California Governor Gavin Newsom has signed the California Age-Appropriate Design Code Act, a law mandating additional safeguards for minors on social media. The bill, AB 2273, passed the state legislature in August, and it’s slated to go into effect on July 1st, 2024.
AB 2273’s supporters pitched 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 it covers web services “likely” to get underage visitors, not just those aimed at kids. These sites must assess the potential harms for children on their platform, limit data collection and sharing for these users, and attempt to estimate the age of children on the platform. A press release from Newsom’s office describes it as making sites “consider the best interest of child users and to default to privacy and safety settings that protect children’s mental and physical health and wellbeing.”
In a worst-case scenario, online anonymity could end up on the chopping block
But critics have pointed out numerous red flags, particularly the bill’s vague terms and broad scope. Sites, particularly smaller ones, could have trouble interpreting and complying with the guidelines. And in an effort to avoid liability, some might turn to invasive age-verification protocols, which would compromise anonymity for adult users as well as children. A state committee is supposed to deliver a report with more details in January 2024, theoretically offering more concrete best practices.
The signing follows Newsom similarly approving AB 587, a less sweeping rule requiring sites to post moderation guidelines online.
Both laws might face challenges in court. NetChoice, which has successfully fought social media laws to a standstill in Texas and Florida, issued a statement opposing Newsom’s decision today. “Although AB 2273’s motive is well-meaning, many of its chosen means are unconstitutional and risk unintended consequences,” said NetChoice counsel Chris Marchese. “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.” But so far, no lawsuit has materialized — and if it doesn’t, site operators will need to start preparing to childproof their platforms.