A California law requiring a wide range of platforms to estimate ages of users and protect minors from accessing harmful content appears to be just as unconstitutional as a recently blocked law in Texas requiring age verification to access adult content.
Yesterday, US District Judge Beth Labson Freeman ordered a preliminary injunction stopping California Attorney General Rob Bonta from enforcing the state’s Age-Appropriate Design Code Act (CAADCA), finding that the law likely violates the First Amendment.
“The Court finds that although the stated purpose of the Act—protecting children when they are online—clearly is important,” Freeman wrote, “the CAADCA likely violates the First Amendment.”
“Specifically,” Freeman said, “the age estimation and privacy provisions thus appear likely to impede the ‘availability and use’ of information and accordingly to regulate speech,” and “the steps a business would need to take to sufficiently estimate the age of child users would likely prevent both children and adults from accessing certain content.”
Netchoice—a trade group whose members include tech giants like Meta, TikTok, Google, and Amazon—filed a lawsuit requesting the preliminary injunction last December. Yesterday, Chris Marchese, the director of the NetChoice Litigation Center, celebrated the court’s decision to grant the injunction.
“We appreciate the district court’s thoughtful analysis of the First Amendment and decision to prevent regulators from violating the free speech and online privacy rights of Californians, their families, and their businesses as our case proceeds,” Marchese said. “We look forward to seeing the law permanently struck down and online speech and privacy fully protected.”
A group of civil society organizations, legal scholars, parents, and youth advocates known as the Kids Code coalition expressed disappointment in Freeman’s decision. They felt the court blocked “a road to accountability for tech companies” and gave “tech companies a free pass to put profit over kids’ safety online.”
As California argued, the Kids Code coalition contends that the CAADCA “is not about speech or content,” but “about designing safe products.” The coalition argued that “the First Amendment does not shield corporations from accountability for their profit-motivated design decisions that endanger kids’ well-being” and “strongly support an appeal of this ruling.”
“Almost every product children use from cribs to car seats is regulated so that they will be safe for children,” the Kids Code coalition said. “Yet social media companies design their products with little regulation, and children are hurt and even die because these products are not required to be designed for the safety of young users. As Big Tech has shown time and again, they will pull out all the stops to continue to profit off of significant harm to kids and teens with impunity.”
Bonta’s press office told Ars that the state has no comment beyond: “We are disappointed by the decision and will respond in court as appropriate.”