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Representatives Johnson, Dingell Introduce Bipartisan Proposal to Protect Children from Dangerous App Content

Resolution calls on technology companies to make app ratings comparable to movies, music, and video games

WASHINGTON, October 15, 2021 — United States Representatives Mike Johnson (R-La.) and Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.) today introduced a bipartisan resolution that calls on technology companies to help empower parents to better protect their children from inappropriate content on digital applications.

Background: The resolution calls on leading technology and app development companies to establish an industry-run rating board to streamline age-appropriate app ratings, user-friendly parental controls, digital wellness features, and other tools to foster a safe, online environment for the millions of children who use apps daily.

Congressman Johnson: “The average minor now spends between 5-7 hours per day consuming digital media. As the parents of four children, Kelly and I have used movie, music, and video game ratings to help decide what content is appropriate for our family. To date, Big Tech does not hold digital applications to the same standard, and ratings of apps are often mismatched across platforms or mis-rated for the sort of mature material on the app. For too long, apps have been allowed to serve as hubs for bullying, sexually explicit material, and other forms of content that jeopardize children’s safety, self-image, and overall well-being. It’s time for Big Tech to be held to the same standards of transparency as other forms of media so parents can better protect children from dangerous content.”

Congresswoman Dingell: “In the current digital age, it’s difficult to monitor how children are interacting with different content across social media platforms and other apps – especially as 89% of children own a smart phone by the age of 16. We have a responsibility to protect children from any malicious online content and cyberbullying, and this legislation would streamline app ratings so parents have a better understanding of the content their kids are consuming and make the best decisions on technology limitations for their family.”

Read the bipartisan resolution here, and further background below.

As it stands, two major barriers prevent parents from more effectively protecting children from malicious online content:

  1. The ratings of apps on devices and their descriptions are often inaccurate, inconsistent, or insufficiently detailed.
  2. Parental controls are overly complex and often depend on “ratings” self-assigned by app developers.

This bipartisan resolution would take a necessary first step toward more effective parental engagement with digital media by calling on technology and app development companies to establish a rating board comprised of industry representatives and child development, child protection, and internet safety subject matter experts to fix app ratings and descriptions of the most downloaded apps.

Over 50 years ago, the Motion Picture Association of America initiated a rating system, and computer and video games have been rated by the Entertainment Software Rating Board for almost 20 years. To date, nothing comparable exists for apps.

Congressman Johnson is the Vice Chairman of the House Republican Conference, a member of the House Judiciary and Armed Services Committees, and a former constitutional law litigator.

Congresswoman Dingell serves Michigan’s 12th Congressional District and is a Co-Chair of the House Democratic Policy and Communications Committee. Dingell also sits on both the House Energy and Commerce Committee and the Natural Resources Committee.