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15 Sep

California Governor Signs Sweeping Children’s Online Safety Bill

Civil liberties experts argued that the measure could also have deleterious consequences for adults. In compelling sites to treat children differently, they warned, popular services for general audiences might set up invasive age-verification systems requiring all users to provide sensitive personal details to companies.

But children’s groups said the legislation was needed to protect young users from automated systems that could expose them to harmful content, put them in contact with adult strangers or prod them into staying online for hours on end.

Earlier this month, regulators in Ireland issued a fine of about $400 million to Meta, the social media giant formerly known as Facebook, for violating European data protection rules in its treatment of children’s data on Instagram. Meta has said it disagreed with the Irish regulators’ charges and planned to appeal the decision.

The California legislation will require online services likely to be used by children to protect their privacy and safety by design and default. It also specifically prohibits online services from profiling children, nudging children to provide personal information or tracking their precise locations.

“Our kids deserve to be safe,” said Buffy Wicks, a Democrat in the State Assembly who co-sponsored the children’s online safety bill with a Republican colleague, Jordan Cunningham. “Our kids deserve to be assured that strangers can’t direct message them on their social media accounts,” she added, and that social networking apps cannot send phone notifications at all hours of the night, disrupting children’s sleep.

The California law, which is to take effect in 2024, comes one year after Britain instituted comprehensive online protections for minors. Last year, as British regulators were developing that effort, Google, YouTube, Instagram, TikTok, Snap and other major platforms announced new safeguards for younger users worldwide.

Congress is also working to boost online safety for youngsters.

In July, the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science & Transportation advanced a privacy bill that would prohibit online services from targeting teens and children with ads or collecting their personal data without permission. Separately, the Commerce Committee advanced a bill that would require online services to protect minors by, among other things, not recommending they view potentially harmful content on suicide or eating disorders.

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