California’s state assembly tabled a bill this week that, if enacted, would need online platforms to take extra steps to ensure their services are safe for young users.
Social media and game platforms often use different gimmicks to keep people glued online.
These tactics include recommendation algorithms, find-a-friend tools, smartphone notices, and other enticements. But the same techniques may pose a threat to a great number of children who have resorted to online services that were not specifically tailor-made for them.
The California state legislature had earlier given the nod to a version of the bill, which still needs to be signed by Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom to become state law. If signed, the bill would go into effect by 2024, and companies could face fines as high as $7,500 per user if found to be violating the protective measures for children.
The bill highlights similar legislation, known as the Age Appropriate Design Code, that went into effect in the UK in 2021. It comes as social media companies face more scrutiny for their public health impact, especially on their most young and vulnerable users.
In 2021, Meta whistleblower Frances Haugen revealed internal research at the Instagram parent company that showed the drastic mental health impacts of the app on teen users. Such revelations intensified calls from advocacy groups to strengthen protections for young users. Many have called for the federal children’s protection law, known as Coppa, to be updated to better protect children.
The passage of the California Age-Appropriate Design Code Act is “a monumental step toward protecting California kids online”, said Jim Steyer, founder and CEO of children’s online safety organization Common Sense Media, but more action needs to be taken.
The act “is only part of the change we need to better protect young people from the manipulative and dangerous practices online platforms employ today”, he said. “California legislators, and lawmakers around the country, need to follow up on this important development by enacting additional online privacy and platform accountability measures.”