Watchdogs Urge Judge To Uphold California Kids' Online Safety Law

Advocacy groups, former Facebook executive Frances Haugen and various current and federal lawmakers urging a federal judge to uphold a California law restricting some companies' ability to collect data from minors, and require those companies to prioritize minors' “best interests” and “well-being.”

The state's Age Appropriate Design Code (AB 2273) “is a sensible and effective means of confronting tech’s harmful business model,” the Electronic Privacy Information, Haugen, and others say in a proposed friend-of-the-court brief filed Friday with U.S. District Court Judge Beth Labson Freeman in San Jose.

They are urging Freeman to reject a challenge to the law by the tech industry group NetChoice, which aims to block the measure.

The state's new law specifically limits the ability of online companies that are likely to be accessed by minors under 18 to collect or share their personal information.

The law includes provisions prohibiting companies from using minors' data to make recommendations, and requiring companies to “prioritize the privacy, safety, and well-being of children over commercial interests.”

Among other arguments, NetChoice says the law violates the First Amendment by interfering with decisions about editorial content, and says the mandate to prioritize minors' well-being is unconstitutionally vague.

The Electronic Privacy Information Act and others contend that the law only regulates companies' ability to use data to personalize content, but doesn't otherwise affect companies' editorial decisions.

“A platform would not have to remove or even demote any content to comply,” with the law, the groups write. “Platforms could show users whatever content they like -- as long as the companies ensure that that they are not using children’s data to target information to them.”

Haugen testified to Congress in October of 2021 that Facebook repeatedly chose profits over teen users' well-being.

At around the same time, she exposed damaging information about the company -- including that its internal research showed Instagram harmed many teen girls.

Other groups, including children's advocacy organization Fairplay, argued in a separate friend-of-the-court brief that social media companies' current design and recommendation systems harm children -- in part by allegedly encouraging them to spend more time on the platforms.

Those groups write that blocking the law “would mean that children would continue to lack any protection on a wide range of products they use on a daily basis.”

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