US federal judge blocks California’s Age-Friendly Design Code Act

A US federal judge has halted the enforcement of California’s Age-Friendly Design Code Act after NetChoice filed a lawsuit challenging its breadth and potential impact on freedom of expression.

 Advertisement, Poster, Book, Publication, Food, Ketchup

The implementation of the California Age-Friendly Design Code Act, a regulation aimed at controlling online content for children, has been blocked by a US District Court Judge, Beth Labson Freeman, on the basis that the provisions are likely to violate the First Amendment to the US Constitution.

The act, which was voted unanimously last year and aimed at taking effect on 1 July 2024, requires businesses to assess whether their online products and services could harm children. Furthermore, businesses must either estimate the age of child users and alter privacy settings or apply high standards for everyone.

The coalition of trade associations of online businesses NetChoice, whose members include Amazon, Google, TikTok, and Meta Platforms, among others, filed a lawsuit to prevent it from taking effect. Namely, NetChoice argued that the act would lead private corporations to act as roaming censors of content deemed harmful by California.

In her decision, Judge Beth Labson Freeman upheld California’s argument that businesses have the discretion to set their policies but highlighted that the decision on allowing a post or prohibiting one lies of the platforms’ right to freedom of expression under the US’s Consitution First Amendment

California Attorney General Rob Bonta expressed disappointment at a decision to strike down internet speech and privacy restrictions, while NetChoice praised the result and expressed confidence that the law will be permanently overturned and completely protected.

Why does it matter?

Essentially, this development sparks a wider debate on balancing child safety online and freedom of expression as well as privacy protections in the USA. Recently, US District Judge David Ezra blocked a Texas law requiring age verification and warnings on porn websites, citing First Amendment concerns. At the same time, porn company Aylo stated that while it supports the age verification systems, it stressed that they shall be in accordance with privacy protections.