• Joanne Jacobs

Can online privacy laws make the net safe for kids?


A new California law will try to protect children online by requiring safeguards for users under 18, reports Natasha Singer in the New York Times. It covers "social networks, game platforms, connected toys, voice assistants and digital learning tools for schools."

Among other things, the measure will require sites and apps to curb the risks that certain popular features — like allowing strangers to message one another — may pose to younger users It will also require online services to turn on the highest privacy settings by default for children.
. . . It also specifically prohibits online services from profiling children, nudging children to provide personal information or tracking their precise locations.

Industry groups and civil liberties advocates say the law is too broad and too vague, and will require "invasive age-verification systems" for all users, writes Singer. "It could also affect children far beyond the state, prompting some services to introduce changes nationwide, rather than treat minors in California differently."


The law goes into effect in 2024.


Last year, "Britain instituted comprehensive online protections for minors," Singer writes. "As British regulators were developing that effort, Google, YouTube, Instagram, TikTok, Snap and other major platforms announced new safeguards for younger users worldwide."

At the federal level, two bipartisan bills have stalled in Congress, reports Mark Keierleber on The 74.


"The Kids Online Safety Act would make tech companies liable if they expose young people to content deemed harmful, including materials that promote self-harm, eating disorders and substance abuse," writes Keierleber. "It would also require parental controls that could be used to block adult content and to study systems to verify users’ age."

The Children’s Online Privacy Act 2.0, would ban ads directed at children and require an “eraser button” that allows children to remove their personal data.

The legislative push comes a year after a Facebook whistleblower disclosed research showing that the social media app Instagram had a harmful effect on youth mental well-being, especially for teenage girls. . . . Leaked internal research revealed the company knew Instagram made “body image issues worse for one in three teen girls” who blamed the social media platform for driving “increases in the rate of anxiety and depression” and, for some, suicidal thoughts.

"Broader digital privacy legislation has also struggled this year," writes Keierleber. "The American Data Privacy Protection Act, which would create a national digital privacy standard and limit the personal data that tech companies can collect about users, has hit roadblocks, including pushback from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi."

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