The New York State Capitol in Albany in 2020. 

The New York State Capitol in Albany in 2020.  Credit: AP / Hans Pennink/Hans Pennink

ALBANY — New York is set to become the first state in the nation to restrict young people’s exposure to addictive, algorithm-based social media feeds under a deal reached this week between legislative leaders and Gov. Kathy Hochul, legislative sources told Newsday.

The deal includes the “Stop Addictive Feeds Exploitation for Kids Act,” or SAFE for Kids Act, which would ban social media platforms from providing algorithm-based feeds to promote content to those under the age of 18 without parental consent.

Hochul and lawmakers also agreed on a measure that would ban online sites from collecting data from those under the age of 18, the legislative sources said. 

“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,” Sen. Andrew Gounardes (D-Brooklyn), the Senate sponsor of both bills, said in a statement Monday.

The measures, which have been a priority for Hochul and Attorney General Letitia James, aim to protect young people’s mental health by limiting the potential negative effects of social media, including Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and TikTok.

“By designing never-ending, highly addictive features, social media companies are inflicting damage on our kids on an unimaginable level,” Assemb. Nily Rozic (D-Queens), who is sponsoring both bills in the Assembly, told Newsday Wednesday. That’s why, she added, parents, teachers and medical professionals across the state are raising concerns, "and why we need to create guardrails in the law to protect our kids' data and well-being."

The deal comes following weeks of discussion after the bill fell out of the final state budget deal in April.

Democrats, who hold a majority in the Senate and Assembly, are expected to vote on amended versions of the bills before the legislative session ends on Friday.

The measures have run up against fierce opposition from Big Tech and could face legal challenges from business groups, some of whom say the restrictions are “unconstitutional.”

“New York lawmakers just put a fresh coat of paint on a rotten bill,” said Adam Kovacevich, CEO of the Chamber of Progress, a coalition representing tech companies, in a Tuesday statement.

Online Protections

The bill banning algorithm-based feeds would require parental consent for social media platforms to send notifications to minors between midnight and 6 a.m.

The other measure, known as the “New York Child Data Protection Act,” would ban, except in certain instances, online sites from collecting, using, sharing or selling personal data for anyone under the age of 18 without consent.

Online platforms under both bills could face penalties of up to $5,000 per violation.

“We’re not saying that all social media is bad, we’re saying that how these apps have monetized and weaponized their technologies to target kids is bad,” Gounardes told reporters Tuesday. “We think we’ve struck the right balance with this law."

The final version of the algorithm bill excludes language that would have given parents the ability to limit the number of hours their child spends on a platform.

A private right of action that would have allowed parents to sue the platforms also was eliminated from the final version, but the attorney general’s office could still sue on their behalf in certain instances.

Tech concerns

Tech: NYC, a nonprofit industry group that has been lobbying on behalf of its members, including Meta, formerly known as Facebook, Google and Yahoo, said the changes made to the bills were “positive,” but they still have concerns.

It’s unclear how age verification will work, said Julie Samuels, president and CEO of Tech: NYC in an emailed statement Tuesday.

“Age verification is the single most important factor in determining whether this legislation will actually help kids, and the practice of punting complex issues like this to an opaque rule making process has proven to be an ineffective form of lawmaking,” Samuels said.

The Chamber of Progress said the legislation goes against the First Amendment by limiting access to speech and interfering with platforms’ content decisions.

“Algorithms actually make online platforms better for teens, by boosting healthy content over hate, harm, and misinformation,” Kovacevich said. “Those kinds of unconstitutional limits are going to have a hard time surviving a court challenge.”

—With Michael Gormley.

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