California tech companies will now be fined up to $4 million for failing to take down sexually explicit content of minors within three days, according to a new bill signed into law Oct. 8 by California Gov. Gavin Newsom.
The law will take effect Jan. 1, 2025.
According to the bill, failure to comply with such standards will result in fines ranging from $1 million to $4 million.
It adds to the California Privacy Act of 2018, which protects certain user data collected by online platforms, like Instagram and X, formerly Twitter, from being sold or publicly revealed without their consent.
The law will also require tech companies to notify the reporting user that the platform received their report within 36 hours, and it must issue a formal written determination stating whether or not such content constituted child sexual abuse.
Sites that fail to comply will be required to pay the reporting user up to $250,000 per violation, meaning minors could collect damages from such platforms for not removing sexually explicit content of them.
To avoid such lawsuits, sites can conduct bi-annual audits to address any bugs or flaws in their systems that allow such content to propagate on their platforms, according to the bill.
Bill sponsors were quick to share their approval after Mr. Newsom’s signature.
“Governor Newsom’s signing of AB 1394 further crystallizes California’s commitment to protecting kids in the online world, and sets a nationwide standard in the fight against child sex abuse material,” Assemblywoman and bill co-sponsor Buffy Wicks (D-Oakland) said in a recent statement.
Lawmakers said the law’s passage sends a “resounding message” to out-of-state platforms of more potential crackdowns for such privacy breaches in the future.
“This law underscores our state’s dedication to defending the most vulnerable among us, and sends a resounding message to other states and tech platforms that using the internet to exploit children will no longer go unchecked,” Ms. Wicks said in the statement. “[We] hope that this law will serve as a catalyst for change nationwide.”
Opposition to the bill, which included the California Chamber of Commerce and the Civil Justice Association of California, said the law could inadvertently harm the free speech of minors by prohibiting them from using chat rooms on the platforms, for instance.
“[P]latforms could choose to disable features that could be misused by perpetrators to traffic children, such as direct messaging, chat forums, or other communicative features,” the groups said in a recent statement of opposition. “They could also prohibit anyone under the age of 18 from using their platforms. In either instance, more lawful speech is impacted and burdened than intended, thus creating a chilling effect on providing and hosting lawful content and speech on social media platforms.”
According to the groups, the cons outweigh the pros under the new law.
“Though well-intentioned, this bill will result in more lawful speech being removed and fewer online spaces for teens to communicate and share ideas with one another,” they said.