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New York and Ohio introduce legislation requiring online age assurance

New York and Ohio introduce legislation requiring online age assurance

New York Attorney General Letitia James, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul, State Senator Andrew Gounardes, and Assemblymember Nily Rozic announced two new bills aimed at protecting minors online.

The New York Child Data Protection Act will prohibit all online sites from collecting, using, sharing, or selling personal data of anyone under the age of 18 for advertising unless they receive informed consent or unless doing so is strictly necessary for the website. For minors under 13, this informed consent must come from a parent.

How to determine the age of the person interacting with the website or platform is not specified, however. Options include collecting personal information for age verification, or performing age estimation based on face biometrics. The act also explicitly includes biometrics among a wide range of categories of protected personal data.

The other bill, the Stop Addictive Feeds Exploitation (SAFE) for Kids Act, requires that social media platforms offer youth a default feed that serves up content from channels they follow without suggestions from outside those channels.

SAFE will also allow parents to block social media access and notifications to minors between the hours of midnight and 6:00 a.m. and limit the total number of hours per day that a minor spends on platforms.

This legislation will only impact social media platforms with feeds comprised of user-generated content along with other material that the platform recommends to users based on data it collects from them. Outlets such as Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, Twitter, and YouTube would all be subject to this legislation.

Both bills authorize the Office of the Attorney General to enforce the laws with penalties of up to $5,000 per violation. It also authorizes the parent or guardian of a minor to seek damages of up to $5,000 per user per incident or actual damages, whichever is greater.

The new bills come less than two weeks after Surveillance Technology Oversight Project (S.T.O.P.), a New York-based privacy and civil rights group, released its report, The Kids Won’t Be Alright: The Looming Threat of Child Surveillance Laws, detailing how new online age and identity verification laws threaten internet access for adults and put many teens in harm’s way.

According to S.T.O.P., numerous federal and state proposals would require biometric scans, government ID scans, and other measures deemed invasive to access the internet. Its report claims these laws are especially harmful to LGBTQIA+ youth, undocumented immigrants, abortion seekers, survivors of domestic violence, and disabled communities.

The group noted that past efforts to verify users’ ages and identities had led to collecting invasive data and deterring internet access. They also claim that children and teens can easily circumvent the age-proofing requirements.

Ohio considers age verification requirement for porn companies

Disregarding age restrictions for pornography and creating sexual deepfakes may soon trigger criminal charges in Ohio.

A bill named the Innocence Act has been introduced in the state legislature. It seeks to make the distribution of sexually explicit material without age verification a third-degree felony. Additionally, minors who falsely represent their age to access porn would face a fourth-degree misdemeanor.

“Reasonable age verification methods” would be required, which means using “a commercial age verification system that uses photo identification or public or private transactional data to verify the person’s age.”

The proposed legislation also targets the sale of pornographic deepfakes — content that manipulates facial appearances using artificial intelligence to depict individuals in sexual acts. Distributing such materials is set to be categorized as a third-degree felony.

Other states have already passed similar age-focused laws. For example, North Carolina recently enacted a law mandating age verification for porn distributors. However, several state-level age verification laws, including those passed in California, Texas, and Arkansas, have been ruled unconstitutional by the courts.

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