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California Continues Its Leadership with Online Protections for Kids and Families

Two big legislative wins go a long way to protect kids' privacy and well-being online, but there's still more work to do.

Family laughing while looking at phone together

September was a good month for the well-being of kids and families online in California. Last month alone, thanks to advocacy from Common Sense and other organizations, and strong leadership in the California legislature, we saw two important social media bills signed into law:

  • The California Age-Appropriate Design Code Act (AB 2273), authored by Assemblymembers Buffy Wicks and Jordan Cunningham, establishes the highest default privacy settings for users under the age of 18 and empowers young users to access, understand, and report concerning terms of service and privacy policies. Businesses will not be able to track kids' precise geolocation or profile them by default unless doing so is strictly necessary for the online service to function. Overall, the law requires businesses to design their platforms with kids' safety and well-being prioritized before profits. The new law takes effect in July 2024.
  • A social media transparency measure (AB 587), authored by Assemblymember Jesse Gabriel, will require social media companies to publicly post their policies regarding hate speech, disinformation, harassment, and extremism on their platforms, and report data on their enforcement of the policies. Californians will have access to more transparent terms of service and clear processes for flagging harmful content. Platforms will also publish public reports detailing how a company's terms and conditions address racism, extremism, harassment, and more. The new law takes effect in January 2024.

Thanks to these laws, social media users will experience a safer, more transparent digital world beginning in 2024—and especially young users. This year we saw an amazing showing by parents, advocates, and policymakers that drew national headlines and the support of California Governor Gavin Newsom for these two bills.

Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, there is still more work to be done. Another important bill for kids' well-being failed to pass the California Senate last month in the face of strong opposition from tech industry lobbyists. The Social Media Platform Duty to Children Act (AB 2408), authored by Assemblymember Cunningham, would have made it unlawful for social media giants to addict kids with specific design features that target and manipulate children. These platforms bait and command children's attention with features like autoscroll, push notifications, and Snapchat streaks, and can cause major psychological and physical harm.

This bill is a key component to kids' digital safety. These design attributes are responsible for driving addiction and undermining mental health—sometimes even leading to the tragic death of young people.

We have to keep the pressure on, in California and in Washington, D.C. A child's data privacy and well-being should not be dependent on the state they live in. That's why, in addition to our California advocacy, we will keep pushing Congress to pass federal legislation, like COPPA 2.0 and the Kids Online Safety Act, that would give young people more control over their data and add new protections from online harm.

There is still more to do to protect kids from the harm they experience online and to make the internet a healthier place for kids and teens. But last month's wins are a big step forward. We want to make sure families across the state understand what's in the new laws so they can also understand how their kids will be safer because of them.

Danny Weiss

Danny Weiss is Chief Advocacy Officer at Common Sense. In this role, he oversees all advocacy and public policy operations. He brings nearly three decades of service on Capitol Hill, most recently as chief of staff to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Danny first joined Common Sense in 2015 and returned again in 2020, and has led efforts to close the digital divide, protect children's online data privacy, hold tech companies accountable for online harms to kids and teens, and expand access to programs that lift children out of poverty, like the expanded Child Tax Credit. In his spare time, he likes cook dinner and play percussion.