Apr 26, 2023 - News

Texas House tentatively OKs parental consent for social media

Illustration of a notification on the Texas State Capitol building.

Illustration: Lindsey Bailey/Axios

The Texas House tentatively approved a measure on Tuesday that would require social media and other websites to obtain parental consent for users under 18.

Driving the news: Legislators gave initial approval to House Bill 18, which would prohibit any "digital service provider" from allowing users under 18 to create an account without the consent of the minor's parent or guardian.

  • The measure — a priority for House Speaker Dade Phelan, a Republican from Beaumont — would require such sites to obtain a parent's consent and then allow a parent to ban data collection, prevent data from being sold or transferred, ban geo-tracking and targeted advertising, and prevent their child from making purchases.
  • Tech companies oppose the bill and its sweeping nature, and some lawmakers expressed concerns Tuesday that it would allow for the collection and storage of more data by those companies.
  • The measure passed by voice vote.

What they're saying: Rep. Shelby Slawson (R-Stephenville) said the bill would require social media companies to offer the highest level of privacy protections for parents and children.

  • "Through this bill, we will provide parents with the tools that they desperately need and demand to better protect our children in the digital world," Slawson told lawmakers Tuesday. "(Tech companies) are not motivated by the best interest of the user, but motivated to increase clicks, shares, likes, users and screen time for their bottom lines."

The other side: Tech companies, including representatives from Facebook's parent company, Meta, and Google-owned YouTube, testified against the measure in a committee hearing last month, arguing that their technology already offers parental controls.

  • They also said the move could have unintended consequences and poses privacy concerns when it comes to providing the age of the child and relation to the guardian.
  • "There's a very real and complex challenge because inevitably people move toward asking for IDs which creates all kinds of access to information that you might not really want us to have," Meta's vice president of safety Antigone Davis told the panel of lawmakers in March, adding that many teens — especially marginalized ones — do not have an ID.

Between the lines: Some lawmakers expressed concerns that students trying to finish their school work while home alone would have to wait for a parent to return home, even on educational sites.

  • Any website that requires a person to set up an account would be required to get parental consent before they enter a user agreement — or create an account — on the site.

Zoom out: The measure is part of a growing effort by states to further regulate social media companies as Congress tries to do the same.

  • Other states have passed similar legislation, including Utah and Arkansas.
  • It's not yet clear how companies like Meta will comply in those states.

What's next: The House could give final approval to the measure as soon as Wednesday. The bill would then head to the Senate.


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