New York Attorney General Endorses Legislation to Protect Children Online

On June 7, 2024, the New York Attorney General announced that it applauds the passage of two legislative bills designed to protect children online and address the youth mental health in conjunction with the use of social media.

The bills, sponsored by Senator Andrew Gounardes and Assemblymember Nily Rozic, and advanced by Attorney General James in October 2023, are designed to protect children by prohibiting online websites from collecting and sharing their personal data and ”limiting addictive features of social media platforms that are known to harm their mental health and development.   The nation-leading legislation will serve as a model for other states to follow as governments work to curb the most dangerous aspects of social media to protect children online.”

“Our children are enduring a mental health crisis, and social media is fueling the fire and profiting from the epidemic,” said Attorney General James.  “The legislation my team worked on and supported along with bill sponsors Senator Gounardes and Assemblymember Rozic will help address the addictive features that have made social media so insidious and anxiety-producing.  I applaud Governor Hochul, Senate Majority Leader Stewart-Cousins, Assembly Speaker Heastie, and the legislative majorities for supporting this legislation and for agreeing that protecting children’s mental health must be a top priority.  New York state is once again leading the nation, and I hope other states will follow suit and pass legislation to protect children and put their mental health above big tech companies’ profits.”

According the New York AG’s office, “multiple studies have found a link between excessive social media use, poor sleep quality, and poor mental health among young people.  Algorithmic feeds, which are designed to harness personal data to serve users content to keep them on the platform for as long as possible, have increased the addictive nature of social media platforms and heightened the risk to young users’ wellbeing.”  “Additionally, children are vulnerable to having their location and other personal data tracked, shared, and sold online.  This data, which is used without consent and often without knowledge, fuels a multi-billion dollar advertising industry targeted at minors.  Moreover, that data is at greater risk of falling into the wrong hands, including human traffickers and others who might prey on young people,” according to the press release.

“New York is leading the nation to protect our kids from addictive social media feeds and shield their personal data from predatory companies,” said New York Governor Kathy Hochul.  “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 James and bill sponsors Senator Gounardes and Assemblymember Rozic for their vital partnership in advancing this transformative legislation.”

“As we navigate the threats social media poses to our youth in today’s ever-evolving technological landscape, I’m proud that, under my leadership, the Senate Majority created the Senate’s Internet and Technology Committee to focus on these issues,” saidSenate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins.  “I thank Attorney General Letitia James and Bill Sponsor Senator Gounardes for their diligent work on this legislation and collaborating with stakeholders and colleagues to reach an agreement that best supports our youth in achieving healthier social media usage.  Together, we will continue to take all necessary actions to protect the mental well-being of our children.”

“As technology evolves, so must the ways we protect our kids from harm – both on and offline,” said Speaker Carl Heastie.  “These bills will give parents the tools to help protect kids from predatory practices that impact their mental health by eliminating the addictive personalized feeds and will make online privacy the default for New York’s children, preventing companies from collecting and using their data.  Thank you to our Assembly sponsor Nily Rozic and to Governor Kathy Hochul, Attorney General Letitia James and our partners in the Senate for all the work they’ve done on this to make online spaces safer for kids.”

“I first introduced legislation to protect kids online back in 2022 because as a father of two young kids I knew we had to rein in social media, and I knew it would be a fight,” said bill sponsor Senator Andrew Gounardes.  “Now thanks to the relentless advocacy of young people, parents, educators, and advocates, we beat Big Tech.  We’ve reached a deal to pass strong legislation that will protect kids’ privacy and let them enjoy social media free from the unwanted content they didn’t sign up for.  It would not have been possible without the extraordinary collaboration of Governor Hochul, Attorney General Letitia James, Assemblymember Rozic, and legislative leadership.  This is a necessary and nation-leading step for families across New York, and I couldn’t be prouder.”

“We must do all that we can to protect our kids from the harmful influence of addictive algorithms and unchecked data collection, the passage of the SAFE for Kids Act and the NY Child Data Protection Act are the straightforward first step in that effort,” saidbill sponsor Assemblymember Nily Rozic.  “These new laws signal that New York is taking the lead in putting New Yorkers’ safety and privacy at the forefront.  I thank Governor Hochul, Attorney General James, and Senator Gounardes for their collaborative efforts in order to protect young people in the digital age.”

