May 31, 2023

Robotic Notes

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California signs new bill into law that strengthens online protection for children

3 min read

California Governor Gavin Newsom today signed the California Age-Friendly Design Act, a law designed to protect younger people as they navigate the minefield of social media and other online services.

The bill, dubbed AB 2273, unexpectedly met with some opposition from certain factions of the tech industry, but was unanimously approved by the state legislature in August of this year. This was hardly unexpected given how much airtime stories about the dangers and pitfalls facing children online have received over the past few years.

The concern recently intensified when Meta Platforms Inc. has said it’s working on a version of Instagram for kids. Things got worse for Meta when leaks showed that the company knew about the negative impact social media could have on young people.

The new law could change the way children in the state interact with social media, something that could irritate young users while soothing their parents’ concerns. The law requires companies to design apps with children’s “best interests” in mind, telling them not to apply the patches when things go wrong, but to take a more proactive approach.

The state already has child protection laws in place, but they mainly focus on children under the age of 13. The new law will apply to children under the age of 18. It will require any company whose product can be used by children to more thoroughly design safeguards that ensure a child’s age can be proven before using the product. Meta may have already taken a step in the right direction when it recently announced that it has developed new artificial intelligence technology to detect and estimate a person’s age.

The law would also require companies to make their products so that children can use such services without secretly collecting data from them. Children using these products may also find that they lack certain sharing features and cannot receive messages from complete strangers. In short, they can be blocked from using various features of a service.

“We are taking aggressive action in California to protect the health and well-being of our children,” Governor Newsom (pictured) said in a news release. “As a father of four, I’m familiar with the real issues our children experience online, and I’m grateful to Assemblymembers Weeks and Cunningham and the tech industry for advancing these protections and putting the well-being of our children first.”

Cunningham said California now “leads the nation” when it comes to protecting children online, though he added that much more work needs to be done to address the fact that certain apps can cause psychological distress to children.

“We still have a lot of work to do to tackle the youth mental health crisis,” he said. “Specifically, we know that some major social media technology companies are designing their products for addicted kids, and a significant number of those kids are suffering serious harm as a result…such as depression, suicidal thoughts, anxiety, eating disorders.” Protecting children online is not only common sense, it will save lives.”

The law will go into effect in July 2024. This should give companies plenty of time to design accordingly.

Photo: Gage Skidmore/Flickr

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