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Senator Ed Markey is about as old-school a legislator as we have in Washington. While he supports partisan positions on some issues, he’s often looking for a middle ground in tech policy, strategizing how to improve things incrementally while attracting support from Democrats and Republicans.

Back in his days on the House Commerce Committee, he helped write landmark bipartisan legislation regulating cable television and deregulating telecommunications. Then he worked on Internet privacy protection for kids and, most recently, on a law barring telecom gear from China in US networks.

I can tell you that he’s still proud of those 1990s cable and telecom laws, as he has copies displayed in his office. The senator chatted with Pranshu Verma and me plus our editor, Greg Huang, last week and gave us a virtual office tour over Zoom.

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The senator’s concerns about tech remain wide-ranging. He’s working on updating privacy protection for children in the era of social media. One goal is to increase the maximum age of those protected from 13 to 15. As usual, he’s reaching across the aisle, on this issue working with Louisiana Republican Senator Bill Cassidy as a cosponsor. Their bill would limit collection of personal information about teenagers online and require services to let kids erase their tracks completely.

“There’s a Dickensian quality to the Internet,” Markey told us. “It’s the best of wires and the worst of wires.”

On the worse side, Markey is still worried about Facebook targeting ads at children.

This summer the service, now part of the company renamed Meta, promised to stop advertisers from selecting kids based on interests and browsing history. But amid research showing Facebook was still doing similar targeting of its own, Markey and two colleagues fired off a letter to Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg on Monday seeking more information.

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“Against the backdrop of these findings, Facebook’s recent statements about how it limits ad targeting to young users appear misleading,” they wrote.

A longtime advocate for net neutrality rules, Markey also expressed his support for both of President Biden’s nominations to the Federal Communications Commission. Without enough support in the Senate to get past a filibuster, the FCC is Markey’s and other Democrats’ only hope to revive the rules protecting Internet content from discrimination by carriers.

The commission, typically controlled by the party in the White House, is currently deadlocked with two Democrats and two Republicans. It wasn’t until Oct. 26, however, when President Biden nominated former FCC staffer Gigi Sohn to fill the empty seat and renominated acting FCC chair Jessica Rosenworcel for another term. Some Republican senators are making noise about blocking Sohn, but Markey praised her work on net neutrality and broadband accessibility.

Markey also raised other areas of concern, including funding research atthe National Institutes of Health on the impact of social media on kids and regulating the use of automated decision-making software in areas like finance, a cause known as algorithmic justice.

But before we could dig too deeply into those issues, the peripatetic senator was off to his next appointment.


Aaron Pressman can be reached at aaron.pressman@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @ampressman.