California Governor Gavin Newsom has signed the California Age-Appropriate Design Code Act, a law that mandates additional safeguards for minors on social media. The bill, AB 2273, was passed by the state legislature in August and is expected to go into effect on July 1, 2024.
AB 2273’s supporters presented it as an addition to federal online child protection laws, which apply to children under 13. The law raises the age limit to 18 and includes web services that are “likely” to receive underage visitors, not just those aimed at children. These sites must assess the potential harm to children on their platform, limit the collection and sharing of data for these users, and attempt to estimate the ages of children on the platform. A press release from the Newsom office describes it as creating sites “in the best interests of underage users and defaults to privacy and safety that protect the mental and physical health and well-being of children.”
But critics have pointed out that numerous red flags, especially the vague terms and broad scope of the bill. Sites, especially smaller ones, can have problems interpret and comply the guidelines. And in an effort to avoid liability, some could turn to invasive age-verification protocols, which would compromise the anonymity of both adult users and children. A state commission should deliver a report with more details in January 2024, theoretically outlining more concrete best practices.
The signing follows Newsom’s similar approval of AB 587, a less restrictive rule requiring sites to post moderation guidelines online.
Both laws can face challenges in court. NetChoice, which has successfully brought social media laws to a halt in Texas and Florida, today issued a statement challenging Newsom’s decision. “While AB 2273’s motive is well-intentioned, many of the means chosen are constitutional and could have unintended consequences,” said Chris Marchese, counsel for NetChoice. “The law violates the First Amendment by cooling constitutionally protected speech and infringing the editorial rights of websites, platforms and apps of all sizes and ideologies.” But so far no lawsuit has come – and if not, site operators will have to prepare to childproof their platforms.