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New York to Pass Laws for Children's Online Safety

One bill will prohibit social media companies from providing "addictive" content feeds to minors without parent consent, and the other will prohibit websites from processing a minor's personal data without consent.

Side view of a child laying on their stomach looking at a laptop surrounded by many digital symbols like locks, globes, people and graphs.
(TNS) — State lawmakers moved on Friday to approve two major children's online safety bills that represent the first meaningful legislation on Internet security and regulations since 2000, a move that one Canton mother and online safety advocate is lauding.

On Friday, the Assembly passed the SAFE for Kids Act and the New York Child Data Protection Act, just a day after the Senate passed the same bills. They now go to Gov. Kathleen C. Hochul's desk for a signature, something she has already pledged to do.

The SAFE for Kids Act will prohibit social media companies from providing "addictive" algorithm-generated content feeds to kids under age 18 without parental consent, and requires that they instead offer a "non-addictive" feed when that consent is not provided. It will also require social media platforms implement a block on notifications to children's devices between the hours of midnight and 6 a.m. without parental consent.

Enforcing these rules falls to the state attorney general's office, which can seek legal damages when a platform is demonstrated to violate the law. The law will go into effect, once signed, 180 days after the AG publishes a final set of rules and regulations to enforce the provisions of the law.

The New York Child Data Protection Act will prohibit websites from gathering, using, sharing or otherwise processing personal data of people under age 18 without express, informed consent from the user, and prohibits the disclosure of minors data to third parties without a written agreement with the user authorizing that specific disclosure.

This bill also relies on the AG to enforce the law when online platforms demonstrably violate it. It will go into effect one year after it's formally signed into law.

Mary C. Rodee, an advocate from Canton, started championing online safety legislation after she lost her 15-year-old son Riley K. Basford to suicide in 2021 after he was targeted online. Riley was a sophomore at Potsdam Central School.

Rodee said she was overjoyed to hear that New York is on the forefront of kids online safety legislation.

"It feels so good to have it be our state," she said. "I am so excited."

Rodee said she is disappointed that action on federal legislation hasn't moved forward, but is hopeful that the move in New York, where some of the largest social media companies maintain offices, would spur progress.

"Maybe we will make progress, if they have to adhere to these stricter state standards then hopefully by default it'll be easiest for them to make all their programs safer," she said.

Some opponents to the laws have called into question how the platform operators are expected to verify users' ages in a reasonably secure and accurate way, but Rodee said she's not particularly concerned over that.

"The idea that age verification for this will be the first time the kids have ever been tracked, let's get real," she said. "We know that by the time kids are 10 years old, Meta has collected millions of information and data points on them. I think getting caught up on that is just a way for the naysayers to continue to derail any progress."

Hochul, who pledged to sign these bills into law, lauded their passage in a statement shared minutes after the votes on Friday.

"New York is leading the nation to protect our kids from addictive social media feeds and shield their personal data from predatory companies," Hochul said. "Together, we've taken a historic step forward in our efforts to address the youth mental health crisis and create a safer digital environment for young people. I am grateful to Attorney General (Letitia) James, Majority Leader (Andrea) Stewart-Cousins and Speaker (Carl) Heastie, and bill sponsors Senator (Andrew) Gounardes and Assemblymember (Nily) Rozic for their vital partnership in advancing this transformative legislation."

©2024 Watertown Daily Times (Watertown, N.Y.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.