Google’s YouTube to pay $170 million penalty for collecting data on kids

FILE PHOTO: Silhouettes of mobile device users are seen next to a screen projection of Youtube logo in this picture illustration taken March 28, 2018. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration

By Diane Bartz

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Google, which is owned by Alphabet Inc and its YouTube video service will pay $170 million to settle allegations that it broke federal law by collecting personal information about children, the Federal Trade Commission said on Wednesday.

YouTube had been accused of tracking viewers of children’s channels using cookies without parental consent and using those cookies to deliver million of dollars in targeted advertisements to those viewers.

The settlement with the FTC and the New York attorney general’s office, which will receive $34 million, is the largest since a law banning collecting information about children under age 13 came into effect in 1998. The law was revised in 2013 to include “cookies,” used to track a person’s internet viewing habits.

It is also small compared with the company’s revenues. Alphabet, which generates about 85% of its revenue from sales of ad space and ad technology, in July reported total second-quarter revenue of $38.9 billion.

YouTube said in a statement on Wednesday that in four months it would begin treating all data collected from people watching children’s content as if it came from a child. “This means that we will limit data collection and use on videos made for kids only to what is needed to support the operation of the service,” YouTube said on its blog.

FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection director Andrew Smith said at a news conference Wednesday the settlement “is changing YouTube’s business model, that YouTube cannot bury its head in the sand, YouTube cannot pretend that it is not aware of the content on its platform and hope to escape liability.”

Once the settlement takes effect, the FTC plans to “conduct a sweep of the YouTube platform to determine whether there remains child-directed content” in which personal information is being collected, Smith said. The FTC could take actions against individual content creators or channel owners as a result.

In late August, YouTube announced it would launch YouTube Kids with separate niches for children depending on their ages and designed to exclude disturbing videos. It has no behavioral advertising.

YouTube allows companies to create channels, which include advertisements that create revenue for both the company and YouTube.

In its complaint, the government said that YouTube touted its popularity with children in marketing itself to companies like Mattel and Hasbro. It told Mattel that “YouTube is today’s leader in reaching children age 6-11 against top TV channels,” according to the complaint.

“YouTube touted its popularity with children to prospective corporate clients,” FTC Chairman Joe Simons said in a statement. “Yet when it came to complying with (federal law banning collecting data on children), the company refused to acknowledge that portions of its platform were clearly directed to kids.”

New York Attorney General Letitia James said the companies “abused their power.”

“Google and YouTube knowingly and illegally monitored, tracked, and served targeted ads to young children just to keep advertising dollars rolling in,” said James.

In addition to the monetary fine, the proposed settlement requires the company to refrain from violating the law in the future and to notify channel owners about their obligations to get consent from parents before collecting information on children.

The two Democrats on the FTC, Rebecca Slaughter and Rohit Chopra, dissented from the settlement. Slaughter, who called the violations “widespread and brazen,” said the settlement fails to require YouTube to police channels that provide children’s content but do not designate it as such, thus allowing more lucrative behavioral advertising, which relies on tracking viewers through cookies.

Senators Ed Markey and Richard Blumenthal, both Democrats active in online privacy matters, criticized the settlement in separate statements.

“A financial settlement is no substitute for strict reforms that will stop Google and other tech companies from invading our privacy,” Blumenthal said. “I continue to be alarmed by Big Tech’s policies and practices that invade children’s lives.”

(Reporting by Diane Bartz Additional reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Nick Zieminski and Marguerita Choy)

Study shows cute kids are YouTube clickbait; child advocates concerned

FILE PHOTO: 2019 Kids Choice Awards – Arrivals – Los Angeles, California, U.S., March 23, 2019 – YouTube star Ryan ToysReview. REUTERS/Danny Moloshok/File Photo

By Arriana McLymore

NEW YORK (Reuters) – YouTube videos featuring young children drew nearly triple the average viewership of other content, according to research released on Thursday that provided ammunition for child advocates who want Alphabet Inc. (Google) to take more aggressive steps to make it’s streaming service safer for kids.

Pew Research Center said its findings show videos aimed at or featuring children are among YouTube’s most popular materials, attracting an outsized audience relative to the number uploaded.

Lawmakers and parent groups have criticized YouTube in recent years, saying it has done less than it should to protect minors’ privacy.

Last year, the Center for Digital Democracy and the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), saying YouTube’s parent company violated the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act.

