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NY's New 'SAFE for Kids Act' and 'NY Child Data Protection Act' Target Online Businesses

New York state has two new laws this week aiming to protect children on the internet. 

The Stop Addictive Feeds Exploitation (SAFE) For Kids Act requires social media companies to restrict addictive feeds on their platforms for users under 18 years of age. 

The New York Child Data Protection Act prohibits all online sites from collecting, using, sharing or selling personal data of anyone under the age of 18, unless they receive, “informed consent or unless doing so is strictly necessary for the purpose of the website.”

The SAFE for Kids Act requires social media platforms to stop using addictive algorithm feeds on accounts used by children under 18. Parents will now be allowed to opt their kids out of feeds created by an algorithm. Instead, children would see a chronological feed of content only from users they independently chose to follow. In addition, the social media feeds will be prohibited, from midnight to 6 a.m., from even sending child accounts notices of addictive content without parental consent.

Algorithms are automated systems that social media platforms use to keep users engaged, by feeding them what critics call inflammatory, outrage, and crisis-driven content they did not request. The U.S. Surgeon General has called algorithms an intentional act by social media platforms to drive eyeballs to their content for pecuniary gain, and said social media overuse is a harmful, addictive epidemic causing mental and physical illness, especially in young people. 

Most large social media platforms acknowledge their algorithms are designed to suggest content based on the groups, friends, topics and headlines that a user has clicked on in the past. But independent researchers and parental industry watchdogs have claimed they also feed young people content they did not previously search, but that are known to be highly addictive to other young users, including inappropriate, dangerous content about self-harm, body dysmorphism, shame, peer pressure, substance abuse, bullying, or phishing scams, to name a few. 

In the press release, state lawmakers described these harmful social media practices as addictive feeds, that at best, “facilitate unhealthy levels of social media use,” estimated to average between three to five hours of scrolling daily. 

The New York Child Data Protection Act is a total ban by all internet sites on the collecting, using, sharing or selling of child data absent an express parental consent or an absolute necessity, replacing the former “legitimate business purpose” language.

Other states have attempted similar legislation, but those laws have come under criticism, such as the new child internet use laws in Utah, Louisiana, Arkansas, Florida, and Texas. These put more of the focus and responsibility on parents to enforce, or they sought to restrict based upon certain content. Both approaches are seen as difficult to enforce and possibly violative of federal free speech protections. The New York law appears to be sidestepping those pitfalls by prohibiting the platforms, not parents, from adding unsolicited “suggestions” to minors' feeds, and by creating a default ban by all sites on the collection and use of child data absent some affirmative requirement or express parental consent. 

The NY Attorney General's Office will be enforcing the new laws with civil fines of up to $5,000 per violation, among other remedies, and determining acceptable age verification and parent consent methods as part of the rulemaking process.

Office of Mental Health Commissioner Dr. Ann Sullivan, “New York State is once again leading the way by adopting laws to protect our youth from the negative impact of social media and the harmful algorithms they use[.]'