California Governor Gavin Newsom has signed the California Age-Appropriate Design Code Act, a law imposing additional safeguards for minors on social media. The bill, AB 2273, was passed by the state legislature in August and is expected to take effect July 1, 2024.
Proponents of AB 2273 have touted it as a supplement to federal online child protection laws, which apply to children under 13. The law raises the age bar to 18 and covers web services “likely” to attract 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 age of children on the platform. A press release from Newsom’s office describes it as ensuring that sites “consider the best interests of child users and default to privacy and security settings that protect mental health and well-being and children’s physics.
But critics pointed to many red flags, particularly the bill’s vague terms and broad scope. Sites, especially smaller ones, could struggle to interpret and comply with the guidelines. And in an effort to avoid liability, some might turn to invasive age verification protocols, which would compromise the anonymity of adult users as well as children. A state committee is expected to deliver a more detailed report in January 2024, theoretically offering more concrete best practices.
The signing follows Newsom similarly endorsing AB 587, a less sweeping rule requiring sites to post moderation guidelines online.
Both laws could be challenged in court. NetChoice, which has successfully fought social media laws in Texas and Florida, today issued a statement opposing Newsom’s decision. “While AB 2273’s motive is well-intentioned, many of the remedies it has chosen are unconstitutional and risk unintended consequences,” said NetChoice attorney Chris Marchese. “The law violates the First Amendment by chilling constitutionally protected speech and infringing on the editorial rights of websites, platforms, and apps of all sizes and ideologies.” But so far, no legal action has materialized – and if not, site operators will need to start preparing to secure their platforms.