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Companies are struggling to meet California’s new child data privacy standards
Jul 25, 2023

Companies are struggling to meet California’s new child data privacy standards

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A new report from the advocacy group Common Sense Media says most popular apps and platforms are still monetizing youngsters' data or haven't updated their policies.

Most of the online services that children use are likely monetizing their data in some way, according to a new report from Common Sense Media.

The nonprofit group analyzed the privacy policies of more than 200 popular internet platforms and found that about three-quarters of them were sharing user data or lacked transparency about how they use personal data.

Disclosing those details and offering users a chance to opt out is required in California under the latest expansion of the state’s landmark privacy law, which was sponsored by Common Sense.

A recent court ruling extended the deadline to comply with the new privacy provisions to March 29.

Marketplace’s Meghan McCarty Carino spoke to Jim Steyer, CEO of Common Sense Media, about how many companies’ current privacy policies can be misleading.

The following is an edited transcript of their conversation.

Jim Steyer: Some of the bigger companies claim they’re following the law and say that they’re not actually selling your data, but they are completely collecting your data. And then in many cases, they are selling and sharing that data with third parties. There’s wiggle room in some of the language they use, they’re a little vague in what they say. But quite frankly, as a consumer, you should be shocked how much of your own personal data is being sold without your permission, and why we need far greater accountability from regulators and legislators across the United States.

Meghan McCarty Carino: What about at the federal level in the U.S.? We have COPPA, the federal Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act. I mean, how does that sort of fit into this picture?

Steyer: So COPPA does address issues related to kids 13 and under. The law has been strengthened, it was particularly strengthened under then-Chairman Jon Leibowitz [of the Federal Trade Commission], and we have seen some progress in the enforcement area. But in general, even the privacy of children and teenagers has been woefully underrepresented by our regulatory authorities at the federal level and definitely at the state level as well.

McCarty Carino: There are a number of states that have been following California’s lead to various extents. And then, of course, other states that have not. I mean, what is the effect of this state-by-state patchwork approach to data privacy, especially when it comes to children’s data privacy?

Steyer: There’s no question that a state-by-state patchwork approach is not ideal when it comes to privacy. It’s pretty complicated. And what the companies tend to do is follow the California law because California is the biggest law by far. And quite frankly, it’s also a law that has some teeth to it in terms of enforcement. But it gets very complicated when other states start passing their own privacy laws because there’s differences between the laws. And remember, a company could appeal that to the court. So one of the things that might come out of this patchwork of state laws is a lawsuit by companies going, “Which law are we supposed to follow?”

Outside California, there are eight states that have adopted comprehensive data privacy laws, and more have introduced privacy bills over the last year.

A growing number of states are also looking at specifically regulating kids’ use of the internet and social media, including California with its Age-Appropriate Design Code Act, which will require online services used by kids to have robust privacy, health and safety protections in place, though the timeline for implementing that law was recently extended.

Common Sense Media has a database of privacy ratings for individual platforms as well, if you’re interested.

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The team

Daisy Palacios Senior Producer
Daniel Shin Producer
Jesús Alvarado Associate Producer