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Mike Lee talks about protecting kids in this dangerous digital world

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DISCLAIMER: the following is an opinion piece and does not necessarily reflect the views of KSL Newsradio or its ownership.

Members of the Senate are taking a closer look at how to protect kids from online dangers.

Kirk Jowers, filling in as a guest host on “The JayMac News Show,” interviewed Republican U.S. Sen. Mike Lee about online protections for children.

Lee said a recent Senate Judiciary Committee examined the harmful content that kids are exposed to on the internet and on their cellphones every day and whether anything can be done to limit their exposure to inappropriate content.

According to a 2018 Pew Research Center Study, 95% of teens report they have a smartphone or access to one, and 45% of teens say they are online on a nearly constant basis.

Last year, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children received more than 18 million reports of international and domestic online sexual abuse. Just four years ago, the number was closer to 4 million, said NCMEC President and CEO John Clark.

There are traffickers out there, said Lee, who recruit, groom and even buy and sell children through websites and smartphone apps. Some 55% of human trafficking survivors first encounter their traffickers online, via text message or smartphone apps, said Lee, quoting a recent study.

“This is a problem,” he said.

The Apple App Store and the Google Play store together account for about 95% of all app sales in the U.S. Both use age ratings and child-focused rules to protect kids from obscene and exploitative content, he said.

According to new statistics from Sensor Tower, the App Store raked in an estimated $25.5 billion worldwide in the six-month period ending in June 2019. Google Play store brought in worldwide app revenue of $14.2 billion over the same period

“And yet these stores most popular apps, like Instagram, YouTube and Snapchat, can provide sexually explicit content to children in response to very simple and innocent searches.. that have nothing to do with sex or any of the other inappropriate content to which they’re exposed.”

Will the government mandate these age ratings, Jowers asked Lee, or will it come down to Apple and Google coming up with their own ratings?

Lee said he would strongly prefer the Big Tech companies to develop their own ratings, rather than the Senate legislating a solution.

“Legislation is a crude, rough tool for doing this sort of thing. My hope is by bringing some visibility to this issue, we’re going to encourage Google and Apple to change their app-rating system, and thereby, make it unnecessary for Congress to get involved further,” said Lee during the show.

Getting along with Dems

The biggest misconception about the Senate, Lee said, is that there is an environment of constant partisan bickering.  The inaccurate and distorted image is based on media snippets and sound bites, not the overall picture.

“For the most part, we’re people who really like each other across party lines. Many of my very favorite people in the Senate.. are on the opposite end of the political spectrum,” he said, adding that he and Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont hugged each other on the Senate floor after passing a bill together.

“We try to find common ground,” he said.

Jay Mcfarland hosts the JayMac News Show, weekdays from 12:30 p.m. to 3 p.m. on KSL Newsradio, as well as the fictional podcast, Hosts of Eden. KSL Newsradio is part of Bonneville Media and based in Salt Lake City, Utah.