SACRAMENTO, California– California will be the first state to require online businesses to put child safety first by prohibiting them from profiling children or using personal information in a way that could harm children physically or mentally, Gov. Gavin Newsom said Thursday.
“We are taking aggressive action in California to protect the health and well-being of our children,” Newsom said in a statement announcing that he had signed the law. He noted that as a father of four, “I’m familiar with the real issues our kids face online.”
The bill requires technology companies that offer online services that are attractive to children to follow age-appropriate design code principles aimed at keeping children safe. Finally, companies must submit a “Privacy Impact Assessment” to the Attorney General before offering any new online service, product or child-friendly feature.
Facebook’s parent company Meta said it has concerns about some of the legislation but shares the legislature’s goal to protect children online.
“We believe young people should have consistent protection across all the apps and online services they use, which is why we support clear industry standards in this area,” the social media giant said. It called the law “an important development in setting these standards”.
The bill is modeled after a similar measure in the UK. In the year since the law went into effect, some of America’s most valuable technology companies “have begun to redesign their products in the best interests of children,” said Democratic Assembly Member Buffy Wicks, a co-author of the law.
“Now we can make sure they do the same for California youth — and hopefully for young people across the country,” Wicks said.
The law was opposed by a coalition that included the Entertainment Software Association, which said it contained “too broad a standard and would cover far more websites and platforms than necessary”.
It is the second landmark online protection law signed by Newsom this week. The earlier measure requires social media companies to provide details on how and when they remove disruptive content, including hate speech.
But a third proposal fell through with state legislatures this year. It would have banned social media companies from adopting features it knows can lead to children becoming addicted.
Still, Jim Steyer, CEO of Common Sense Media, a nonprofit that advocates for children, said the law Newsom signed into law Thursday is “a necessary and positive step forward in standing up to Big Tech.”
The challenge of protecting children online resonated personally with Newsom’s wife, Jennifer Siebel Newsom, and Wicks, both mothers of young children.
“I’m scared of the impact that technology addiction and saturation is having on our children and their mental health,” Siebel told Newsom in support of the bill, though she conceded that “social media and the internet are an integral part of the way we as global community are connecting and communicating.”
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