Public Policy Update

APA's Public Policy Office (PPO) has been a leader in working with Congress and federal agencies on the implementation and effects of the new media and new media technologies. Government officials have solicited APA's guidance on a variety of concerns about the new technologies. Several key initiatives are highlighted below.

Children's online privacy

At the request of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), APA submitted comments in late 1999 regarding rules for regulating data collection on commercial Web sites dedicated to children. In coalition with consumer and child-advocacy groups, PPO worked to ensure that rules were established to guide the development of this powerful new medium. As a result of this effort, the FTC issued guidelines for commercial Internet sites targeting children. Such commercial Web sites must now:

  • Provide clear notice of information collection and use practices.

  • Obtain verifiable parental consent prior to collecting and using personal information.

  • Provide parents with access with to their children's personal information and prevent further use by unauthorized sources.

Public interest obligations for digital television

In a 1996 meeting with PPO staff, former Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Reed Hundt predicted the convergence of the personal computer, television and telephone within 15 years. PPO is working to ensure that pertinent psychological research is reflected in government decisions in this area.

One of the most rapid areas of technological change has been in the delivery of communication. Digital cable lines are being installed in neighborhoods across the nation to bring more, faster information to our computers and televisions. As interactivity and convergence become more common, it is important for the concerns of the public interest to be represented.

Last December, the FCC solicited a request for comments regarding whether there should be public interest obligations for digital broadcasters using the new digital lines. The public interest standard--the basic longstanding legal obligation of those who broadcast over the public airwaves--has been the focus of APA activity in the past.

APA is currently working to ensure:

  • Services for people with disabilities.

  • Increases in educational programming and quality (remarkably, some broadcasters have claimed "The Flintstones" met their station's public interest requirement as teaching history).

  • Restrictions on the amount of commercials aimed at children during children's programming.

As digital lines are installed, the debate has emerged again, and PPO has responded by submitting comments summarizing the relevant research on this issue and affected populations.

Interactive technology and behavior

PPO recently sponsored a congressional briefing on the relationship between interactive technology and behavior. With interactive technology playing an important role in a variety of areas, PPO is advocating for research funding to explore the behavioral issues raised by rapid technological development.

This briefing focused specifically on three areas:

  • Children and interactive technology (e.g., Internet, videogames and multimedia).

  • Human factors: the relationship between an individual and technologically based tools (e.g., the use of video simulation to study pilot error).

  • Telehealth/telepsychology (e.g., what are the issues of access and efficiency in the delivery of services?).

The briefing's moderator spoke on the "digital divide" and how the rush to technological improvements has not always considered all populations, efficacy or social implications. Each presentation included a call for the funding of additional research on the effects of interactive technology and behavior.

As this issue goes to press, PPO is planning a two-day advocacy briefing for leading APA researchers focusing on technology and developmental trajectories. After a day of training and discussion on the congressional, federal agency and appropriations process, researchers will meet with congressional staff and government officials to press the need for funding for research on interactive technology and behavior.

While it is tempting to view interactive technology as presenting a new set of challenges for psychologists, many of the issues raise concerns that APA has historically sought to address: access to services, the health of children and minority populations, efficiency in delivery of services, the effects of the media on various populations, etc.

There is a need for psychologists to be active participants on the federal level in the development of regulations on technology. Much of psychology's relationship with certain areas (such as television) has focused on a study of observed behavior after exposure. The rapid development of new interactive technology, such as the Internet, presents the opportunity for psychologists to be on the front line in establishing directions for growth, participation, access, services, and positive environments for our families, our children and ourselves.

--JEFF MCINTYRE APA'S PUBLIC POLICY OFFICE