New York Plans To Ban Smartphones In Schools

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The governor of New York, Kathy Hochul, intends to file a law that would prohibit cellphone use in classrooms. This is just one of her many legislative initiatives to promote online child safety.

“I have seen these addictive algorithms pull in young people, literally capture them and make them prisoners in a space where they are cut off from human connection, social interaction and normal classroom activity,” she said.

Hochul announced that she would introduce the bill later this year and bring it up during the January 2025 session of the New York legislature. If approved, parents’ concerns about allowing their children to carry basic phones that can only send texts but not access the internet will be addressed. She gave no details about how the prohibition will be enforced.

“Parents are very anxious about mass shootings in school,” she said. “Parents want the ability to have some form of connection in an emergency.”

The two bills that will come before the smartphone ban Hochul is advocating for the aforementioned summary of steps to protect children’s internet privacy and restrict them access to specific social network features.

Algorithmic feeds are addressed by the Stop Addictive Feeds Exploitation (Safe) for Kids Act. Social media companies would have to give kids an automatically-generated chronological default feed made up of accounts they have selected to follow instead than ones that are recommended to them by algorithms. Additionally, the measure would require parents to have more extensive controls, such as the capacity to prevent access to alerts at night.

If the bill is approved, businesses that violate the rules would be subject to $5,000 fines, and parents might file a lawsuit to recover damages.

“This legislation will protect children and serve as an example for other states and countries to follow,” said Letitia James, the New York attorney general, who is a co-sponsor along with the Democratic state senator Andrew Gounardes. “Together with our partners, we are going to do everything possible to see these bills passed into law.”

The second law, known as the New York Child Data Protection Act, seeks to limit the use of children’s personal information by websites that are aware of the age of their users. Companies would not be compelled by the measure to use age-verification techniques like face recognition or uploading identification documents.

Big tech, trade associations, and other businesses have opposed the legislation in New York; between October and March, they combined spent more than $800,000 lobbying against one or both of the bills, according to public disclosure documents.

The biggest of these is Meta, having spent $156,932 in New York over that period on lobbying. Under the laws, the social media behemoth would have to modify its services to cater to younger users.

“They should know that as someone who is often subjected to millions of dollars of lobbying campaigns, it has no effect on me. So they’re wasting their money,” Hochul said, adding that New York is a “pro-tech state”.

“You’re not going to profit off the mental health of children in the state of New York,” she said.

The two proposals proposed in New York would give the government more authority to control social media sites. Unlike other state-level legislation around the nation, this one does not rely solely on tech businesses to self-police and determine which features are potentially detrimental by completing assessments of whether products are “reasonably likely” to be accessible by children.

“These addictive algorithms have been used against young people since 2011,” Hochul said. “If [social media companies] were going to self-police and manage this themselves, what has stopped them thus far? Clearly as a government, we need to step in.”

Meta has pushed back on the legislation. A statement from the company read: “As we continue working with New York lawmakers, it’s crucial that we avoid quick fixes and, instead, support legislation that actually empowers parents and supports teens online.”

Other states are attempting to enact laws akin to the ones put forth in New York in the absence of federal action to safeguard minors online.

Earlier this year, “Kids Code” legislation was passed in Vermont and Maryland despite strong opposition from social media firms. Similar measures for internet safety have also been introduced in the states of Minnesota, Hawaii, Illinois, New Mexico, South Carolina, and Nevada. They come after California attempted to introduce a comparable Age-Appropriate Design Code act, but a federal judge halted it.

Meta has emphasized its creation of child-safety solutions, which concentrate on parents controlling their children’s online experience on its platforms, in its criticism of online child safety measures in other states. Regarding the New York bills, the firm remained silent.

However, the parental tools have not been widely adopted.

“Meta itself admits its parental controls aren’t widely used – they’re often confusing and frequently fail to work as intended,” said Sacha Haworth, executive director of the Tech Oversight Project, a policy advocacy organization.

The main social media companies are coming under more and more fire for harming children, such as worsening mental health, predator-driven grooming, and sextortion schemes.

Mark Zuckerberg, the CEO of Meta, was informed during a January US Senate hearing on internet sexual abuse that he had “blood on his hands.” In front of a gathering of parents whose children had committed suicide after being singled out on social media, Zuckerberg got up and expressed his regret.

The attorney general’s office in New Mexico launched a complaint against Meta in December, claiming that the company’s platforms had turned into a marketplace for child predators. The lawsuit referenced a 2023 Guardian investigation that exposed the use of Instagram and other Meta platforms by child traffickers to buy and sell minors for sexual exploitation.

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