If the leaders of Big Tech platforms thought geopolitics would take the heat off their companies during Joe Biden's first State of the Union address, they were mistaken. In a speech that covered plenty of ground, the president took time to scold social media companies for what he called "the national experiment they're conducting on our children for profit." Biden called on Congress "to strengthen privacy protections, ban targeted advertising to children, demand tech companies stop collecting personal data on our children."
Though it was just a passing reference, Biden's call to ban targeted advertising to children—which generated noticeable applause—was something of a milestone. Regulating targeted advertising was not even close to a mainstream idea until quite recently. Now it's in the State of the Union.
Not long ago, the highest-profile example of federal lawmakers addressing online advertising was when Orrin Hatch asked Mark Zuckerberg, during the CEO's first-ever appearance before Congress, how Facebook made money from a free product. Zuckerberg went viral for deadpanning: "Senator, we run ads."
Hatch actually knew Facebook sold ads; he was feigning ignorance for rhetorical effect, as lawmakers often do during hearings. No matter. The exchange went viral as a supposed example of how out of touch Congress was when it came to technology. Facebook employees wore T-shirts with Zuckerberg's phrase printed on them. Look at these old geezers: They don't even know how social media companies make money. How will they ever regulate them?
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