California lawmakers have passed a bill that aims to make apps and other online spaces safer for children in the absence of tough federal standards. The bill, if signed into law, would introduce a set of new protections for people under the age of 18 in California, potentially punishing tech companies with thousands in fines for each child affected by any violation.
The bill, the California Age-Responsible Design Act, still needs to be signed into law by California Governor Gavin Newsom before it becomes law. If signed, its provisions would enter into force on July 1, 2024, giving platforms some time to bring them into compliance.
The new privacy rules will apply to social media apps such as Instagram, TikTok and YouTube, which are often criticized for being poor with the safety and mental health of young users, as well as other companies that offer “an online service, product or feature that children may have access to.” This broader definition would also extend the bill’s requirements to gaming and educational platforms that may be used by children, as well as any other websites or services that do not expressly limit their use to adults.
The bill defines a child as anyone under the age of 18, pushing apps and other online products that may appeal to minors to introduce greater privacy protections for all users under 18, not just the youngest. The federal law that provides certain protections for children’s online privacy, the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), extends protections only to children under 13 years of age.
Age-appropriate California… by TechCrunch
Among the requirements of California’s children’s privacy law, it prohibits companies from collecting any data from minor users beyond what is absolutely necessary, or from using children’s personal information in any way that is “substantially harmful to the physical health, mental health, or well-being of child”. It would also require affected companies to default to the strongest privacy settings for users under 18, “in particular by turning off features that profile children using their past behavior, browsing history, or assumptions about their similarity to other children in order to offer harmful materials”.
The bill also provides for the creation of a new task force dedicated to the implementation of its requirements, which includes members appointed by the governor and state agencies. California’s attorney general will be empowered to fine companies that violate its rules $2,500 for each child affected for any violations deemed “negligent” and $7,500 for willful violations.
“We are very encouraged by today’s bipartisan passage of AB 2273, a monumental step toward protecting California’s children online,” children’s rights group Common Sense said in a statement Tuesday. “Today’s action, authored by Assemblymembers Weeks, Cunningham and Petrie-Norris, sends an important message about the need to make children’s online health and safety a higher priority for lawmakers and our technology companies, especially when it comes to websites that access by young users”.
While there are still many details to be worked out, the California bill could put pressure on tech companies that have historically prioritized explosive user growth and monetization above all else — and balked when it came to the less lucrative work of age-verifying their users and keeping young people safe online. – threat to safety and mental health. Inspired by UK children’s privacy legislation known as the Age Appropriate Design Code, current legislation could also force tech companies to improve their privacy standards for minors across the board, rather than creating personalized experiences for certain regional user segments that fall under new protection legislation.