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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 Thursday aimed at protecting children and teens from the harms of social media, making it the latest state to take action amid a vote on federal proposals.

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

States across the country have taken the lead in creating laws to protect children on the internet — and it’s an area where both Republicans and Democrats agree. While approaches vary somewhat by party, policymakers from both parties have signaled an urgent interest in similar regulations to protect children on the internet. For example, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis (R) signed a bill into law in March that requires parental consent for children under the age of 16 to create social media accounts. And in May, Maryland Governor Wes Moore (D) signed a comprehensive privacy bill into law, as well as the Maryland Kids Code, which bans the use of features like autoplay or spammy notifications to keep minors on social media longer.

While federal legislators have introduced popular proposals like the Kids Online Safety Act (KOSA), they have yet to receive floor votes and still face opposition from some groups who fear the bill could withhold resources for underrepresented groups like the LGBTQ+ community. States have filled the gap, creating a framework of regulation across the country that industry leaders often say is hard for smaller players to keep up with.

"Is anyone holding their breath waiting for a federal solution?" Hochul asked at a celebratory press conference before the signing. "Me neither."

The sponsors of New York's SAFE for Kids Act wrote that it aims to "protect children's mental health from the addictive feeds used by social media platforms and prevent sleep disruptions caused by social media use at night." In addition to algorithm restrictions, it would prevent platforms from sending notifications to minors between midnight and 6 a.m. without their parents' consent. The bill directs the Attorney General's Office to determine appropriate age verification methods and says they cannot rely solely on biometrics or government identification. The law will take effect 180 days after the AG rules, and the state can then fine companies $5,000 per violation.

New York Attorney General Letitia James pointed to opposition from tech industry lobbyists, which politicians had to overcome to pass the bill. "They threw money and we had bodies," James said. "Bodies of parents and parents all across New York state who recognize the dangers of social media."

Despite the plethora of bills aimed at making children safer online, they have also faced legal challenges. Last year, a California court blocked that state's age-appropriate design code, which was intended to address data collection on children and make platforms more responsible for how their services could harm children. While the court said the law had important objectives, it ruled that 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 protect children from harmful content, if applied to adults, would also protect adults from that same content," the judge wrote. This bill is also likely to face opposition. NetChoice, an industry association bringing the California lawsuit, has already called the Safe for Children Act unconstitutional. Carl Szabo, vice president and general counsel of NetChoice, said in a statement that the law "would increase children's exposure to harmful content by requiring websites to order feeds chronologically, with the most recent posts about sensitive topics." Adam Kovacevich, CEO of the center-left tech industry group Chamber of Progress, warned that the SAFE for Kids Act "would face a constitutional landmine" as it relates to 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 teens' feeds healthier, and banning algorithms would make social media even worse for teens." But Hochul told CBS News in an interview about the SAFE for Kids Act, "We've checked to make sure, we think it's constitutional."

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