The groups complained that the company “has not only made a vast amount of money by using children’s personal information” and has “profited from advertising revenues from ads on its YouTube channels that are watched by children.”

YouTube, which announced 2 billion monthly users in May, shares limited data about its service. But music, gaming and kids’ content generally have been known to rank highly in viewership.

Other groups have called on YouTube to take more steps to block access to age-inappropriate content and prevent predators from getting to clips that could allow them to sexualize minors. Complaints also prompted YouTube to introduce punishments for parents uploading videos in which kids are placed in dangerous situations.

The video unit has become a major driver of revenue growth at Alphabet Inc, and it has said that it is weighing additional changes to how it handles content related to kids.

Pew researchers said in a report that they used automated tools and human review to analyze activity during the first week of 2019 on nearly 44,000 YouTube channels with more than 250,000 subscribers.

Just 2% of the 243,000 videos those channels uploaded that week featured at least one individual that looked under 13 years old to human reviewers. But the small subset received an average of 298,000 views, compared with 97,000 for videos without children, according to the report. The median viewership figures were about 57,000 and 14,000.

Channels that uploaded at least one video featuring a child averaged 1.8 million subscribers, compared to 1.2 million for those that did not, Pew said.

YouTube said it could not comment on Pew’s survey methods or results. It maintained that the most popular categories are comedy, music, sports and “how to” videos.

“We have always been clear YouTube has never been for people under 13,” the company added.

Popular videos with children included those with parenting tips or children singing or dressing up.

YouTube’s policies ban children under 13 from using its main service and instead direct them to its curated YouTube Kids app. But many parents use the main YouTube service to entertain or educate children, other research has found.

(Reporting by Arriana McLymore in New York; Additional reporting by Paresh Dave in San Francisco; Editing by David Gregorio)

YouTube to remove hateful, supremacist content

FILE PHOTO: Silhouettes of mobile device users are seen next to a screen projection of Youtube logo in this picture illustration taken March 28, 2018. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration/File Photo

By Paresh Dave

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – YouTube said on Wednesday it would remove videos that deny the Holocaust and other “well-documented violent events,” a major reversal in policy as it fights criticism that it provides a platform to hate speech and harassment.

The streaming service, owned by Alphabet Inc’s Google, also said it would remove videos that glorify Nazi ideology or that promote groups that claim superiority to others to justify several forms of discrimination.

In addition, video creators that repeatedly brush up against YouTube’s hate speech policies, even without violating them, will now have their accounts shut down, a spokesman said.

In a blog post, YouTube acknowledged the new policies could hurt researchers who seek out these videos “to understand hate in order to combat it.” The policies also could frustrate free speech advocates who say hate speech should not be censored.

Jonathan Greenblatt, chief executive of the Anti-Defamation League, which researches anti-Semitism, said it had provided input to YouTube on the policy change.

“While this is an important step forward, this move alone is insufficient and must be followed by many more changes from YouTube and other tech companies to adequately counter the scourge of online hate and extremism,” Greenblatt said in a statement.

(Reporting by Paresh Dave; Additional reporting by Sayanti Chakraborty in Bengaluru; Editing by James Emmanuel and Bernadette Baum)

U.S., China bicker over ‘extravagant expectations’ on trade deal

A surveillance camera is seen next to containers at a logistics center near Tianjin Port, in northern China, May 16, 2019. REUTERS/Jason Lee

By Ben Blanchard and David Lawder

BEIJING/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – China accused the United States on Monday of harboring “extravagant expectations” for a trade deal, underlining the gulf between the two sides as U.S. action against China’s technology giant Huawei began hitting the global tech sector.

Adding to bilateral tension, the U.S. military said one of its warships sailed near the disputed Scarborough Shoal claimed by China in the South China Sea on Sunday, the latest in a series of “freedom of navigation operations” to anger Beijing.

Alphabet Inc’s Google has also suspended business with China’s Huawei Technologies Co Ltd that requires the transfer of hardware, software and technical services, except those publicly available via open source licensing, a source familiar with the matter told Reuters on Sunday, in a blow to the company that the U.S. government has sought to blacklist around the world.

Shares in European chipmakers Infineon Technologies, AMS and STMicroelectronics fell sharply on Monday amid worries the Huawei suppliers may suspend shipments to the Chinese firm due to the U.S. blacklisting of it last week.

