Utah state senator addresses scope of new law regulating kids’ social media access


(NEW YORK) — As Congress considers banning TikTok amid growing fears over potential data privacy issues and Chinese government intrusion, some states are taking matters into their own hands to regulate social media access.

Last week, Utah became the first state to pass a law limiting access to social media for kids under age 18. The statute will require parental consent for minors to use platforms like TikTok and Instagram, putting the onus on social media companies to verify users’ ages.

One of the bill’s sponsors, State Sen. Michael McKell, spoke to “GMA3” about the scope of the new laws, addressing concerns over privacy and how the state plans to enforce them when they go into effect next March.

EVA PILGRIM: So I just want you to break this down for us. How will these restrictions actually work?

SEN. MICHAEL MCKELL: I think that’s a great question. First and foremost, what we worry about is involving parents. So the first thing this legislation does is it requires parental consent for a child to jump on a social media site. I think that’s important. Two of the really important things: we ban data collection of our kids and we ban targeted advertisement. But more than anything else, we want parents to be involved in the process with their kids, with social media. So we want parents to consent before their kids jump on a social media site.

GIO BENITEZ: Senator, the law has passed. The restrictions, they go into effect in March of next year. But I think we need a little bit of a reality check here, because there are nearly a million minors in Utah right now. Most of them know more about tech than their parents. How do you plan to even enforce these laws every time a minor signs on to social media?

MCKELL: And that’s a great question, and that’s what parents struggle with. Oftentimes, these kids are a lot smarter than their parents when it comes to social media. So over the course of the next year, we’ve got some rulemaking. And what rulemaking means is our division of Consumer Protection is going to build the process to verify ages and do this parental consent program. As I’ve gone out in the state of Utah, parents want tools. And what we’re trying to do is empower those parents to be more involved with their kids in their social media accounts.

BENITEZ: And you say there will be four employees within the Department of Commerce handling this new law. How can they possibly keep tabs on everyone?

MCKELL: Well, the good news is we will have four employees, but they’re there to receive complaints. If there are additional problems, one of the things we built into the legislation is a private right of action. If there’s broad sweeping abuse in violation of these new rules, we’ll also have that private right of action where the public can engage in the process as well. But we’re not going to be proactive. Those complaints are going to come to the state of Utah. We’re going to look at them and address them. So there will be some complaints. We don’t know how many complaints there’ll be at this point, but we wanted to make sure that we do have some employees on the ground as this program moves forward.

PILGRIM: You’re a parent, you have four kids. What do you say to those parents who, they’re concerned about their kids on social media, but say it should be the parents’ job to regulate their kids’ use and their access, not the government’s?

MCKELL: Yeah, and I think that’s a great concern. And that’s what we’re trying to do, is have tools available to parents right now. Oftentimes, there are kids, my kids certainly understand social media better than I do. And what we want to do is empower parents. You know, mom and dad may have one or two jobs. Mom and dad are busy. We want to make sure those tools are easy to use and available for those parents. What we don’t do is, parents can, we’ve got some default settings, they can override those. They can give their kids as much access as they want. But we really and truly want to empower parents here in the state of Utah.

BENITEZ: Senator, under these laws, social media companies will be forced to verify user ages. Now, how will they do that without violating privacy laws? Because, of course, there are those who are concerned about social media companies having even more access to your sensitive data.

MCKELL: Yeah, I mean, that’s a great question. And the way we do parental consent is to verify age. Age verification is nothing new in this country. What I would point to for your viewers, online prescription, if you buy online prescriptions, you’ve got to verify your age. We have millions of people on dating sites. You’ve got to verify your age.

BENITEZ: Right, senator. But this is TikTok. This is Facebook. This is Instagram. I mean, a lot of people don’t want to give them that sensitive data.

MCKELL: Yeah, and one of the things we did is we call out our Consumer Privacy Act in the legislation. We make it clear that a form of government ID cannot be the only form of verification. As we’ve met with stakeholders in tech companies, they believe that they can do the verification without violating privacy. But that’s something that we’re going to watch and we’re going to watch it closely to make sure that doesn’t happen here in this state.

BENITEZ: Such an interesting debate. Thank you so much Utah State Sen. Mike McKell. We will be watching this. Thanks for joining us here on “GMA3.”

MCKELL: Thank you.

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