Attorney General James Applauds Passage of Legislation to Protect Children Online  

Legislation Advanced by AG James will Limit Social Media Features Harmful to Teen Mental Health, Prevent Collection of Children’s Personal Data 

NEW YORK – New York Attorney General Letitia James today applauded the legislative passage of two historic bills to protect children online and address the youth mental health crisis fueled by social media. The bills, sponsored by Senator Andrew Gounardes and Assemblymember Nily Rozic, and advanced by Attorney General James in October 2023, will protect children by prohibiting online sites from collecting and sharing their personal data and limiting addictive features of social media platforms that are known to harm their mental health and development. The nation-leading legislation will serve as a model for other states to follow as governments work to curb the most dangerous aspects of social media to protect children online.  

“Our children are enduring a mental health crisis, and social media is fueling the fire and profiting from the epidemic,” said Attorney General James. “The legislation my team worked on and supported along with bill sponsors Senator Gounardes and Assemblymember Rozic will help address the addictive features that have made social media so insidious and anxiety-producing. I applaud Governor Hochul, Senate Majority Leader Stewart-Cousins, Assembly Speaker Heastie, and the legislative majorities for supporting this legislation and for agreeing that protecting children’s mental health must be a top priority. New York state is once again leading the nation, and I hope other states will follow suit and pass legislation to protect children and put their mental health above big tech companies’ profits.” 

Multiple studies have found a link between excessive social media use, poor sleep quality, and poor mental health among young people. Algorithmic feeds, which are designed to harness personal data to serve users content to keep them on the platform for as long as possible, have increased the addictive nature of social media platforms and heightened the risk to young users’ wellbeing. Other research has shown that adolescents who spend more than three hours per day on social media face double the risk of experiencing poor mental health outcomes, including symptoms of depression and anxiety. Additionally, children are vulnerable to having their location and other personal data tracked, shared, and sold online. This data, which is used without consent and often without knowledge, fuels a multi-billion dollar advertising industry targeted at minors. Moreover, that data is at greater risk of falling into the wrong hands, including human traffickers and others who might prey on young people.   

“New York is leading the nation to protect our kids from addictive social media feeds and shield their personal data from predatory companies,” said New York Governor Kathy Hochul. “Together, we've taken a historic step forward in our efforts to address the youth mental health crisis and create a safer digital environment for young people. I am grateful to Attorney General James and bill sponsors Senator Gounardes and Assemblymember Rozic for their vital partnership in advancing this transformative legislation.”

“As we navigate the threats social media poses to our youth in today’s ever-evolving technological landscape, I’m proud that, under my leadership, the Senate Majority created the Senate's Internet and Technology Committee to focus on these issues,” said Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins. “I thank Attorney General Letitia James and Bill Sponsor Senator Gounardes for their diligent work on this legislation and collaborating with stakeholders and colleagues to reach an agreement that best supports our youth in achieving healthier social media usage. Together, we will continue to take all necessary actions to protect the mental well-being of our children.”

“As technology evolves, so must the ways we protect our kids from harm – both on and offline,” said Speaker Carl Heastie. “These bills will give parents the tools to help protect kids from predatory practices that impact their mental health by eliminating the addictive personalized feeds and will make online privacy the default for New York’s children, preventing companies from collecting and using their data. Thank you to our Assembly sponsor Nily Rozic and to Governor Kathy Hochul, Attorney General Letitia James and our partners in the Senate for all the work they’ve done on this to make online spaces safer for kids.”

“I first introduced legislation to protect kids online back in 2022 because as a father of two young kids I knew we had to rein in social media, and I knew it would be a fight,” said bill sponsor Senator Andrew Gounardes. “Now thanks to the relentless advocacy of young people, parents, educators, and advocates, we beat Big Tech. We’ve reached a deal to pass strong legislation that will protect kids’ privacy and let them enjoy social media free from the unwanted content they didn’t sign up for. It would not have been possible without the extraordinary collaboration of Governor Hochul, Attorney General Letitia James, Assemblymember Rozic, and legislative leadership. This is a necessary and nation-leading step for families across New York, and I couldn’t be prouder.”

