California’s AADC: A bill to strengthen data protection for children

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As the draft data privacy legislation continues to stall, California is leading the way for other states in the privacy field. 

This time, California lawmakers focused on children’s online privacy and safety. Passed unanimously, the California Age-Appropriate Design Code Act (AADC) is now awaiting Governor Gavin Newsom’s signature. 

Dubbed the « Kids Code, » the law would require companies to impose a series of safeguards designed to protect children beginning July 1, 2024. California legislators also recently passed AB 587, the Social Media Accountability and Transparency Act.

Despite the popularity of social networking, video games and other platforms aimed at children, it has been more than two decades since U.S. lawmakers passed any meaningful regulations on children’s online activity.

The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act of 1998 (COPPA) helped address the rapid growth of online marketing techniques targeting children.

However, the COPPA is limited in scope because it only applies to commercial websites or online services that specifically target children, and thus only protects the privacy of children under the age of 13.

The California ADCA would go much further. First, it would apply to all businesses covered by the California Privacy Rights Act (CPRA) that provide online products, services, and features that may be accessed by children, not just those that target children.

Second, the CPRA defines a child as anyone under the age of 18, which extends privacy protection to all children, not just the youngest. 

However, some of the AADC’s requirements are more ambiguous. By way of example, companies should consider the « best interests » of children when designing and developing their products or services, so as to prioritize « the privacy, safety, and well-being of children over commercial interests, » including taking into account the « unique needs of different age groups. »

It is not necessarily clear how, in practice, companies that operate sites or apps that are accessible to both adults and children would be able to comply with this requirement, nor is it clear how a commercial company might be able to assess the best interests of a child.

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