The New York Attorney General worked with the bill sponsors to craft legislation designed to address these issues.  The two pieces of legislation introduced in October 2023 are designed to add  protections for children and young adults online by restricting the collection of minors’ personal data and changing how young users are served content on social media platforms to reduce the harms of addictive features that keep children on those platforms for longer periods of time.  Both bills have been passed by the State Senate and State Assembly, and earned the support of Governor Hochul.

Stop Addictive Fees Exploitation (SAFE) for Kids Act

The Stop Addictive Feeds Exploitation (SAFE) for Kids Act will require social media companies to restrict the addictive features on their platforms that most harm young users.  Some platforms supplement the content that users view from the accounts they follow by serving them content from accounts they do not follow or subscribe to.  This content is curated using algorithms that gather and display content based on a variety of factors.  Algorithmic feeds have “been shown to be addictive because they prioritize content that keeps users on the platform longer.”  According to the NY AG, “addictive feeds are correlated with an increase in the amount of time that teens and young adults spend on social media and significant negative mental health outcomes for minors. ”

To address this problem, the legislation will:

  • Prohibit users under 18 from viewing addictive feeds on social media platforms without parental consent.  These users will receive a chronological feed of content from accounts they already follow or of generally popular content – the same way that social media feeds functioned before the advent of addictive feeds.  Users may also search for specific topics of interest, connect with friends, and join groups. Other algorithms such as those used for search functions or filtering unwanted or obscene content will still be permitted.
  • Prohibit social media platforms from sending notifications to minors from 12:00 a.m. and 6:00 a.m. without verifiable parental consent.
  • Authorize the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) to bring an action to enjoin or seek damages or civil penalties of up to $5,000 per violation.

Takeaway:  This legislation will impact social media platforms where feeds comprised of user-generated content and supplemented with other material that the platform recommends to users based on data it collects from them are a significant part of the service provided by the site.  For example, Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, Twitter, and YouTube would all likely be subject to this legislation.

New York Child Data Protection Act

“With few privacy protections in place for minors online, children are vulnerable to having their personal data, including their location data, used or sold to third parties without their awareness or consent,” according the the New York AG’s office.  “In many cases, this data is used for highly-targeted advertising to minors.”

A recent study from the Harvard Chan School of Public Health found that the six largest social media platforms generated $11 billion in 2022 from advertising to minors.  “Platforms use the significant data they collect from minors to target advertising to them in ways that are highly personalized to their demographics and usage patterns.  All of this occurs without any oversight or consent.  To protect children’s privacy,the New York Child Data Protection Act will prohibit 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.  For users under 13, this informed consent must come from a parent.  The bill authorizes OAG to enforce the law and may enjoin or seek damages or civil penalties of up to $5,000 per violation. ”

Takeaway:  This legislation is part of the New York Attorney General’s ongoing efforts to protect New Yorkers online and address concerns with social media companies.

Richard B. Newman is an eCommerce lawyer at Hinch Newman LLP.  Follow FTC defense attorney on National Law Review.

Informational purposes only. Not legal advice. May be considered attorney advertising.

Richard Newman

Richard B. Newman is a nationally recognized FTC advertising compliance, CID investigation and regulatory enforcemetn attorney. He regularly provides advertising counsel and represents clients in high-profile investigations and enforcement proceedings initiated by the Federal Trade Commission, state attorneys general, departments of consumer affairs, and other federal and state agencies with jurisdiction over advertising and marketing practices. Richard is also an ecommerce lawyer and spam defense attorney. His practice additionally focuses upon false advertising defense, data privacy, cybersquatting, intellectual property law and transactional matters relating to the dissemination of national advertising campaigns, including the gamut of affiliate marketing, telemarketing, lead generation, list management and licensing agreements. Richard advises clients on how to minimize the legal risks associated with digital marketing, email marketing, telemarketing, social media influencer campaigns, endorsements and testimonials, negative option marketing models, native advertising, online promotions and comparative advertising,





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