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Kids’ Code bill passed in California, apps must be child-safe by default

A Californian bill colloquially known as the Kids’ Code has been unanimously passed by the State Senate, following earlier approval by the State Assembly. It now requires the signature of Gov. Gavin Newsom to take effect.

The California Age-Appropriate Design Code Act addresses a key loophole in the equivalent federal law, the much weaker Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act of 1998 …


There is widespread bipartisan agreement that apps designed for use by children should meet higher privacy and safety standards than those aimed at adults.

However, critics of the nationally effective Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act say that protections are limited to children under the age of 13, and only where the app is specifically aimed at children. This ignores the fact that teens use a great many apps not specifically targeted at them.

Kids’ Code

This is the problem the new act sets out to solve. It requires developers and websites to ensure that child safety is built in by default. The New York Times reports:

California lawmakers have passed the first statute in the nation requiring apps and sites to install guardrails for users under 18. The new rules would compel many online services to curb the risks that certain popular features — like allowing strangers to message one another — may pose to child users.

The bill, the California Age-Appropriate Design Code Act, could herald a shift in the way lawmakers regulate the tech industry. Rather than wade into heated political battles over online content, the legislation takes a practical, product-safety approach. It aims to hold online services to the same kinds of basic safety standards as the automobile industry — essentially requiring apps and sites to install the digital equivalent of seatbelts and airbags for younger users.

“The digital ecosystem is not safe by default for children,” said Buffy Wicks, a Democrat in the State Assembly who co-sponsored the bill with a Republican colleague, Jordan Cunningham. “We think the Kids’ Code, as we call it, would make tech safer for children by essentially requiring these companies to better protect them.”

One of the prompts for the legislation was controversy over the app.

The app had a feature that would allow users to connect with other users in their area via a “my city” tab, which would surface “a list of other users within a 50-mile radius, and with whom the user could connect and interact with by following the user or sending direct messages.” The suit alleges that this combination of failures created a situation that could potentially turn into a dangerous and predatory environment for children.

Thousands of parents are said to have complained to developer that their children were using the app without their consent and that the app made it easy for adults posing as children to send inappropriate messages to minors.

This was fixed when Apple partnered with the app.

Supporters of the bill hope that once it becomes law, in 2024, developers will take the easier path of enacting protections nationwide, instead of a special version for Californian users.

Photo: Leon Seibert/Unsplash

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Avatar for Ben Lovejoy Ben Lovejoy

Ben Lovejoy is a British technology writer and EU Editor for 9to5Mac. He’s known for his op-eds and diary pieces, exploring his experience of Apple products over time, for a more rounded review. He also writes fiction, with two technothriller novels, a couple of SF shorts and a rom-com!

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