The Trump administration’s addition of Huawei to a trade blacklist on Thursday immediately enacted restrictions that will make it extremely difficult for it to do business with U.S. counterparts.

In an interview with Fox News Channel recorded last week and aired on Sunday night, Trump said the United States and China “had a very strong deal, we had a good deal, and they changed it. And I said ‘that’s OK, we’re going to tariff their products’.”

In Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said he didn’t know what Trump was talking about.

“We don’t know what this agreement is the United States is talking about. Perhaps the United States has an agreement they all along had extravagant expectations for, but it’s certainly not a so-called agreement that China agreed to,” he told a daily news briefing.

The reason the last round of China-U.S. talks did not reach an agreement is because the United States tried “to achieve unreasonable interests through extreme pressure”, Lu said.”From the start, this wouldn’t work.”

China went into the last round of talks with a sincere and constructive attitude, he said.

“I would like to reiterate once again that China-U.S. economic and trade consultation can only follow the correct track of mutual respect, equality and mutual benefit for there to be hope of success.”

No further trade talks between top Chinese and U.S. trade negotiators have been scheduled since the last round ended on May 10 – the same day Trump raised the tariff rate on $200 billion worth of Chinese products from 10 percent.

Trump took the step after the United States said China backtracked on commitments in a draft deal that had been largely agreed to.

STERNER TONE

Since then, China has struck a sterner tone, suggesting that a resumption of talks aimed at ending the 10-month trade war between the world’s two largest economies was unlikely to happen soon.

Beijing has said it will take “necessary measures” to defend the rights of Chinese companies but has not said whether or how it will retaliate over the U.S. actions against Huawei.

The editor of the Global Times, an influential tabloid run by the ruling Communist Party’s People’s Daily, tweeted on Monday that he had switched to a Huawei phone, although he said his decision did not mean that he thinks it is right to boycott Apple and said he was not throwing away his iPhone.

“While the U.S. spares no efforts to subdue Huawei, out of personal belief, I chose to support the well-respected company by using its product,” Hu Xijin tweeted.

Trump, who said the interview with Fox News host Steve Hilton had taken place two days after he raised the tariffs, said he would be happy to simply keep tariffs on Chinese products, but said that he believed that China would eventually make a deal with the United States “because they’re getting killed with the tariffs”.

But he said that he had told Chinese President Xi Jinping before the most recent rounds of talks that any deal could not be “50-50” between the two countries and had to be more in favor of the United States because of past trade practices by China.

(Reporting by David Lawder and Ben Blanchard; Writing by Tony Munroe; Editing by Richard Borsuk, Robert Birsel and Nick Macfie)

Google workers around world protest harassment, inequality

Workers stand outside the Google offices after walking out as part of a global protest over workplace issues in Dublin, Ireland, November 1, 2018. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne

By Graham Fahy and Angela Moon

DUBLIN/NEW YORK (Reuters) – Over 1,000 Google employees and contractors in Asia, Europe and the United States staged brief midday walk-outs on Thursday, with more expected to follow at California headquarters, amid complaints of sexism, racism and unchecked executive power in their workplace.

Hundreds of women and men filed out of Google’s office in New York City and silently walked around the block for about 10 minutes around 11:00 a.m. ET. A few held sheets of paper with messages including “Respect for women.”

Two blocks away, a larger crowd of people that appeared to number a thousand or more, including Google employees and New Yorkers not working for the company, filled a small park. Some held larger signs than those at the Google office, with more confrontational messages including “Time’s up Tech.”

“This is Google. We solve the toughest problems here. We all know that the status quo is unacceptable and if there is any company who can solve this, I think it is Google,” said Thomas Kneeland, a software engineer who said he has been at Google for three years.

Google employees have been getting a lot of emails from managers and colleagues to participate in the walkout recently, he said. Just around 11 a.m., people started forming groups to leave the building. “We had engineers on our team bring their pagers since they were on-call, but that’s how we thought of the walkout. It’s important.”

The demonstrations follow a New York Times report last week that said Google in 2014 gave a $90 million exit package to Andy Rubin after the then-senior vice president was accused of sexual harassment.

Rubin denied the allegation in the story, which he also said contained “wild exaggerations” about his compensation. Google did not dispute the report.

The report energized a months-long movement inside Google to increase diversity, and improve treatment of women and minorities.

