California Signs Internet Privacy Legislation to Boost Children’s Safety Online

  • California Governor Gavin Newsom has signed The California Age-Appropriate Design Code Act into law.

    The new legislation, signed by Newsom on September 15, 2022 and passed by the state congress in late August, will implement some of the strictest privacy requirements for children in the US, especially in relation to social media.

    The law restricts apps’ ability to collect data on anyone 18 or younger and requires them to implement their ‘highest privacy standards’ for children and teenagers.

    Additionally, the law will also require technology-focused companies to incorporate technology to verify a user’s age before allowing access to their platforms.

    “We’re taking aggressive action in California to protect the health and wellbeing of our kids,” Newsom said in a press release.

    The move was not well-received by some tech firms, however, who openly criticized it for limiting democratic freedoms.

    “Although [the legislation]’s motive is well-meaning, many of its chosen means are unconstitutional and risk unintended consequences,” commented Chris Marchese, Counsel for NetChoice, a trade association of technology and internet-based businesses.

    In fact, according to Marchese, the law violates the First Amendment by limiting constitutionally protected speech and infringing on the editorial rights of websites, platforms, and apps.

    “[The bill] will also have the unintended consequence of closing off the internet, even to adults,” Marchese added.

    Evan Greer, director of Fight for the Future, a consumer advocacy group, echoed Marchese’s point and added that the bill specifically harms LGBTQ+ youth and other vulnerable young people for whom the online community can be a lifeline.

    “The bill is so vaguely and broadly written that it will almost certainly lead to widespread use of invasive age verification techniques that subject children (and everyone else) to more surveillance while claiming to protect their privacy,” Greer said.

    “Requiring age verification also makes it nearly impossible to use online services anonymously, which threatens freedom of expression, particularly for marginalized communities, human rights activists, whistleblowers, and journalists.”

    The law will go into effect on June 2024, but it is unclear at the time of writing whether tech companies will change their policies across the US to implement the design code or if they will keep it limited to individual locations.

    According to David Ruiz, threat content writer at Malwarebytes, the legislation may also represent the latest bulwark against stalkerware.