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New York bans ‘addictive feeds’ for teens

New York bans ‘addictive feeds’ for teens

New York Governor Kathy Hochul (D) signed two bills into law on Thursday that aim to protect kids and teens from social media harms, making it the latest state to take action as federal proposals still await votes.

One of the bills, the Stop Addictive Feeds Exploitation (SAFE) for Kids Act, will require parental consent for social media companies to use “addictive feeds” powered by recommendation algorithms on kids and teens under 18. The other, the New York Child Data Protection Act, would limit data collection on minors without consent and restrict the sale of such information but does not require age verification. That law will take effect in a year.

States across the country have taken the lead on enacting legislation to protect kids on the internet — and it’s one area where both Republicans and Democrats seem to agree. While the approaches differ somewhat by party, policymakers on both sides have signaled urgent interest in similar regulations to protect kids on the internet. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis (R), for example, signed into law in March a bill requiring parents’ consent for kids under 16 to hold social media accounts. And in May, Maryland Governor Wes Moore (D) signed a broad privacy bill into law, as well as the Maryland Kids Code banning the use of features meant to keep minors on social media for extended periods, like autoplay or spammy notifications.

While federal legislators have introduced popular proposals like the Kids Online Safety Act (KOSA), they’ve yet to receive floor votes and still face some opposition from groups that fear resources for underrepresented groups like the LGBTQ+ community could be stifled. States have filled the vacuum, creating a patchwork of regulation across the country that industry leaders often say makes it harder for the smallest players to keep up.

“Anybody going to hold their breath waiting for a federal solution?” Hochul asked at a celebratory press conference ahead of the signing. “Me neither.”

Sponsors of New York’s SAFE for Kids Act wrote that its purpose is to “protect the mental health of children from addictive feeds used by social media platforms, and from disrupted sleep due to night-time use of social media.” In addition to the algorithm restrictions, it would bar platforms from sending notifications to minors between midnight and 6AM without their parent’s consent. The bill instructs the attorney general’s office to lay out appropriate age verification methods and says those can’t solely rely on biometrics or government identification. The law would take effect 180 days after the AG’s rules, and the state could then fine companies $5,000 per violation.

New York Attorney General Letitia James pointed out the opposition from tech industry lobbyists that politicians had to overcome to pass the bills. “They threw money, and we had bodies,” James said. “Bodies and bodies of parents, and parents from all over the state of New York, who recognize the dangers of social media.”

Even as bills that aim to make kids safer online have proliferated, they’ve also faced their share of legal challenges. A California court blocked that state’s Age-Appropriate Design Code last year, which sought to address data collection on kids and make platforms more responsible for how their services might harm children. While the court said the law had important aims, it ruled the challenge was likely to prevail on the merits because the law could have a chilling effect on legal speech. “Data and privacy protections intended to shield children from harmful content, if applied to adults, will also shield adults from that same content,” the judge wrote.

This bill is also likely to face pushback. NetChoice, an industry association that brought the California suit, has already called the SAFE for Kids Act unconstitutional. NetChoice vice president and general counsel Carl Szabo said in a statement that the law would “increase children’s exposure to harmful content by requiring websites to order feeds chronologically, prioritizing recent posts about sensitive topics.”

Adam Kovacevich, CEO of center-left tech industry group Chamber of Progress, warned that the SAFE for Kids Act will “face a constitutional minefield” because it deals with what speech platforms can show users. “It’s a well-intentioned effort, but it’s aimed at the wrong target,” he said in a statement. “Algorithmic curation makes teenagers’ feeds healthier, and banning algorithms is going to make social media worse for teens.”

But Hochul told CBS News in an interview about the SAFE for Kids Act, “We’ve checked to make sure, we believe it’s constitutional.”

KSR

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