In a statement late on Wednesday, the organizers called on Google parent Alphabet Inc to add an employee representative to its board of directors and internally share pay-equity data. They also asked for changes to Google’s human resources practices intended to make bringing harassment claims a fairer process.

Google Chief Executive Sundar Pichai said in a statement that “employees have raised constructive ideas” and that the company was “taking in all their feedback so we can turn these ideas into action.”

GLOBAL ACTION

Hundreds more filed out of its European headquarters in Dublin shortly after 1100 local time, while organizers shared photographs on social media of hundreds more leaving Google offices in London, Zurich, Berlin, Tokyo, and Singapore.

Irish employees left a note on their desks that read: “I’m not at my desk because I’m walking out with other Googlers and contractors to protest sexual harassment, misconduct, lack of transparency, and a workplace culture that’s not working for everyone,” national broadcaster RTE reported.

Google employs 7,000 people in Dublin, its largest facility outside the United States.

The dissatisfaction among Alphabet’s 94,000 employees and tens of thousands more contractors has not noticeably affected company shares. But employees expect Alphabet to face recruiting and retention challenges if their concerns go unaddressed.

Much of the organizing earlier this year was internal, including petition drives, brainstorming sessions with top executives and training from the workers’ rights group Coworker.org.

Since its founding two decades ago, Google has been known for its transparency with workers. Executives’ goals and insights into corporate strategy have been accessible to any employee.

But organizers said Google executives, like leaders at other companies affected by the #metoo movement, have been slow to address some structural issues.

“While Google has championed the language of diversity and inclusion, substantive actions to address systemic racism, increase equity, and stop sexual harassment have been few and far between,” organizers stated.

They said Google must publicly report its sexual harassment statistics and end forced arbitration in harassment cases. In addition, they asked that the chief diversity officer be able to directly advise the board.

(Additional reporting by Padraic Halpin in Dublin, Paresh Dave in San Francisco, editing by Larry King and Nick Zieminski)

Facebook, Google to tackle spread of fake news, advisors want more

FILE PHOTO - Commuters walk past an advertisement discouraging the dissemination of fake news at a train station in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia March 28, 2018. REUTERS/Stringer

By Foo Yun Chee

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – Facebook, Google, and other tech firms have agreed on a code of conduct to do more to tackle the spread of fake news, due to concerns it can influence elections, the European Commission said on Wednesday.

Intended to stave off more heavy-handed legislation, the voluntary code covers closer scrutiny of advertising on accounts and websites where fake news appears, and working with fact checkers to filter it out, the Commission said.

But a group of media advisors criticized the companies, also including Twitter and lobby groups for the advertising industry, for failing to present more concrete measures.

With EU parliamentary elections scheduled for May, Brussels is anxious to address the threat of foreign interference during campaigning. Belgium, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Greece, Poland, Portugal, and Ukraine are also all due to hold national elections next year.

Russia has faced allegations – which it denies – of disseminating false information to influence the U.S. presidential election and Britain’s referendum on European Union membership in 2016, as well as Germany’s national election last year.

The Commission told the firms in April to draft a code of practice or face regulatory action over what it said was their failure to do enough to remove misleading or illegal content.

European Digital Commissioner Mariya Gabriel said on Wednesday that Facebook, Google, Twitter, Mozilla, and advertising groups – which she did not name – had responded with several measures.

“The industry is committing to a wide range of actions, from transparency in political advertising to the closure of fake accounts and …we welcome this,” she said in a statement.

The steps also include rejecting payment from sites that spread fake news, helping users understand why they have been targeted by specific ads, and distinguishing ads from editorial content.

But the advisory group criticized the code, saying the companies had not offered measurable objectives to monitor its implementation.

“The platforms, despite their best efforts, have not been able to deliver a code of practice within the accepted meaning of effective and accountable self-regulation,” the group said, giving no further details.

Its members include the Association of Commercial Television in Europe, the European Broadcasting Union, the European Federation of Journalists and International Fact-Checking Network, and several academics.

(Reporting by Foo Yun Chee; editing by Philip Blenkinsop and John Stonestreet)

U.S. tech giants eye Artificial Intelligence key to unlock China push

A Google sign is seen during the WAIC (World Artificial Intelligence Conference) in Shanghai, China, September 17, 2018. REUTERS/Aly Song

By Cate Cadell

SHANGHAI (Reuters) – U.S. technology giants, facing tighter content rules in China and the threat of a trade war, are targeting an easier way into the world’s second-largest economy – artificial intelligence.

