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California Gov. Newsom signs law intended to protect children on social media

The law goes into effect in 2024.|

Social media companies will soon be required to design their products with the best interests of child users in mind under Assembly Bill 2273, signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom Thursday.

The bill — jointly authored by Assemblywoman Buffy Wicks, a Democrat, and Assemblyman Jordan Cunningham, a Republican — prohibits social media companies from using children’s personal information. It also bars collection, sale or retention of children’s geolocation and leading or encouraging children to provide personal information.

AB 2273 requires that privacy information, terms of service, policies and community standards must be easily accessible. It also calls for responsive tools that children can use to exercise their privacy rights.

Violators will be liable for a civil penalty of up to $2,500 per affected child for each negligent violation or up to $7,500 for each intentional offense.

The law goes into effect July 1, 2024.

“We’re taking aggressive action in California to protect the health and well being of our kids,” Newsom said in a statement. “As a father of four, I’m familiar with the real issues our children are experiencing online, and I’m thankful to Assemblymembers Wicks and Cunningham and the tech industry for pushing these protections and putting the well being of our kids first.”

Newsom’s wife, First Partner Jennifer Siebel Newsom, also released a statement, saying that she is terrified of the effects of technology addiction and saturation and the toll they are taking on children’s mental health.

“While social media and the internet are integral to the way we as a global community connect and communicate, our children still deserve real safeguards like AB 2273 to protect their wellbeing as they grow and develop,” Siebel Newsom said.

AB 2273 was intended to be companion legislation to Assembly Bill 2408, also from Cunningham and Wicks, that would have given prosecutors the authority to sue social media companies for addicting children to their platforms. That bill was targeted for defeat by the social media industry, including Meta (which oversees of Facebook and Instagram).

Lobbyists were successful and the bill died a quiet death on the Senate Appropriations Committee suspense file.

“My disappointment over AB 2408 is exceeded by my joy to see AB 2273 heading to the Governor’s desk. This is the most important step ANY state has taken to ensure children’s online safety— by far!” Cunningham tweeted on Thursday.

In a statement, Wicks said that California is leading the way nationally on this issue, but that there is work still to be done to protect children from the harmful effects of social media.

“In particular, we know that certain Big Tech social media companies design their products to addict kids, and a significant number of those kids suffer serious harm as a result… such as depression, suicidal thoughts, anxiety, eating disorders. Protecting kids online is not only common sense, it will save lives,” Wicks said.

For its part, the tech industry is unhappy with the bill’s signing into law.

NetChoice, a Big Tech coalition group whose members include Meta, TikTok, Google and Twitter, called the law well-meaning but rife with unintended consequences.

“The law violates the First Amendment by chilling constitutionally protected speech and by infringing on the editorial rights of websites, platforms, and apps of all sizes and ideologies,” said Chris Marchese, counsel for NetChoice, in a statement.

Newsom also was criticized for signing the bill by Fight For The Future, a digital rights group.

“California’s AB 2273 will make children less safe, not more safe, online. The bill specifically harms LGBTQ+ youth and other vulnerable young people for whom 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,” said group spokeswoman Evan Greer in a statement.

An unnamed spokesperson for Meta said in a statement that the company has concerns about some of the provisions of the law, but that “the California Age Appropriate Design Code is an important development towards establishing these standards.”

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