New California bill requires social media companies to prioritise children’s mental health

California lawmakers on August 30, approved a bill requiring technology companies to put the welfare of children before profit when designing apps or other products online. The bill heads to the office of Governor Gavin Newsom, whose signature is needed for the Age Appropriate Design Code Act to become law in the state where Silicon Valley titans like Meta, Google and Apple.

Assemblymember Buffy Wicks’ office said the bill, AB 2273, passed unanimously. If enacted, companies that create apps or websites would have to build child protections into their products, even if they’re intended for adults, according to the bill.

“Companies that develop and provide online services, products or features that are accessible to children must consider the best interests of children when designing, developing and providing such online service, product or functionality,” the bill’s text says.

“If a conflict arises between business interests and the best interests of children, companies must prioritize the privacy, safety, and well-being of children over business interests.

The law would prevent tech companies from profiling children, selling their data, estimating their age, or designing features that harm their well-being, Wicks said in a tweet.

If a social media platform violates the rules in the bill, it will be fined up to $2,500 per affected child for each violation and more than $7,500 per affected child for each intentional violation, the bill’s text said.

The trade association NetChoice, whose members include Google, Meta, and TikTok, called on the California governor to veto the bill, along with two others seeking to regulate the operation of online platforms.

One of the bills requires social media platforms to publicly disclose their policies regarding online hate, disinformation, extremism, and harassment, as well as key metrics and data regarding the enforcement of those policies.

“California has been a leader in developing technology, but the legislature’s actions would give innovators yet another reason to leave the Golden State to avoid overly onerous regulation that harms families and violates the First Amendment,” said Jennifer Huddleston, NetChoice policy advisor.

NetChoice argued that there are better policies the state could use to help parents keep kids safe online and support teen mental health.