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Five Trends in Global Tech Policy to Protect Kids, Families, and Society

What will it take to foster kids' well-being online around the world?

Two boys looking at a phone on public transportation.

The momentum here in the U.S. around reforming technology to benefit kids has been well documented. From privacy and platform safety bills in Congress to multiple design and liability bills at the state level, U.S. policymakers are increasingly recognizing the outsize impact that media and technology have on developing young minds.

At the same time, over the past several years, the E.U., U.K., and other markets from Canada to Australia have taken significant steps to foster healthy digital experiences for children, providing lessons for U.S. policymakers as well as global leaders. In our new report, "The Future of Global Tech Policy: Driving Healthy Digital Policies for Children, Families, and Society," Common Sense Media compares key global legislation and corresponding trends to address the impact of technology on kids, families, and our world.

What we found overall is that protecting children's well-being requires a comprehensive approach to online safety, privacy, and design—three important factors that together shape children's digital experiences. Meanwhile, protecting kids online can serve as a stepping stone to transforming the digital world for the good of society—kids and adults alike.

Perhaps most notably, the impact of social media on children's well-being and mental health has become a central rallying cry for digital reform in the U.S. and U.K., and increasingly in the E.U. In the U.S. and the U.K., social media companies are facing increased scrutiny and a growing list of lawsuits for their impact on children's mental and physical health. As the E.U.'s Digital Services Act (DSA) enters into effect in 2024, the international momentum and mounting research around teenagers' experiences with social media and their mental health provide an important frame and evidence for regulators.

Here are five important trends that U.S. and global policymakers should consider for future action:

First, though Europe has pioneered tough standards on technology, even those standards are insufficient. Although the E.U. has led the way in regulating privacy and online safety, legislators in and outside the E.U. are realizing that additional measures are needed to ensure that social media is built to protect kids' well-being and keep up with emerging technology. Policymakers are working toward regulating new applications of AI, increasing transparency requirements, and expanding the ways that existing laws apply to children.

Second, age assurance remains an essential element of child protection online but needs greater attention and more thoughtful approaches around the world. Industry and regulators are still grappling with this issue because of concerns around identifying children in a way that also respects their privacy. To that end, policymakers across markets would benefit from international cooperation or exchanges in this arena.

Third, complementary policy tools, beyond legislation, can serve as additional avenues to protect children online. Principles-based codes, like the U.K.'s Age Appropriate Design Code, can set standards for how platforms address children's privacy or safety, and in the E.U. and U.K. can act as alternatives or complements to legislation. Policy tools like these in the E.U. and U.K. have allowed legislators to remain flexible and produce rules quickly in the face of a constantly evolving digital economy.

Fourth, the E.U. and U.K. offer approaches that empower parents in fostering healthier digital experiences for their children, while some recent U.S. legislation takes a distinct – and potentially harmful – approach. This U.S. legislative approach attempts to protect teenagers online by requiring parents to decide whether to give their children access to social media. In contrast, E.U. and U.K. rules place the onus primarily on companies to support children's well-being, instead requiring platforms to institute parental safety tools, as well as privacy protections that require parental consent. U.S. lawmakers at the state and federal level would benefit from looking more closely at the E.U. and U.K. models.

Finally, risk—the assessment, management, and mitigation of potential harms—is emerging as a regulatory framework that complements platform liability rules, and can be particularly relevant for regulating emerging technologies such as generative AI. The DSA in the E.U. and the Online Safety Bill in the U.K. require platforms to take an active and ongoing role in ensuring their services don't harm children. This approach takes into account that there are a multitude of factors that can impact children's mental health and well-being. It also involves continual assessment and mitigation of the risks that children face on their services—an area in which child experts can provide needed data and research.

Despite welcome global progress from Europe, Australia, and California, a significant journey remains to create a healthy internet for all. The rapid evolution of social media and technology—from generative AI to the metaverse—makes global policy cooperation even more important to keep up with the pace of change sufficient to protect the world's children and families online.

Overall, technology reform will require consistent engagement from legislators, businesses, and civil society to spark immediate and lasting impact. Common Sense Media continues to work with policymakers in the U.S. and around the world to drive healthy technology for healthy young minds—and for families and consumers everywhere.

Sara Egozi

Sara Egozi is the Head of Global Strategy & Policy at Common Sense Media. In this role, Sara leads the organization's international programs to foster responsible tech for children in the digital world.