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Why The California Age Appropriate Design Code is Groundbreaking

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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.


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:

This list was originally published in Safer by Design: How the CA Age Appropriate Design Code Would Change Children’s Online Experiences.


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.

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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).


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.


Published on
September 29, 2022

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