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The California State Legislature last month approved sweeping legislation that has the potential to impact virtually every website you visit, regardless of which state you call home.
The California Age-Appropriate Design Code Act (AB 2273) headed to Gov. Gavin Newsom’s desk on August 30 after receiving widespread, bipartisan support in the Democrat-dominated state Assembly and state Senate.
Explicitly modeled after the United Kingdom’s Age Appropriate Design Code, AB 2273 requires any business serving up web pages likely to be accessed by California youths to consider the children’s best interests when designing their sites.
Since California children can easily access websites from anywhere, the law could apply to websites published anywhere – or at least anywhere in the United States, which, in turn, could make any American business with a website subject to California law.
“If Gov. Newsom signs this law, it’s definitely going to have a national impact,” said Reece Hirsch, a partner and the co-leader of the privacy and cybersecurity practice of law firm Morgan Lewis.
“It certainly looks like it will significantly reduce anonymous browsing on the Internet,” he said, adding “I think we’re all going to be studying this and looking for further guidance if it gets signed by Gov. Newsom...It just adds a whole other layer to developing a website.”
The bill creates a litany of new requirements for businesses operating online, not the least of which is a mandate to verify every visitor’s age before allowing them access to a website. This, in practice, could end anonymous browsing on the Internet for everyone, all in the name of protecting children’s privacy.
“The California Age-Appropriate Design Code Act will upend the status quo in which the pervasive surveillance, profiling, and manipulation of our children is the cost of admission for access to the digital world, and their privacy and wellbeing is a mere afterthought,” said bill supporter Nicole Gill, executive director of the advocacy organization Accountable Tech, in a recent press release.
“This law will be a transformative model of what it looks like to ensure kids and teens have positive experiences online. States around the country will take notice, and we will pressure Big Tech to embrace these standards globally, so that every child is protected from abuse and exploitation, not just those in California.”
However, the bill’s impact won’t just be felt by children, or by the businesses that now have to change the way they operate. In just one example of the bill’s far-reaching consequences, age verifications will apply to all Internet users, requiring adults to suddenly become comfortable with providing their ages to countless websites.
Authored by Democrats Buffy Wicks of Oakland and Cottie Petrie-Norris and Republican Jordan Cunningham of Templeton, AB 2273 requires any business, before offering new services on its website, to complete a “Data Protection Impact Assessment” to determine what risks to children are likely to arise from the new features and how the company intends to mitigate them.
Under the bill, companies are required to make these assessments available to the California Attorney General within five days of a written request.
Critics contend this is just one example of the additional responsibilities AB 2273 places on businesses without offering companies any additional support. Jennifer Huddleston, policy counsel to the industry group NetChoice, an opponent of AB 2273, said in a recent press release that the bill gives “innovators yet another reason to leave the Golden State to avoid overly burdensome regulation that harms families and violates the First Amendment.”
Content Regulation Disclosure Policies Under the Microscope
Another California bill recently sent to the governor with major online implications is AB 587, which requires social media companies to spell out how they regulate their own content within their posted terms of service.
The author of the bill, Assemblyman Jesse Gabriel (D), said in a recent press conference that California needed to pass legislation like this because the federal government is not stepping up.
“We believe that California has a special obligation and a special opportunity to lead on these issues,” he said. “We’re proud of our technology economy, and we know that many of the companies that these bills would regulate are homegrown California companies. But with dysfunction in Washington, D.C., we believe that California must step up and lead.”
The bill requires social media companies to submit semiannual reports to the California Attorney General about how they monitor and regulate online activities. It also gives the attorney general or city attorneys the authority to take civil action against violators who fail to post their terms of service or fail to regularly submit reports to the state.
Opponents of the measure, which included the California Chamber of Commerce and the Civil Justice Association of California, argued that companies are already required to disclose their moderation policies.
As consequential as these two pieces of legislation may be, California legislators were poised to jolt American businesses even further with a second bill by Wicks and Cunningham that would have imposed even more website regulations. That bill, however, was held in suspense by the state Senate's Appropriations Committee.
The Social Media Platform Duty to Children Act(AB 2408) would have forbidden social media platforms from using “addictive” design features, such as social rewards (i.e. “likes”) or algorithms that feed users targeted content.
Most significantly, AB 2408 would have subjected social media platforms to civil penalties of up to $250,000 per violation, with enforcement by California prosecutors. But the bill died in the Senate Appropriations Committee in mid-August.
What’s California’s sudden interest in websites? Eric Goldman, a professor of law at Santa Clara University who has been blogging critically about these bills, chalked up their introduction to politics: “It’s an election year, and like clockwork, legislators around the country want to show they care about protecting kids online.”
--By SNCJ Correspondent Brian Joseph
Please visit our webpage for more information on the bills mentioned in this article, or to speak with a State Net representative about how the State Net legislative and regulatory tracking solution can help you react quickly to relevant legislative and regulatory changes.
Thirty-five state legislatures have introduced over 100 bills this year aimed at regulating how social media companies like Facebook and Twitter moderate their users’ content, according to analysis of data from the National Conference of State Legislatures by Politico. The measures include bans on censorship, hate speech reporting requirements, social media protections for children and transparency mandates. Censorship bans have been enacted in two states, Florida (SB 7072) and Texas (HB 20), and a hate speech reporting bill has been enacted in New York (SB 4511).