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California Online Safeguards for Kids Headed to Governor (1)

Aug. 30, 2022, 1:21 PMUpdated: Aug. 30, 2022, 10:38 PM

Online platforms such as TikTok, Instagram, and YouTube would have to boost their privacy and safety protections for children and teens under a California bill close to becoming a first-of-its-kind law that proposes fines for companies that don’t comply.

The state Assembly approved a Senate-passed version of the California Age-Appropriate Design Code Act on Tuesday, sending the bill to Gov. Gavin Newsom (D).

If Newsom signs the bipartisan bill (AB-2273) into law, online services that violate its provisions could face fines as high as $7,500 per affected child. It’s expected to impact social media platforms, as well as the gaming industry and other online services likely to be accessed by children under age 18.

The Senate’s updates to the Assembly bill’s text focus on the law’s enforcement by California’s attorney general and implementation by its first-in-the-nation privacy protection agency.

The amended version of the legislation also seeks to clarify which types of online services it considers likely to be accessed by children. It would cover services that are directed at children, as well as those where a significant portion of the audience includes children.

Newsom hasn’t indicated whether he would sign the bill. His office doesn’t typically comment on pending legislation, according to a spokesperson.

Modeled After UK

Under the legislation, online services would have to build in robust privacy protections by default and explain settings in a way that children can understand. The legislation also would limit the collection and use of minors’ data, especially their location.

The measure is modeled after a United Kingdom age-appropriate design policy known as the “Children’s Code” that spurred online platforms with global audiences to tighten their privacy and safety controls for young users. The UK code’s aim is to prioritize a child’s best interests over business interests.

The parallel proposal in California reflects pressure on social media and other online services to weigh the impact of features such as autoplay or algorithm-driven content on their users. Children’s advocacy groups have raised concerns about whether time spent online fuels addictive behaviors, bullying, and mental health challenges.

The California legislation would add protections for teens, who aren’t covered by existing federal law on children’s privacy. The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act applies to children under age 13.

Online gaming company Roblox supports passage of the California code, as does a coalition of children’s advocacy groups and tech accountability organizations. Opponents of the bill include the California Chamber of Commerce, Entertainment Software Association, and TechNet.

(Updates with Assembly approval)

To contact the reporter on this story: Andrea Vittorio in Washington at avittorio@bloombergindustry.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Tonia Moore at tmoore@bloombergindustry.com; Jay-Anne B. Casuga at jcasuga@bloomberglaw.com