Maryland joins the fight to protect children online and adopts Kids Code

Children sitting on the floor with smart devices

By Gus Rossi

In a monumental victory for online safety advocates, Maryland has followed in California’s footsteps by adopting the Age Appropriate Design Code (AADC), also known as the “Kids Code.” This groundbreaking legislation, which unanimously passed the General Assembly on April 6th and signed into law by Governor Moore on May 9th, marks a significant milestone in the fight to create a safer digital world for children.

The Maryland Kids Code, championed by Delegates Jared Solomon (D-18) and C.T. Wilson (D-26) along with Maryland Senators Benjamin Kramer (D-19) and Chris West (R-42), mandates that online products and services likely to be accessed by minors under 18 must be designed with their best interests and age-appropriateness in mind. It emphasizes privacy by design and default, ensuring that young users’ personal information is protected from the start.

Making the internet safe for kids

This legislation comes at a critical juncture as children are increasingly immersed in a digital landscape designed for adults, where they face a myriad of risks, including privacy breaches, exposure to inappropriate content, and dangerous interactions. The new law is content agnostic and is carefully constructed to ensure policies are aimed at privacy protections for kids and the safety and design of the products they use, rather than the content itself.

Maryland’s adoption of the Kids Code, which follows similar legislation in California and the United Kingdom, is a resounding signal that policymakers across the globe are recognizing the critical importance of protecting children in the digital realm. Since the AADC’s introduction in the United Kingdom in 2019, many of the world’s largest tech companies have introduced changes to the design of their services in recognition of the rights and needs of children.

From turning off tracking and geolocation to introducing positive nudges and better transparency, the AADC has been the catalyst for important changes for children online. While some tech companies have taken positive steps in response to the AADC, there is still much work to be done to ensure a safer online experience for children. The fact that Maryland has joined California and the United Kingdom in this fight is a beacon of hope, indicating that state governments see the urgent need for changes that ensure a better online experience for our children.

The momentum continues in other states. On May 11th, the General Assembly of Vermont also unanimously passed the Kid’s Code (S.289). The legislation now goes to Governor Phil Scott’s desk for signature.

The fight continues

In parallel to these state-level and international efforts, the Kids Online Safety Act (KOSA) is gaining significant traction in the U.S. Senate. With an impressive 68 co-sponsors, including Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, the bill has secured a filibuster-proof majority. KOSA would compel social media platforms to take proactive measures to prevent the dissemination of harmful content, such as materials promoting suicide or eating disorders, on their sites.

As the battle to protect children online intensifies, the adoption of the Maryland Kids Code and the progress of both KOSA in the Senate and child safety legislation in Vermont serve as powerful testaments to the growing recognition of the urgent need to create a safer digital environment for young users. It is imperative that legislators, civil society organizations, and technology companies collaborate to ensure that children can navigate the online world without compromising their safety, privacy, and well-being.

Omidyar Network applauds the critical work pushed forward by groups such as FairPlay, Parents Together, Accountable Tech, Tech Oversight Project, Reset, Common Sense Media, Design It for Us, and many others, that has made the advancement of this legislation possible.

The momentum generated by California and Maryland’s bold actions, coupled with the promising developments in the Senate and Vermont, paints an optimistic picture for the future of online safety. As more states and the federal government join this critical movement, Omidyar Network looks forward to a day when children can freely explore the digital world, knowing that their well-being is truly the top priority. The path ahead may be challenging, but with the united efforts of lawmakers, advocates, and industry leaders, we can build a safer, more empowering online experience for the next generation.