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Opinion: Here's why Gov. Newsom should sign bill to protect online privacy of vulnerable minors

San Diego Union-Tribune - 9/9/2022

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The evidence has long been clear that, for all its pluses, the internet has had a vast and often negative effect on the mental health of young users. In a development that didn't get the attention it deserved, the American Academy of Pediatrics warned last fall that the deterioration in child and adolescent mental health had become a "national emergency." With a stunning 46 percent of U.S. children aged 13-17 telling Pew Research this spring they were "almost constantly" online — "exposing them to bullying, rumor spreading, unrealistic views of other people's lives and peer pressure," in the words of the Mayo Clinic — the risks they face are obvious. No wonder teen depression increased acutely starting in 2007, the year of the first iPhone.

Thankfully, the Legislature has realized the scope and seriousness of this problem and, without a single no vote, sent Assembly Bill 2273 to Gov. Gavin Newsom. If enacted, it would require California businesses providing online services or products likely to be used by minors to increase their sites' default privacy protections by July 2024. A primary goal is to sharply limit the collecting, selling, sharing or stockpiling of any personal information on minors, including location data, unless such information is directly necessary to provide services. A stated goal is to reduce children-targeted marketing — about weight-loss products and material goods, among many examples — to reduce dangerous body- and status-shaming. It's early, but the passage of a similar law in Britain a year ago has led to changes by YouTube, TikTok and Google that discourage and limit obsessive internet use.

Even supporters acknowledge that some bill provisions are vague. But it is a thoughtful, constructive attempt to address a profound problem.

This story originally appeared in San Diego Union-Tribune.

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