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Florida law brings age verification for adult sites, bans social media for users under 14

Florida law brings age verification for adult sites, bans social media for users under 14
 

Florida governor Ron de Santis has signed House Bill 3 (HB 3) to enact a law requiring social media platforms to implement age verification safeguards to prevent kids under 14 from creating accounts, and to delete existing accounts belonging to minors on request. The law also stipulates that 14- or 15-year old kids wanting accounts must provide parental consent.

For adult content sites requiring users to be over 18, the law also requires that apps and websites offer the option of “anonymous age verification,” which, according to a report in The Verge, “is defined as verification by a third party that cannot retain identifying information after the task is complete.” Although it applies broadly to any site on which more than one third of the content qualifies as “material harmful to minors,” certain sectors, such as porn and gambling, will be in the center of the regulatory target.

Penalties for breaking run up to a maximum of $50,000, for “knowing or reckless” violations.

In an interview with NPR, Carl Szabo of NetChoice, a tech industry association advocating on behalf of major social media platforms for “free enterprise and free expression,” argues that the law sets Floridians up for a major infringement on their privacy rights. “What we are actually going to see is a massive data collection on every single Floridian trying to use social media,” says Szabo. “We are talking about data collection of some of our most sensitive personal information – things like driver’s license numbers, social security numbers, passports and other things to prove that you are who you say you are and you are the age you claim to be.”

Citing “huge honey pots of information” that attract “bad actors and data thieves”, Szabo summons the specters of privacy risk and censorship, in the interest of keeping his clients’ young user base fully intact. But De Santis’ fellow Florida men say the free expression part has nothing to do with it.

“What we have addressed is the addictive features that are at the heart of why children stay on these platforms for hours and hours on end,” says Florida House Speaker Paul Renner. In other words, it is not what people post that HB 3 is concerned with. (Although De Santis has legislated social media content moderation before – specifically, SB 7072, a law under review by the Supreme Court for potentially violating the First Amendment.) Rather, in his view, the bill is comparable to laws limiting tobacco and alcohol sales to kids who might develop early addiction problems.

The HB 3 legislation will take effect on January 1, 2025.

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