California Social Media Bill Could Force Big Tech To Run Facial Scans On Children

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Laurel Duggan Social Issues and Culture Reporter
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California legislators passed a bill Tuesday that, if signed by Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom, will require social media companies to consider the mental health of minors that use their products before releasing them to the public.

The legislation would require companies to bolster privacy and security measures for products likely to be used by children and to consider and address potential mental health risks they pose to children. The bill comes amid increasing pressure on companies like TikTok and Instagram following a 2021 report that Facebook, Instagram’s parent company, knew its products were harming teenage girls’ mental health but didn’t fix the issues.

“California is home to the tech innovation space, and we welcome that,” Democratic state Assemblymember Buffy Wicks said, according to The Wall Street Journal. “But I also want to make sure our children are safe, and right now, they are not safe.” (RELATED: YouTube Is Bombarding People With Ads To ‘Inoculate’ Them Against ‘Misinformation’)

Social media companies would have to disclose their privacy policies in language children can understand, ban the profiling of children and the use of features that encourage kids to divulge private information and ban precise location tracking of children without notifying them first. It would also forbid companies from using children’s personal data in a way that harms their mental health.

Companies would need to examine the potential harms their products could cause to children, share their findings with the state’s attorney general and mitigate those risks before releasing products to the public.

The legislation has drawn criticism over concerns that its age verification requirement would prompt companies to collect users’ private data, including through possible face scans to confirm users’ identities. Santa Clara University law school Professor Eric Goldman called the bill a “trojan horse for comprehensive regulation of Internet services” and raised concerns that the bill would create burdensome online barriers for users of all ages.

The bill was passed unanimously in bipartisan votes in both chambers of the Democrat-dominated state Legislature, but tech companies are now pressuring Newsom to veto the bill, claiming that different state-level laws make compliance difficult, according to the WSJ.

Facebook, TikTok and Newsom did not respond to the Daily Caller News Foundation’s requests for comment.

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