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Continuing the Fight For the Age Appropriate Design Code

Our Youth Initiatives Campaign Manager recaps how Accountable Tech prioritized the Age Appropriate Design Code in June.

Alison Rice

I had the opportunity earlier this month to join medical and psychological professionals, activists and policy leaders at the annual Mental Health America’s Policy Institute in Washington, D.C. This year’s convening centered on Tweens, Teens and Technology. We heard from health care industry leaders, video game experts, drug use analysts and  – my personal favorite – young people! 

As Campaign Manager for Youth Initiatives, I joined partners from Fairplay, The Superintendents Association, and The American Academy of Pediatrics for a Policy Panel on Challenges and Innovations. We discussed the ongoing developments and associated urgency for policies that keep kids and teens safe online.

I joined to speak specifically about the Age Appropriate Design Code — which was passed unanimously in California last year and has been introduced in other states — and other state bills that are moving across the country. Here’s an excerpt of what I shared: 

“​​The Age Appropriate Design Code is a privacy framework that focuses on product safety at the point of product design. It requires that social media companies and online platforms make product design decisions with kids in mind, and it defines kids as under 18, and requires design settings that are the safest and most private by default, meaning they are on without a parent or kid having to opt-out of data collection. That includes location tracking, data usage and the sale of kids’ personal information.

One of the best analogies I’ve found that paints a clear picture of the concept of the design code is a seatbelt in a car. Seatbelts as we know them were first offered as a factory option in the US in 1949, and later became a factory standard for the first time for some cars in 1958. The US seat belt law we have today was passed in 1968, requiring all cars to be fitted with seat belts when manufactured. 

We generally don’t question this design feature anymore – it’s a safety feature that car manufacturers use as standard. We buckle up as soon as we get into the car, so we can drive safely. This higher standard of safety is how we see the Age Appropriate Design Code. We’re aiming for it to be the design standard upheld by companies that manufacture social media and online platforms facing kids and teens, so that the user experience is safer upon entry.” In support of Age Appropriate Design Code bills in Maryland, Minnesota, Nevada, and New Mexico, Accountable Tech has spent the last several months leading a robust organizing effort for youth activists in partnership with Design It For Us as well as a rapid-response digital and paid campaign to amplify critical legislative moments and reach key elected officials.

Ultimately, Big Tech’s deep pockets powered big lobbying to block these bills this year. Why? Because kids’ safety would impact their bottom line. And worse, many of these bad actors that go lengths to prioritize profit over kids’ safety – like Meta, the maker of Facebook, and Google, which owns YouTube – hide behind their membership in a trade association called TechNet, which lobbies against legislation so companies don’t have to. 

That’s why Accountable Tech recently partnered with MoveOn to launch a campaign calling on TechNet members to uphold their purported value for kids’ safety and withdraw their membership.

Other TechNet members like Etsy, Samsung, Apple and Teladoc tout their own commitment to privacy, safety and security – so we ask why are they standing by while TechNet fights against those principles?

This campaign marks the start of a longer fight to unravel the unchecked power of trade associations that attempt to block critically needed legislation for the sake of their own profits. Amidst a growing mental health crisis among teens, it’s abundantly clear that Big Tech companies won’t regulate themselves in order to make their products safe for its youngest users. We’re going to continue to leverage collective power to break down the obstruction of these companies, so we can pass much needed legislation to hold them accountable.

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