In Washington, elected officials in Congress are considering a number of bills aimed at protecting children’s privacy online. Of course, making the internet a safer place for children is a worthwhile goal, but not every kids’ online safety proposal is equal. Unfortunately, one measure that fundamentally misses the mark – the Kids Online Safety Act (KOSA) – has gained some traction in the House of Representatives, where the bill is expected to receive a markup in the House Energy and Commerce Committee this month. While it’s essential for Congress to find a solution to protect children online, it is equally important for our elected leaders to consider the ramifications of sweeping privacy legislation and fix the problem in the right way.

New research from academics at the Center for Information Technology Policy at Princeton University, the Center for Information, Technology, and Public Life at UNC Chapel Hill, and the Sanford School of Public Policy at Duke University highlights the concerns with KOSA and other child online safety legislation (COSL). As the report summarizes:

“COSL poses enormous potential risks to privacy and free expression, and will limit youth access to social connections and important community resources while doing little to improve the mental health of vulnerable teenagers. Ultimately, legislation like KOSA is an attempt to regulate the technology industry when other efforts have failed, using moral panic and for-the-children rhetoric to rapidly pass poorly-formulated legislation.”

What’s notable about this conclusion is that the authors believe that “reform of social platforms and regulation of technology is needed.” They call for a range of policy solutions, such as limits on advertising, data collection, and tools for parents and young people, which align with SIIA’s own Child and Teen Privacy and Safety Principles. They also call for rebuilding social fabric, increasing access to mental health resources, and conducting outreach. In other words, this is not a report that advocates for a hands-off approach to online safety.

One of the most serious issues with KOSA that the report highlights is the bill’s “duty of care” standard, which would require companies to take down content deemed as “harmful” to children. KOSA’s duty of care standard would be enforced by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), putting questions about what content qualifies as “harmful” in the hands of political appointees who might enforce the bill based on their political leanings. KOSA has been met with pushback from groups like the Center for Democracy and Technology and the American Civil Liberties Union over concerns that the bill’s duty of care standard could be used to censor legitimate speech. Additionally, groups representing vulnerable communities have warned that the bill could be weaponized by bad actors to force companies to take down content from LGBTQ+ or religious groups.

And although KOSA was drafted to safeguard children’s privacy online, the bill may actually force kids and teenagers to give up personally identifiable information in order to access the internet. Experts have warned that KOSA effectively mandates age verification, which would force companies to collect more data about children than they currently do in order to identify minors and restrict content based on age. Unfortunately, that outcome is counterproductive to KOSA’s intended goal.

While leaders in Washington should support legislative proposals that promote online safety, KOSA remains a deeply flawed bill. Ultimately, lawmakers must consider how KOSA’s serious, long-standing issues pose a real threat to the problem they’re trying to solve.