NY passes bill to ban addictive social media for children. How enforcement will work

New York lawmakers on Friday passed bills banning internet companies from exploiting personal data and using "addictive" algorithms designed to keep kids hooked on social media.

Gov. Kathy Hohul is expected to sign the bills soon as part of ongoing efforts to curb technology's role in fueling the youth mental health crisis. The Democratic governor is also pushing a ban of smartphones in schools that will be debated in coming months.

How New York will enforce addictive social media ban

Big tech companies will face fines of up to $5,000 per violation of the youth data privacy and addictive algorithm ban in New York.

Once approved by Hochul, the Attorney General's Office will devise specific enforcement rules and regulations. The measures will then take effect 180 days after those enforcement details are finalized, state records show.

Letitia James, New York State Attorney General, listens to speakers during the 2nd annual Westchester County Gather Against Hate in Westchester County in 2023. Her office will now be tasked with enforcing the addictive social media ban for kids in New York.
Letitia James, New York State Attorney General, listens to speakers during the 2nd annual Westchester County Gather Against Hate in Westchester County in 2023. Her office will now be tasked with enforcing the addictive social media ban for kids in New York.

The state Attorney General's Office will also investigate and prosecute violations, which means parents and others will have a chance to report complaints to authorities. The agency already has a hotline for social media complaints, (800)771-7755, as well as an online complaint portal.

Social media apps and online companies could also proactively create digital programs and tools to inform consumers of the new data and algorithm rules in New York — similar to the rollout of alerts related to data privacy laws enacted in California in 2020.

How NY's addictive social media ban works

Gov. Kathy Hochul has spent recent weeks pushing her plans to ban tech companies' ability to use addictive social media feeds and collect data in ways that are harmful to children. She is shown during a media briefing in Albany on May 28, 2024.
Gov. Kathy Hochul has spent recent weeks pushing her plans to ban tech companies' ability to use addictive social media feeds and collect data in ways that are harmful to children. She is shown during a media briefing in Albany on May 28, 2024.

The Stop Addictive Feeds Exploitation for Kids Act, will require social media companies to restrict key addictive features on their platforms for users under 18 in New York.

Currently, 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. However, algorithmic feeds have been shown to be addictive because they prioritize content that keeps users on the platform longer, the governor has noted.

NY smartphone ban:Hochul pushes to ban smartphones in NY schools. Will it help address mental health crisis?

Unless parental consent is granted, users under 18 will not receive addictive feeds, Hochul noted. The measure will also prohibit social media platforms from sending notifications regarding addictive feeds to minors from midnight to 6 a.m. without parental consent.

The other bill, called the New York Child Data Protection Act, would 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, that informed consent must come from a parent.

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How bad is youth mental health in NY?

Nationally, teen girls are experiencing record levels of violence, sadness and suicide risk in the United States, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report last year.

Data showed 57% of high school girls felt persistently sad or hopeless in 2021 — a nearly 60% increase and the highest level reported over the past decade. In comparison, 29% of boys the same age reported the same feelings.

About one in five New Yorkers overall was struggling with mental illness in 2022, including about 5% of the state with severe mental illness, the latest statewide analysis found.

National online data privacy push

At the same time, a federal proposal — called the American Privacy Rights Act — has aimed to set nationwide standards for how companies like Meta, TikTok, Google and others can gather, use and sell user data, requiring them to collect only the amount necessary to provide products and services.

That bill would transform how social media companies and online search engines use consumers' personal data in a push to give Americans more control.

Investigation:Families in mental health crisis feel abandoned by NY's care system. Can it be fixed?

What NY lawmakers say about addictive social media ban

Hochul described the addictive algorithm and data privacy measures as a "historic step" forward in New York's push to improve youth mental health and "create a safer digital environment for young people."

“Our children are enduring a mental health crisis, and social media is fueling the fire and profiting from the epidemic," Attorney General Letitia James said in a statement. The push has targeted "the addictive features that have made social media so insidious and anxiety-producing," she added.

“New York is sending a clear message to Big Tech: your profits are not more important than our kids’ privacy and wellbeing," state Sen. Andrew Gounardes, D-Brooklyn, said, noting the bill he championed overcame lobbying opposition from the tech industry.

USA TODAY contributed to this report.

This article originally appeared on Rockland/Westchester Journal News: NY passes ban on addictive social media for children. How it works

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