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Not ‘Quite There Yet’

Minnesota Committees Advance Kids’ Design Bill in the House

Minnesota legislators on Wednesday advanced an age-appropriate design bill modeled after a California law that was recently deemed unconstitutional.

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The House Commerce Committee voted by voice to advance the latest version of the Minnesota Age-Appropriate Design Code Act (HF-2257) to the House Judiciary Committee (see 2303010062). The U.S. District Court for Northern California in 2023 blocked a similar law in California, finding that at least 10 of its provisions violated the First Amendment.

Similar pieces of legislation are on hold in Ohio and Arkansas, and Minnesota’s bill is likely to run afoul of the First Amendment because its provisions induce tech companies to over-censor content to avoid liability, said NetChoice State and Federal Affairs Director Amy Bos. The bill’s definitions for “best interests” of children are too vague for even the most conscientious companies to comply with, she said.

Terms like “material detriment, harmful and potentially harmful” are undefined in the bill, and interpretations of what they mean will vary widely, said Tyler Diers, TechNet executive director-Midwest region. The impact assessments required under the bill will result in lengthy reviews by social media companies and delayed product launches, he said.

Companies already conduct impact assessments, said Rep. Kristin Bahner (D), who introduced the bill. The problem is that companies don’t conduct these assessments through the lens of designing features that are safe for children, she said. Tech industry engineers are fully capable of designing algorithms with the safety of children in mind, said Rep. Ethan Cha (D).

The bill isn’t “quite there yet,” said Rep. Harry Niska (R). He said there’s a fundamental problem with legislation that attempts to cater to the “best interests” of the collective population of children in the state.

The bill is one potential solution for saving lives, said Erich Mische, executive director of Suicide Awareness Voices of Education. Citing a study published in the Annals of Pediatrics and Child Health, he noted how the suicide rate for young people in the U.S. was declining before 2008. Between 2008 and 2018, the suicide rate for teens 13-14 years old more than doubled, making it the No. 1 cause of death for that age group, he said: Big Tech is today’s “Big Tobacco.”

The committee also advanced comprehensive privacy legislation to the House Judiciary Committee. Modeled after privacy legislation introduced in Washington state, HF-2309 lets consumers request their personal data and have companies correct or delete it. Consumers would also be able to opt out of targeted advertising under the bill. Introduced by Rep. Steve Elkins (D), the bill includes data minimization requirements for companies. It doesn’t include a private right of action, so the Minnesota attorney general would be responsible for enforcement.

TechNet is generally supportive of the effort to pass privacy regulation, but more time is needed to assess the provisions in Minnesota’s measure, said Diers. State privacy laws should be reasonably uniform to ensure smooth compliance from companies, he said.

Minnesota’s privacy bill doesn’t go “nearly far enough,” said Restore the Fourth Minnesota Co-Chair Chris Weiland. Without a private right of action and a low bar for data minimization requirements, the law “lacks teeth,” he said.