keeping teens off your platform that aren’t even old enough to be on there. So that’s what I think some food for thought for all of you – is the opposition to some of the competition policy, capitalism – pro-capitalism ideas – that we have over in Judiciary. And I’ll hand it back to our Chair.
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