New social media rules proposed for minors in Utah
Oct 16, 2023, 12:29 PM | Updated: 6:34 pm
SALT LAKE CITY — State officials have proposed a new set of rules for social media companies, saying the regulations would enhance the protection of minor users on social platforms.
The rules, titled the Utah Social Media Regulation Act or SMRA, are scheduled to go into effect on March 1, 2024. The SMRA rules were submitted by the Utah Division of Consumer Protection, which is under the Department of Commerce. They state social media companies must screen all users to verify their age.
“We did extensive research into what other countries are using,” Department of Commerce executive director Margaret Woolley Busse said. “Germany for instance has had age verification in place in order to access porn for many years.”
She said the division outlined several low-cost age verification options.
“Age verification technology is not that hard and it’s not very costly and has been around for a long time,” Woolley Busse said.
The proposed rule also requires parental consent before minors create their social profile.
“It really is about empowering parents and their relationship with their kids and not allowing tech to get in the way,” Woolley Busse said.
The DCP said it determined over the last several months efficient and accurate technologies that can verify users as minors.
Listed in the rules were example technologies for social companies to use.
It said the technologies will “enable them to offer users multiple secure and private options while balancing cost, accuracy, and the level of friction for obtaining an account.”
Those include facial analysis, providing the last four digits of the user’s social security number, providing government-issued ID, and estimating someone’s age based on when they made their account.
“You can’t have age verification and privacy,” tech expert Sarah Kimmel said. “That doesn’t exist. This is a real problem for all adults and minors in the state because everyone is going to need to verify their age.”
“We’re not trying to do identity verification, that is not what’s required,” Woolley Busse said. “We’re not even necessarily to able find what your exact age is. It’s just, are you over 18 or are you under 18?”
She said she anticipates individuals without children having privacy concerns.
“I need to give them part of my social security number, my telephone number, I need to give them my government-issued ID that has my address and all sorts of other information about me to another entity, that’s a huge problem for privacy for all adults in Utah,” Kimmel said, who runs FamilyTech.
She said many age verification technologies are flawed.
“I’ve heard so many parents say that their child can unlock their iPhone with their face,” Kimmel said.
She said she predicts the rule having unintended outcomes.
“Facebook, Instagram will just block Utahans’ access to those platforms,” Kimmel said. Pornhub recently did that because you can’t access it without verifying your age.”
Woolley Busse said the companies must adhere to the rule beginning March 1, 2024.
“If there’s a violation, the way we typically work is we are complaint-based,” she said. “The social media companies can have a 30 day curing period, which really is correcting period before any fines or actions are taken.”
Kimmel said she thinks the rules doesn’t get to the root of the problem the government is trying to solve, and sneaky minors will find a way around the rules.
Instead of legislating the issue, she suggest providing more education to parents.
“They need to be educated on how they can set up their parental controls, how they can monitor it and how they can keep their children safe and when to allow it,” Kimmel said.
The SMRA rules are modeled after the Federal Trade Commission’s Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, which categorizes a child as anyone under the age of 13. The SMRA rules take it steps further though, by requiring parents to attest that they are authorized to give consent for the minor user and making the rules applicable to anyone under 18.
The total list of things that can and cannot be done by social media companies is listed on the social media website that was created for this issue:
Starting on March 1, 2024, social media companies must:
- Verify the age of a Utah adult seeking to maintain or open a social media account
- Get the consent of a parent or guardian for Utah users under age 18
- Allow parents or guardians full access to their child’s account
- Create a default curfew setting that blocks overnight access to minor accounts (10:30 pm to 6:30 am) which parents can adjust
- Protect minor accounts from unapproved direct messaging
- Block minor accounts from search results
In addition, social media companies:
- Cannot collect a minor’s data
- Cannot target minor’s social media accounts for advertising
- Cannot target minor’s social media accounts with addictive designs or features
“The health and well-being of our kids is at stake, and we take that seriously,” Gov. Spencer Cox said. “We are eager for the Social Media Regulation Act to take effect.”
The newly released rules come six days after Utah filed a lawsuit against TikTok, where Cox expressed similar statements. Cox and other Utah lawmakers have made this fight for social media regulation part of the forefront in 2023 with a media campaign they launched in August and signed two controversial bills that restrict social media companies’ functionality with minor users.
The DCP has opened a public comment period until Feb. 5, 2024. It stated that public feedback about the rules will be considered before the SMRA rules take effect. Once in effect, the Division stated it may assess fines of up to $2,500 per violation if a social media company fails to comply.
Public comments and feedback can be submitted at socialmedia.utah.gov, and a public hearing will be held at the Senate Building at the Utah Capitol in Room 220 on Nov. 1 from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m.