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California is leading the nation when it comes to protecting the privacy of kids online. New legislation has already been sent to Governor Gavin Newsom for final approval. This is excellent news for parents everywhere. Lawmakers are finally standing up to the big social media companies and demanding that they take real, concrete steps to protect kids.
Design for kids, not adults
The legislation, known as the California Age-Appropriate Design Code Act, will prevent big tech companies from exploiting kids for commercial gain. It will prohibit big tech companies from using the personal information of kids in any way that is detrimental to their physical or mental health. And it will stop them from using some of the clever tricks designed to keep adults on their platforms. This would seem like common sense, so it’s remarkable that this has to be codified into law in order to get social media companies to comply.
The problem, quite simply, is the design process in Silicon Valley. The big tech companies design one product for adults, and then just make a few little tweaks here and there in order to release a new product for kids. It’s really the same product, and that’s dangerous for a few reasons. For example, big tech companies love to design products that are “sticky” and “addictive.” Have you ever spent time on YouTube and had one video shown to you, one after another? This auto-play feature can be remarkably addictive. Adults can deal with this a lot better than kids, which is why this age-appropriate design code act would make certain “adult design norms” essentially illegal. Companies will either have to turn off some of their default settings or design an entirely new product that is child-friendly.
Pushback from Big Tech
As might be expected, this new legislation doesn’t sit well with Big Tech. The only company that has publicly commented on it is Meta, which is already in a bit of hot water with legislators and regulators. Big tech lobbying groups, speaking on behalf of other tech companies, have said they will oppose the legislation because the scope of it is “too broad” and it will be “too costly” to implement. Read between the lines, and it’s clear that the big tech companies are hinting that all of those new costs are going to be passed on to consumers.
While nobody wants to deal with a paid version of products to cover the costs of designing an entirely new social media network for kids, the important point to keep in mind here is that the Big Tech companies know what’s really going on and are turning a blind eye to it. Facebook, for example, has been dealing with the fallout from the “Facebook Files,” a leaked set of papers and documents that detail some of the mental ills encountered by children and teens. We’ve all heard how social media platforms like Instagram can impact teens psychologically, and it’s obvious that Facebook knows about it also.
So, again, it’s great news to see California lawmakers pass new social media protections for minors. This legislation, coming from the home state of the world’s biggest tech companies, has the potential to become the template for similar legislation in every other state as well. It’s impossible for parents to know all the ins and outs of the social media apps their kids are using, and so it’s great that they can sleep soundly at night, knowing that products originally designed for adults will soon be a thing of the past for their kids.