Internet Safety

California Passed Novel Legislation Designed To Improve Online Safety For Kids

The first-of-its-kind bill requires platforms such as TikTok, Instagram and YouTube to install barriers for minors.

Boy sitting on a couch. California has just passed a new law that should make the internet safer for...
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Safety is at the forefront of every parent’s mind when it comes to their children. At the end of the day, all parents want is a safe and happy child. Over the years, this goal has become increasingly more difficult due to the ever-evolving world of technology, smart phones, and the internet. Kids have more access to the world than ever before, which can be amazing in many ways, but it can also be incredibly scary.

California has become the first state in the country to work towards setting clearer guidelines for popular social media platforms like TikTok and Instagram when it comes to minors using their apps as well as privacy protection.

The bill — the California Age-Appropriate Design Code Act — will require online platforms to proactively work to reduce danger risks to minors within their product designs including through algorithms and targeted ads. The bill still needs to be signed by California Gov. Gavin Newsom in order to become state law, but that seems likely. If signed, the bill would not go into effect until 2024.

The bill will also require companies to analyze their algorithms to determine how they may affect young, impressionable users by considering the addictive-nature of certain apps. Children’s safety advocates have supported the bill, which passed the state Senate in an unanimous vote of 33 to 0. Many are hoping this is a trend that continues into federal legislation.

The bill is “a huge step forward toward creating the internet that children and families deserve”, said Josh Golin, executive director at advocacy group Fairplay, in a statement, alluding that greed and power are the main motivating factors behind big tech companies, dismissing the concerns of parents.

“For far too long, tech companies have treated their egregious privacy and safety issues as a PR problem to be addressed only through vague promises, obfuscations, and delays,” he said. “Now, tech platforms will be required to prioritize young Californians’ interests and wellbeing ahead of reckless growth and shareholder dividends.”

California is the first state in the U.S. to pass legislation taking a closer look at tech apps “likely to be accessed” by users under the age of 18. The push for new legislation comes after the state failed to pass a separate bill that looked to target online children’s safety. That bill — AB 2408 — would have allowed companies to be sued for designing features that were intentionally being made to keep young users addicted to the app.

If the bill is signed into law, companies like TikTok, Snapchat, and Instagram could face fines as high as $7,500 per user if found to be violating the protective measures for children.

While many back this new bill, there are some who feel concerned that this new legislation is a slippery slope, claiming that privacy will be invaded in every household in order to confirm or deny minor-usage and therefore “degrade the Internet experience for everyone.”

“ ... the bill pretextually claims to protect children, but it will change the Internet for EVERYONE,” wrote Eric Goldman, a law professor and skeptic of the bill. “In order to determine who is a child, websites and apps will have to authenticate the age of ALL consumers before they can use the service. NO ONE WANTS THIS.”

He continued, “... businesses will be forced to collect personal information they don’t want to collect and consumers don’t want to give, and that data collection creates extra privacy and security risks for everyone. Furthermore, age authentication usually also requires identity authentication, and that will end anonymous/unattributed online activity.”

Though there are critics of the bill questioning the framing, it seems that this bill is on its way to become law, and those in favor are calling for even more action. “While the passage of #CAKidsCode is a great accomplishment, a broader package of online safety bills is still needed. We look forward to continuing our work with legislators to expand the meaningful progress just made on behalf of kids across California,” said Jim Steyer, founder and CEO of children’s online safety organization Common Sense Media.

He continued, “California legislators, and lawmakers around the country, need to follow up on this important development by enacting additional online privacy and platform accountability measures.”

It’s a small step, in a single state, but it’s still progress toward keeping kids safe online — especially since not all individual platforms will step up to the task by themselves.