“We must do all that we can to protect our kids from the harmful influence of addictive algorithms and unchecked data collection, the passage of the SAFE for Kids Act and the NY Child Data Protection Act are the straightforward first step in that effort,” said bill sponsor Assemblymember Nily Rozic. “These new laws signal that New York is taking the lead in putting New Yorkers' safety and privacy at the forefront. I thank Governor Hochul, Attorney General James, and Senator Gounardes for their collaborative efforts in order to protect young people in the digital age.”

Attorney General James worked with bill sponsors Senator Gounardes and Assemblymember Rozic to craft legislation that will address these problems, and the growing mental health crisis being fueled by social media companies. The two pieces of legislation introduced in October 2023, and strongly supported by Governor Kathy Hochul, will add critical protections for children and young adults online by restricting the collection of minors’ personal data and changing how young users are served content on social media platforms to reduce the harms of addictive features that keep children on those platforms for longer periods of time. Following months of negotiations and active engagement by legislative leaders, advocates, and concerned stakeholders, final agreements were reached earlier this week, and both bills have been passed by the State Senate and State Assembly, and earned the support of Governor Hochul.

Stop Addictive Feeds Exploitation (SAFE) for Kids Act 

The SAFE for Kids Act will require social media companies to restrict the addictive features on their platforms that most harm young users. Currently, platforms supplement the content that users view from the accounts they follow by serving them content from accounts they do not follow or subscribe to. This content is curated using algorithms that gather and display content based on a variety of factors. Algorithmic feeds have been shown to be addictive because they prioritize content that keeps users on the platform longer. Addictive feeds are correlated with an increase in the amount of time that teens and young adults spend on social media and significant negative mental health outcomes for minors.   

To address this problem, the legislation will:   

  • Prohibit users under 18 from viewing addictive feeds on social media platforms without parental consent. These users will receive a chronological feed of content from accounts they already follow or of generally popular content – the same way that social media feeds functioned before the advent of addictive feeds. Users may also search for specific topics of interest, connect with friends, and join groups. Other algorithms such as those used for search functions or filtering unwanted or obscene content will still be permitted.   
  • Prohibit social media platforms from sending notifications to minors from 12:00 a.m. and 6:00 a.m. without verifiable parental consent.  
  • Authorize the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) to bring an action to enjoin or seek damages or civil penalties of up to $5,000 per violation.   

This legislation will only impact social media platforms where feeds comprised of user-generated content and supplemented with other material that the platform recommends to users based on data it collects from them are a significant part of the service provided by the site. For example, Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, Twitter, and YouTube would all likely be subject to this legislation. 

The New York Child Data Protection Act 

With few privacy protections in place for minors online, children are vulnerable to having their personal data, including their location data, used or sold to third parties without their awareness or consent. In many cases, this data is used for highly-targeted advertising to minors. A recent study from the Harvard Chan School of Public Health found that the six largest social media platforms generated $11 billion in 2022 from advertising to minors. Platforms use the significant data they collect from minors to target advertising to them in ways that are highly personalized to their demographics and usage patterns. All of this occurs without any oversight or consent. To protect children’s privacy, 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 unless they receive informed consent or unless doing so is strictly necessary for the purpose of the website. For users under 13, this informed consent must come from a parent. The bill authorizes OAG to enforce the law and may enjoin or seek damages or civil penalties of up to $5,000 per violation.  

Attorney General James would like to thank the brave children, young adults, and parents who shared their personal experiences and helped demonstrate the need for these bills. She also thanks the advocacy groups who worked tirelessly to support the passage of these bills, including Common Sense Media, Mothers Against Media Addiction, and the New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children.  

This legislation is part of Attorney General James’ ongoing efforts to protect New Yorkers online and address concerns with social media companies. In March 2024, Attorney General James led a bipartisan coalition of 41 attorneys general in urging Meta to address the rise of Facebook and Instagram account takeovers by scammers and frauds. In October 2023, Attorney General James and a bipartisan coalition of 32 attorneys general filed a federal lawsuit against Meta for harming young people’s mental health and contributing to the youth mental health crisis. In July 2023, she led a multistate coalition of attorneys general to defend the federal government’s ability to communicate with social media companies about dangerous online content. In April 2023, Attorney General James released a comprehensive guide to help businesses adopt effective data security measures to better protect New Yorkers’ personal information. Attorney General James also joined a bipartisan coalition of 44 attorneys general urging Facebook to abandon plans to launch a version of Instagram for children under the age of 13. In October 2022, Attorney General James investigated and released a report on the role online platforms played in the Buffalo mass shooting.