Although these laws apply only in the U.K. and California, experts say they may still protect minors in other places, as online services may choose to introduce their changes globally. In the wake of such legislation, many major platforms have announced new safeguards for younger users worldwide: TikTok has promised to stop sending app notifications to teens at night, for example, while Facebook and Google have begun restricting the way advertisers can tailor messages to minors on their sites.
Congress could eventually enact a federal law. Last July, senators introduced the Kids Online Safety Act (KOSA), under which platforms would have a duty to protect young people in a variety of ways, including preventing the promotion of harmful behaviors, giving parents of children under 16 the ability to opt out of algorithmic recommendations, and keeping third parties from accessing minors’ data. The bipartisan bill failed to make it out of the Senate last year, but lawmakers say they’re working to get it reintroduced this session.
Some civil liberties experts have concerns, however, arguing that legislation that singles out children would require companies to do the same, increasing their surveillance of everyone simply to identify those young users covered under the new law. Instead, they say, we should be focusing on privacy for all.
“There’s a clear need to have a federal privacy law that protects everyone,” says India McKinney, director of federal affairs for the Electronic Frontier Foundation. “Let’s do comprehensive privacy for everyone and see how that works. And if we need to put additional privacy protections in place [for kids] after that, then let’s talk about it.”
Still, other advocates—including Edward, who campaigned in favor of California’s bill—feel that these privacy efforts are moving in the right direction.
“I don’t know what’s going on with my data—and this is for the rest of my life,” Edward says. “I don’t want my data to be taken and used against me—almost manipulating me—especially at such a young age.”