Google, Microsoft Inc and Amazon Inc showcased their AI wares at a state-backed forum held in Shanghai this week against the backdrop of Beijing’s plans to build a $400 billion AI industry by 2025.

China’s government and companies may compete against U.S. rivals in the global AI race, but they are aware that gaining ground won’t be easy without a certain amount of collaboration.

“Hey Google, let’s make humanity great again,” Tang Xiao’ou, CEO of Chinese AI and facial recognition unicorn Sensetime, said in a speech on Monday.

Amazon and Microsoft announced plans on Monday to build new AI research labs in Shanghai. Google also showcased a growing suite of China-focused AI tools at its packed event on Tuesday.

Google in the past year has launched AI-backed products including a translate app and a drawing game, its first new consumer products in China since its search engine was largely blocked in 2010.

The World Artificial Intelligence Conference, which ends on Wednesday, is hosted by China’s top economic planning agency alongside its cyber and industry ministries. The conference aims to show the country’s growing might as a global AI player.

China’s ambition to be a world leader in AI has created an opening for U.S. firms, which attract the majority of top global AI talents and are keen to tap into China’s vast data.

The presence of global AI research projects is also a boon for China, which aims to become a global technology leader in the next decade.

Liu He, China’s powerful vice premier and the key negotiator in trade talks with the United States, said his country wanted a more collaborative approach to AI technology.

“As members of a global village, I hope countries can show inclusive understanding and respect for each other, deal with the double-sword technologies can bring, and embrace AI challenges together,” he told the forum.

Beijing took an aggressive stance when it laid out its AI roadmap last year, urging companies, the government and military to give China a “competitive edge” over its rivals.

STATE-BACKED AI

Chinese attendees at the forum were careful to cite the guiding role of the state in the country’s AI sector.

“The development of AI is led by government and executed by companies,” a Chinese presenter said in between speeches on Monday by China’s top tech leaders, including Alibaba Holding Ltd chairman Jack Ma, Tencent Holdings Ltd chief Pony Ma and Baidu Inc CEO Robin Li.

While China may have enthusiasm for foreign AI projects, there is little indication that building up local AI operations will open doors for foreign firms in other areas.

China’s leaders still prefer to view the Internet as a sovereign project. Google’s search engine remains blocked, while Amazon had to step back from its cloud business in China.

Censorship and local data rules have also hardened in China over the past two years, creating new hoops for foreign firms to jump through if they want to tap the booming internet sector.

Nevertheless, some speakers paid tribute to foreign AI products, including Xiami Corp chief executive Lei Jun, who hailed Google’s Alpha Go board game program as a major milestone, saying he was a fan of the game himself.

Alibaba’s Ma said innovation needed space to develop and it was not the government’s role to protect business.

“The government needs to do what the government should do, and companies need to do what they should do,” he said.

(Reporting by Cate Cadell; Editing by Adam Jourdan and Darren Schuettler)

New genre of artificial intelligence programs take computer hacking to another level

FILE PHOTO: Servers for data storage are seen at Advania's Thor Data Center in Hafnarfjordur, Iceland August 7, 2015. REUTERS/Sigtryggur Ari

By Joseph Menn

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – The nightmare scenario for computer security – artificial intelligence programs that can learn how to evade even the best defenses – may already have arrived.

That warning from security researchers is driven home by a team from IBM Corp. who have used the artificial intelligence technique known as machine learning to build hacking programs that could slip past top-tier defensive measures. The group will unveil details of its experiment at the Black Hat security conference in Las Vegas on Wednesday.

State-of-the-art defenses generally rely on examining what the attack software is doing, rather than the more commonplace technique of analyzing software code for danger signs. But the new genre of AI-driven programs can be trained to stay dormant until they reach a very specific target, making them exceptionally hard to stop.

No one has yet boasted of catching any malicious software that clearly relied on machine learning or other variants of artificial intelligence, but that may just be because the attack programs are too good to be caught.

Researchers say that, at best, it’s only a matter of time. Free artificial intelligence building blocks for training programs are readily available from Alphabet Inc’s Google and others, and the ideas work all too well in practice.

