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New York lawmakers consider internet algorithm ban, data protection for minors

Dozens of stairs lead to the entrance of the New York State Capitol in Albany.
File Photo
Dozens of stairs before the entrance of the New York State Capitol building in Albany.

As New York’s legislative session winds down, state lawmakers are considering two bills that could dramatically change how young people browse the internet.

The Stop Addictive Feeds Exploitation (SAFE) for Kids Act is a novel attempt to regulate the landscape of social media. Instead of challenging what young people can see online, the bill takes aim at how they see it.

Under the proposed rules, companies like Instagram and TikTok would be banned from providing users under the age of 18 with what lawmakers are calling “addictive” algorithm-based feeds without parental consent. Instead, content would have to be recommended in a way that isn’t persistently associated with the user such as a chronological feed.

According to the bill's state Senate sponsor, Andrew Gounardes, "It will turn a young person's feed from what they currently experience – which is what we all currently experience, a combination of posts from the people we follow, and then other content that the apps assume we want to see – to just seeing the content from the accounts they follow in a chronological order."

Fellow Democrat Nily Rozic is the main sponsor of the SAFE for Kids Act, and a companion bill, in the Assembly. She said lawmakers are mainly focused on reducing "the algorithms that prioritize content that keeps users on platforms longer and leads to doomscrolling."

The bill would also ban platforms from sending nighttime notifications to minors based on their feed without parental consent.

Supporters of the legislation hope that this approach will allow the bill to avoid the First Amendment challenges that have dogged previous attempts to regulate the internet.

But critics say the bill leaves some important questions unanswered. For instance, how social media companies will actually confirm that a user is underage, says Aaron Mackey, Free Speech and Transparency Litigation Director at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a digital civil liberties organization.

Under the proposed SAFE for Kids Act, "sites won’t be able to get away with...simple attestation, they’re going to have to impose a sort of hard age verification gate,” Mackey said.

Those ‘hard gates’ could require verifiable identification like government-issued IDs, according to Mackey. But lawmakers say there are other, less-invasive mechanisms social media companies can use to determine a user’s age.

The specific standard service providers would have to meet is not laid out in the legislation itself. The bill specifies that New York’s attorney general would be responsible for determining what counts as a “commercially reasonable and technically feasible” method for determining a user’s age.

Where the SAFE for Kids Act targets how social media platforms are allowed to show content to minors, the New York Child Data Protection Act takes aim at the information those companies are collecting about their users.

The United States does not have any form of comprehensive information privacy law at the federal level. In its absence, states have been left to craft their own laws, forming a patchwork of legislation that covers some states and not others.

New York’s approach would extend privacy protection by default to minors on the internet. Websites would need to get informed consent before they could collect, use or sell most kinds of personal data belonging to users under the age of eighteen.

“The last time the federal government took any meaningful measures to protect kids on the internet was 1998," said Gounardes. "That was the passage of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act."

“The internet has changed one thousand times over since then. Our laws should not be restricted to what used to be even before social media was created."

The new bills seek to address what Governor Kathy Hochul has characterized as an “epidemic of despair” facing young people, for which she and other supporters largely blame social media.

In 2023, the Surgeon General issued an advisory about the effects social media has on young peoples’ mental health. It notes that these platforms are often designed to maximize user engagement, and cites research that explores the connections between problematic social media use and addiction.

The report also outlines the benefits social media can have on children's mental health, and says there is an urgent need for more research in the field. In the meantime, the Surgeon General advises policymakers to “pursue policies that further limit access – in ways that minimize the risk of harm – to social media for all children” and to “require a higher standard of data privacy for children.”

Both the SAFE for Kids Act and the New York Child Data Privacy Act are currently working their way through committee.

Patrick McCullough is a graduate student studying Library Science at Syracuse University. He is expected to graduate in May, 2026. As a student contributor at WAER, Patrick produces digital and audio stories.