Apr 19, 2022 - Technology

California moves toward tougher online privacy rules for kids

Illustration of a padlock with a cursor shape as the keyhole.
Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

California lawmakers will debate a law Tuesday meant to require internet companies to design programs and apps for kids in ways that protect their privacy.

Why it matters: If the bill passes in California, many other states are likely to adopt similar measures, as happened with the state's last online privacy law.

Details: The California proposal resembles new rules passed last year in the U.K. that govern how tech firms can target kids with push notifications, messaging controls and other features.

  • The California Assembly's privacy committee will vote Tuesday on the California Age Appropriate Design Code, where it is expected to pass. It will then go to the assembly's appropriations committee and eventually the assembly floor. The state senate will also need to approve it.

What they're saying: "Like so many parents, I grapple with how challenging it is to shield our kids from the harmful content and experiences they’ll encounter online," Democratic assembly member Buffy Wicks, a co-sponsor of the bill, said in a statement to Axios.

  • "California has the opportunity to lead the way in making the digital world safer for all American children, giving our kids the highest level of protection possible in the online world."
  • "We need America to help us police," Baroness Beeban Kidron, founder of 5Rights, a global foundation meant to help establish the U.K. digital standards globally, and a member of the House of Lords who sponsored the bill, told Axios.
  • "We cannot be the policeman of the world. California has an opportunity to give American parents what they are asking for and American kids what they deserve," she said.

Be smart: In recent years, the U.K. and Europe have led the world in tightening privacy rules with measures like the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). California has led the U.S. online privacy push with the CCPA.

  • The U.K. design code has 15 standards that online services must follow for products that children use.
  • Supporters of the regulation credit it for getting YouTube to turn off autoplay for users under 18 and getting TikTok and Instagram to turn off direct messages between adults and children who do not follow each other.
  • The California bill closely mirrors the U.K. code and would apply to companies headquartered in California.

The big picture: In the absence of a uniform national online privacy code, CCPA set the de facto standard in the U.S., and many states followed suit with their own versions.

The bottom line: Congress' failure to pass a national privacy law means something similar is likely to happen with the new childrens' rules.

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