The California Age Appropriate Design Code (CA Kids Code) is a groundbreaking bill that requires online platforms to proactively consider how their product design impacts the privacy and safety of children and teens in California. The bill was unanimously passed in the CA state legislature and signed into law by Gov. Gavin Newsom just this past month.
The CA Kids Code is a novel piece of legislation that reimagines how technology can be designed, sets precedent for changes in states across the US, and attacks the surveillance attention economy.
WHAT DOES THE CA KIDS CODE DO?
The Kids Code requires that companies prioritize the safety and privacy of Californian children by default and in the design of their products. For example, default settings for users under 18 must now be set to the highest privacy level. This design-by-default approach mitigates harm upstream before it occurs, as opposed to adjusting products to reduce harm downstream after it has occurred.
Most importantly, the CA Kids Code has established a level of fiduciary care for platforms when it comes to minors: if a conflict of interest arises between what is best for the platform and what is best for a user under 18, the child’s best interest must come first.
Modeled after the successful UK Age Appropriate Design Code (AADC), the CA Kids Code will compel tech platforms to implement changes prioritizing the well-being of youth:
DEBUNKING CA KIDS CODE MYTHS
Over 90% of California voters support the CA Kids Code, despite tech platforms and trade groups who lobbied against the bill. These tech groups raised three main concerns about the bill that are worth clarifying.
- Myth #1: The bill applies to practically every website on the internet because it targets websites "likely to be accessed by kids" (anyone under 18).
The CA Kids Code applies to for-profit entities that either 1) make $25 million+ in annual gross revenue, 2) buy or sell the personal information of 100,000+ users, or 3) have at least 50% of annual revenue from selling or sharing consumers’ personal information. If a for-profit entity meets any of these three criteria, then the CA Kids Code will apply to the entity's products or services whose users include a significant number of CA children and teens. These products and services will need to comply with the Code for all kids in CA.
- Myth #2: The bill forces websites to verify everyone's ages, forcing companies to collect government IDs or conduct biometric scans to verify users’ identities.
The CA Kids Code asks platforms to reasonably estimate users' ages by sorting users into likely age bands. It also specifies that platforms should use existing data to do so. (This method is not only possible, but platforms use age estimation to target advertising).
The CA Kids Code does not require age verification nor is it a likely outcome of the bill as there has been no age verification scheme in the UK following the UK's AADC.
- Myth #3: The bill will set a dangerous precedent of states creating their own contradicting bills, making the internet unusable.
While it is possible that states may pass contradicting kids’ protection bills, it is more likely that we see some version of the “Brussels Effect” – either states will use the CA Kids Code as a model for their own, or tech platforms will apply the highest standard of care federally by default, as this will reduce operational burden.
The passing of the CA Kids Code will not only make tech platforms safer for kids, but it may also have positive ripple effects across the entire tech ecosystem. Here are a few encouraging implications:
The CA Kids Code Confronts Surveillance Advertising
In restricting data collection and revoking surveillance advertising of kids, the CA Kids Code targets the mechanisms powering social media’s business models. First, reducing the data platforms can collect will shrink platforms’ training data sets, weakening their algorithms. Second, it eliminates a lucrative customer segment (under-18-year-olds) from the surveillance advertising market.
The CA Kids Code Proves Better Technology is Possible
In requiring more humane design models and a fiduciary standard of care for kids, the CA Kids Code proves that platform harm is not just the “cost of doing business.” Instead, it shows that technology products can be designed with our best interests in mind. The CA Kids Code may encourage stakeholders to advocate for applying the same standard of care across the internet to all users, not just kids.
The CA Kids Code Opens the Door for Bigger Changes
The CA Kids Code is likely to impact users beyond just California in several ways. First, platforms may proactively apply the CA Kids Code standards throughout the US rather than creating a different platform experience just for Californian kids. Second, the bill may become the basis for other state design codes, establishing a unified block of legislation. Finally, the bill may usher in federal changes by forcing Washington to establish a unified system or pass other kids’ protection bills such as the Kids Online Safety Act (KOSA) and the Children and Teens Online Privacy Protection Act upgrade (COPPA 2.0).
WHAT COMES NEXT?
The CA Kids Code will go into effect in California starting July 2024.
In the meantime, we have an opportunity to expand the benefits of the CA Kids Code across the US by supporting state and federal bills that take a similar approach to protect children’s safety online. Today, the Kids Online Safety Act (KOSA) and Children and Teens Online Privacy and Protection Act (COPPA 2.0) are ready for a Senate vote.
If you’d like to learn more about these bills, our partner, Fairplay, put together an informational video and resources to take action.
WHAT WE’RE READING, LISTENING TO, AND WATCHING
- Last week we attended Unfinished Live, where Tristan Harris (Executive Director) and Maria Bridge (Chief Operating Officer) spoke about The Wisdom Gap. Other sessions of interest included:
- ~Nobel Peace Prize Winner Maria Ressa offered insights for upholding truth and democracy.
- ~Ruha Benjamin, author of Race After Technology: Abolitionist Tools for the New Jim Code; Safiya Noble, author of Algorithms of Oppression; and Meredith Broussard, author of Artificial Unintelligence: How Computers Misunderstand the World, spoke about finding equity in an increasingly digitized and algorithmically- determined world.
- ~Jonathan Haidt, Professor at New York University Stern School of Business, discussed how social media impacts youth and polarizes our communities.
- Nobel Peace Prize laureates Maria Ressa and Dmitry Muratov offer a 10-point plan to address our information crisis. The plan provides specific steps that democratic governments, the EU, and the UN can do to 1) end the surveillance-for-profit business model, 2) end tech discrimination, and 3) rebuild independent journalism.
- Ifeoma Ozoma, Pinterest whistleblower, co-sponsor of the Silenced No More Act, and Founder of Earthseed, discusses “Urgency and Agency in Technology Policy.” She shares her approach to improving the extractive tech ecosystem, including the need to take a practical approach to systemic change and the realities of trying to change a system while working within it.
- Leading experts are concerned about how the attention economy impacts everything from cognition to well-being. In “We once had a law to defend human attention. It’s time for an update,” Justin Zorn and Leigh Marz explore how the Noise Control Act of 1972 can be a model for legislation to protect our attention.