California Bill Lets Parents Block Algorithmic Feeds for Children

A hand holds a smartphone while scrolling through the feed.

Social media has been a bit like the old Wild West; there are few regulations, and, as we are learning, the apps are fraught with potential danger. A pair of proposed California regulations attempt to protect minors, aiming to reduce the impact the platforms can have.

On Monday, California’s state Attorney General Rob Bonta, State Senator Nancy Skinner, and Assemblymember Buffy Wicks proposed the Protecting Youth from Social Media Addiction Act (SB 976) and California Children’s Data Privacy Act (AB 1949), as Engadget reported. Both bills aim to protect those under 18 and offer more control for parents.

SB 976 explicitly targets the algorithmic feeds that dominate social media these days.

“Social media companies have designed their platforms to addict users, especially our kids. Countless studies show that once a young person has a social media addiction, they experience higher rates of depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem,” California Senator Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley) writes in a press release. “We’ve waited long enough for social media companies to act. SB 976 is needed now to establish sensible guardrails so parents can protect their kids from these preventable harms.”

The proposed bill would allow parents to remove the algorithmic feed from their child’s social media channels, which companies typically design to be addictive and profitable. Parents would instead have the option to choose between the default algorithm-based feed or a chronological feed that is less habit-forming.

Beyond changing the feed, the proposed bill would also allow parents to block all social media notifications if passed. Additionally, parents could have the option to prevent their children from accessing social media platforms during school hours or nighttime, helping to set healthier boundaries.

Bill AB 1949 would work to strengthen data privacy for California children under 18. If passed, it promises California residents the right to know what personal information social media companies gather and sell. It would also allow them to prevent their children’s data from being sold to third parties. All exceptions would require “informed consent,” which must be from the parent in the case of children under 13.

AB 1949 also would close existing loopholes in the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), which doesn’t effectively protect the data of 17-year-olds. Currently, the CCPA offers the most protections for children under 16.

“This bill is a crucial step in our work to close the gaps in our privacy laws that have allowed tech giants to exploit and monetize our kids’ sensitive data with impunity,” wrote Wicks (D-Oakland).

The timing of both bills may be purposeful to coincide with a US Senate hearing (with five Big Tech CEOs in tow) on Wednesday to discuss children’s online safety. The two proposed bills follow a CA child safety bill that was set to go into effect this year but is now on hold due to a lawsuit brought by Meta, Google, and other tech giants. California is also part of a coalition of 41 states that sued Meta in October for harming the mental health of children. Meta, for its part, is handing over data to the Center for Open Science for a study related to well-being.