A new bill to keep kids safe online has been introduced in the New York State Senate, and it could require social media companies to implement a slew of safety features, including ban on advertising for young people and exploiting their data, if adopted.
The legislation, introduced Friday by State Sen. Andrew Gounardes (D-Brooklyn), is modeled after California legislation that Governor Gavin Newsom signed into law earlier this month despite fierce opposition from Big Tech groups.
The Golden State’s Age-Appropriate Design Code Act, a first law of its kind in the United States, requires online platforms to design their products with children in mind and put in place safeguards to protect their privacy.
Although similar, New York’s legislation takes a step further by including a number of provisions intended to help families in the event of serious harm committed against children online.
“We want to make the internet safe for everyone and this is one way to do that,” Gounardes explained.
“These children are so vulnerable, and in a time when they spend so much of their lives on a screen and use these new forms of communication without any oversight, any regulation…it is imperative to act on their behalf and in their best interests.”
Brooklyn-based victims’ rights attorney Carrie Goldberg – who specializes in digital privacy violations – helped draft the bill after realizing that many of her cases involved incidents that could have been avoided if such security measures were already in place.
“If you want to target tech products at minors, you’ll have to meet minimum security requirements,” said Goldberg, whose clients include parents of children who died after buying fentanyl. pills on Snapchat.
“It’s no different from making toys or cribs or car seats,” she told The Post in a recent interview. “If you’re in the business of providing consumer products to children, you can’t design products that put their lives at risk.”
A crucial aspect of the New York bill missing from California law is a stipulation requiring tech companies to have a method for parents to notify them in an emergency — a sort of “911” for ongoing digital crimes. .
It’s a provision that would have been crucial for a Brooklyn mom, named Maria, whose 11-year-old daughter fell victim to a vicious revenge porn campaign at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in April 2020. .
The 33-year-old housekeeper from Guatemala desperately tried unsuccessfully to find a customer service number for Instagram after learning from her sister that nude photos and videos of her child were pasted on the app and shared in messages directly to more than a dozen classmates, relatives and friends.
“My first reaction was to try to stop it. Like I was panicked, but at the same time I felt this urge to stop. But how?” Maria called back through tears.
“I didn’t have the ability to contact them, like a real person…I wanted to speak to a real person and let them know this was happening…but no one was there.”
The nightmare began after she met a 17-year-old boy online and bonded with him over their shared love of anime. Soon, he allegedly told her that she was his girlfriend and forced her to send nude photos and videos of herself and, possibly, the passwords to her accounts.
When the Iowa-based boy allegedly demanded 150 nude photos and Maria’s daughter refused, he locked her out and started sending her nude pictures to her friends from his account.
At this point, the distraught mother’s only option was to flag the images to Instagram as inappropriate and hope the platform took action quickly, which doesn’t always work.
Maria said she also went to a local NYPD neighborhood, but even though the images of her daughter were deemed child pornography, she was told “there was nothing we could do.”
“One of the policemen said, ‘You should punish your daughter,'” Maria recalls. “The police couldn’t help me so, who will?… I felt alone in the world in the midst of the pandemic.
It would take another two and a half weeks for Instagram to delete her daughter’s accounts and that was only after a social worker connected Maria to Goldberg, who had the option of contacting the company directly, and agreed to take the deal for free.
But the damage was already done. While the boy now faces criminal charges in Iowa, Maria said her daughter had attempted suicide on several occasions and had been in and out of inpatient mental health facilities since the ‘test.
“Our life is not normal,” the mother said, holding back tears. “We live under stress most of the time, because we never know when it will go into crisis.”
Other provisions of the New York bill require tech companies to expedite warrants and subpoenas for crimes against children and give parents or legal guardians access to their children’s accounts if they die. .
Upstate New York mom Kim Devins has been struggling to gain access to her daughter Bianca’s social media pages since the 17-year-old was murdered in July 2019 – and images and videos of the crime went viral after killer Brandon Clark posted them on Instagram and Discord. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 25 years to life in March 2021.
More than three years later, Devins, 38, still can’t access her daughter’s accounts, nor does she have the ability to make pages private, control comments, or block vile comments. including by so-called incels who keep posting about how the teenager deserved to die and sharing links to photos of the murder.
Instagram told Devins it could delete the accounts, which the mother didn’t want to do because the pages serve as digital memorial spaces online for loved ones to visit, or she could create a domain for her daughter.
“More [deceased] kids don’t need an estate, and it takes a lot of time and there’s a cost associated with that, to hire a lawyer and create an estate,” Devins told the Post, adding that the Instagram account of his daughter went from 2,000 subscribers to over 166,000 after his death.
“We shouldn’t have to waste time and money creating an estate, going to court and fighting for our minor children’s right to accounts,” she said, “it’s something parents shouldn’t have to deal with after losing a child, it’s the most horrible thing to go through in your life.
Tech industry groups and activists fought vehemently against the California bill, which was signed into law on September 15. Critics said it could radically reshape the internet, curtail free speech and force adults to prove their age before accessing websites they may only want to visit for a few. minutes, and only once.
A similar battle is now expected in New York.
When the Empire State last took on Big Tech, with a bill to criminalize revenge porn, powerful lobbyists funded by industry groups dissuaded lawmakers from voting for it, causing legislation to languish. until a series of Post exposes sounded the alarm. The bill eventually passed and was signed into law by former Governor Andrew Cuomo in July 2019.
At the time, Goldberg called the law’s enactment the end of a “six-year gladiatorial game.” She acknowledged on Friday that Gounardes faces an uphill battle against the same lobbyists and the hurdle of convincing her colleagues to join her bill to protect children online.
“We’re ready to fight, that’s for sure, but the face of politics in New York State has changed over the past two years and our lawmakers are stronger than they’ve ever been before. and they pass legislation that helps consumers and victims,” Goldberg said, referring to the Child Victims Act, the Adult Survivors Act and the statute of limitations extension for rape.
“We’re seeing really progressive laws that have been passed despite massive lobbying efforts,” she continued, “and I’d like to think we can stand up to pressure from tech companies.”
Gounardes, 37, is “ready for the fight against David and Goliath” and if California can do it, so can New York, Goldberg said.
The state senator has yet to secure a co-sponsor in the Assembly, but when asked he said he “fully expects” to get his colleagues on board.
“I guess my answer has to be yes, right?” said the legislator.
“I think it’s really hard to say the status quo is acceptable when we know there are vulnerabilities and there are gaps in protecting these children,” Gounardes added. “We’re not trying to shut down social media, we’re just trying to put some smart, thoughtful, important guardrails in place and I don’t see how or why people would object to that.”