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The Kids Online Safety Act (KOSA) Explained: What the Drafted Bill Could Mean for Online Child Safety

March 19, 2024

6 Minute Read

Everyone has a role to play in building a world where every child is free to simply be a kid. And that includes our public leaders. At Thorn, we recognize how critical their role is in protecting children from harm, especially when it comes to making the digital world safer for children.

Over the past few years, we have seen governments across the globe increasingly introduce legislation focused on online child safety and children’s data privacy. Right now in the US, there are many proposed bills focused on online child safety issues under consideration in Congress, including KOSA. Recent Congressional hearings on the topic, including the Senate Judiciary Committee Hearing with Big Tech CEOs, indicate that policymakers remain focused on the issue. Given recent momentum with KOSA, we will break down the bill and highlight how it could impact our mission to defend children from sexual abuse.

The Kids Online Safety Act (KOSA) is a comprehensive children’s online safety bill that seeks to establish legal standards to protect minors and require platforms to better mitigate online harms. The bill passed out of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee in mid-December 2023 and, as of mid-March 2024, is pending consideration on the Senate floor. The bill recently gained a lot of attention after undergoing revisions and gaining co-sponsorship from 62 senators (now up to 65) in mid-February.


What are the key provisions in KOSA?

 Duty of Care Provision

KOSA would establish a “duty of care” for covered platforms, which means that platforms would be mandated to “exercise reasonable care” in the creation and implementation of any design or feature to prevent/mitigate various harms, including the sexual exploitation and abuse of children.

 Safeguards for Minors

KOSA would require covered platforms to put many features in place, enabled by default, to safeguard minors, including restricted communications and restricted public access to personal data. KOSA would also provide minors with the ability to opt-out of algorithmic recommendations and delete their account, as well as any associated data.

 Tools for Parents

KOSA would require covered platforms to introduce tools for parents to manage the minor’s privacy and account settings, restrict purchases, and view metrics on usage; as well as ensure that both parents and minors have access to easy-to-use reporting mechanisms to report harms on the platform.

 Transparency Requirement

KOSA would require covered platforms to undergo independent, third-party audits and issue public transparency reports detailing foreseeable risks to minors, as well as the prevention and mitigation efforts they have taken to address these harms.


KOSA would establish the Kids Online Safety Council to research trends, recommend prevention methods, and develop best practices. There are specific call outs for research on social media harms (including mental health disorders, substance use disorders, and child sexual exploitation and abuse), age verification, and best practices for market research on minors.


What are the potential paths forward?

As of mid-March 2024, KOSA has gained strong bi-partisan support (cosponsorship) from 65 senators, which is theoretically enough to pass a Senate floor vote; however, one has not been held or scheduled yet. If KOSA passes the Senate, it will then be up to the House of Representatives to consider the bill. Since there has not been a similar or identical bill to KOSA introduced in the House to date, we don’t have a clear idea of how House consideration of the Senate’s version of KOSA would unfold.

It is important to note that earlier versions of the bill gave broader enforcement powers to state Attorneys General (AGs), which concerned many LGBTQ+ groups. The February revisions to KOSA restricted the enforcement powers of state AGs to only certain parts of the bill and, notably, gave sole enforcement of the “duty of care” provision to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). The revisions, which are reflected in the current version of the bill in the Senate, led many LGBTQ+ groups to drop their opposition to KOSA.


What could this mean for combating child sexual abuse and exploitation?

If KOSA gains support in both chambers, there are several implications for combatting child sexual abuse and exploitation.

KOSA’s “duty of care” requirement for platforms to better mitigate harms, including the sexual exploitation and abuse of children, could have big impacts on the way that platforms make design choices in the future. At Thorn, we champion Safety by Design in our work with online platforms, empowering them with solutions to develop their products with child safety as a priority, rather than retrofitting safeguards after an issue has occurred.

KOSA’s transparency requirement would require platforms to provide more transparency into their efforts to combat various harms, including the sexual exploitation and abuse of children. This requirement would provide valuable information to both policymakers and the public about platforms’ child safety efforts, leading to greater accountability in the ecosystem and increased awareness of the issue. Currently, there are only voluntary frameworks for transparency developed by partners like the Tech Coalition. At Thorn, we believe that transparency about the risks for sexual exploitation and abuse is key to empowering youth and their parents/caregivers as they navigate personal decisions regarding their platform usage.

KOSA’s research commitment will importantly allow experts and key stakeholders to share knowledge and build common understanding of the issues at hand. At Thorn, we believe that we can’t make meaningful change if we don’t know the full scope of the issue. Facilitating more research into online child sexual exploitation and abuse is crucial to expanding our understanding of the risks to youth and the behavior of offenders, bolstering on-platform interventions, and increasing public awareness to address these harms.

Most importantly, KOSA advancing in the Senate and in the House of Representatives would indicate that the online safety of children is a serious priority of Congress. As children continue to face new and evolving harms online, the efforts of policymakers have the potential to strengthen efforts across the child safety ecosystem.

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