“I absolutely do believe we’re going there,” said Jon DiMaggio, a senior threat analyst at cybersecurity firm Symantec Corp. “It’s going to make it a lot harder to detect.”

The most advanced nation-state hackers have already shown that they can build attack programs that activate only when they have reached a target. The best-known example is Stuxnet, which was deployed by U.S. and Israeli intelligence agencies against a uranium enrichment facility in Iran.

The IBM effort, named DeepLocker, showed that a similar level of precision can be available to those with far fewer resources than a national government.

In a demonstration using publicly available photos of a sample target, the team used a hacked version of video conferencing software that swung into action only when it detected the face of a target.

“We have a lot of reason to believe this is the next big thing,” said lead IBM researcher Marc Ph. Stoecklin. “This may have happened already, and we will see it two or three years from now.”

At a recent New York conference, Hackers on Planet Earth, defense researcher Kevin Hodges showed off an “entry-level” automated program he made with open-source training tools that tried multiple attack approaches in succession.

“We need to start looking at this stuff now,” said Hodges. “Whoever you personally consider evil is already working on this.”

(Reporting by Joseph Menn; Editing by Jonathan Weber and Susan Fenton)

Majority of Americans think social media platforms censor political views: Pew survey

FILE PHOTO: A young couple look at their phone as they sit on a hillside after sun set in El Paso, Texas, U.S., June 20, 2018. REUTERS/Mike Blake

By Angela Moon

NEW YORK (Reuters) – About seven out of ten Americans think social media platforms intentionally censor political viewpoints, the Pew Research Center found in a study released on Thursday.

The study comes amid an ongoing debate over the power of digital technology companies and the way they do business. Social media companies in particular, including Facebook Inc and Alphabet Inc’s Google, have recently come under scrutiny for failing to promptly tackle the problem of fake news as more Americans consume news on their platforms.

In the study of 4,594 U.S. adults, conducted between May 29 and June 11, roughly 72 percent of the respondents believed that social media platforms actively censored political views those companies found objectionable.

The perception that technology companies were politically biased and suppressed political speech was especially widespread among Republicans, the study showed.

About 85 percent of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents in the survey thought it was likely for social media sites to intentionally censor political viewpoints, with 54 percent saying it was “very” likely.

Sixty-four percent of Republicans also thought major technology companies as a whole supported the views of liberals over conservatives.

A majority of the respondents, or 51 percent, said technology companies should be regulated more than they are now, while only 9 percent said they should be regulated less.

(Reporting by Angela Moon; Editing by Bernadette Baum)

U.S. Senate advances bill to penalize websites for sex trafficking

People walk by the U.S. Capitol building in Washington, U.S., February 8, 2018. REUTERS/ Leah Millis

By Dustin Volz

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Senate voted 94-2 on Monday to advance legislation to make it easier to penalize operators of websites that facilitate online sex trafficking, setting up final passage of a bill as soon as Tuesday that would chip away at a bedrock legal shield for the technology industry.

The U.S. House of Representatives passed the legislation overwhelmingly last month. It is expected to be sent to and signed by President Donald Trump later this week.

The bill’s expected passage marks one of the most concrete actions in recent years from the U.S. Congress to tighten regulation of internet firms, which have drawn scrutiny from lawmakers in both parties over the past year because of an array of concerns regarding the size and influence of their platforms.

The Senate vote to limit debate on the sex trafficking legislation came as Facebook endured withering scrutiny over its data protection practices after reports that political analytics firm Cambridge Analytica harvested the private data on more than 50 million Facebook users through inappropriate means.

Several major internet companies, including Facebook and Alphabet’s Google, have been reluctant in the past to support any congressional effort to dent what is known as Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, a decades-old law that protects them from liability for the activities of their users.

But facing political pressure, the internet industry slowly warmed to a proposal that began to gain traction in the Senate last year.

The legislation is a result of years of law enforcement lobbying for a crackdown on the online classified site backpage.com, which is used for sex advertising.

It would make it easier for states and sex-trafficking victims to sue social media networks, advertisers and others that fail to keep exploitative material off their platforms.

Some critics have warned that the measure would weaken Section 230 in a way that would only serve to help established internet giants, which possess larger resources to police their content, and not adequately address the problem.

Republican Senator Rand Paul and Democratic Senator Ron Wyden cast the only no votes.

(Reporting by Dustin Volz; Editing by Peter Cooney)