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California law restricting companies' use of information from kids online is halted by federal judge

SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) — A federal judge has halted implementation of a California law intended to restrict companies’ use of information gathered from young internet users in order to protect the privacy of minors.

U.S. District Judge Beth Labson Freeman on Monday granted a preliminary injunction, saying the legislation interferes with firms' use of the internet in ways the state has failed to justify.

The law would require businesses to report to the state on any product or service they offer on the internet that is likely to be accessed by those under 18, and provide plans to reduce any harms minors might suffer. It would also prohibit businesses from collecting most types of personal information about young internet users, including their physical locations.

“The State has no right to enforce obligations that would essentially press private companies into service as government censors,” Freeman wrote.

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The judge wrote that while she is "keenly aware of the myriad harms that may befall children on the internet,” the law singles out for-profit businesses for restrictions that do not apply to other users, such as government agencies or nonprofits.

The law by Assembly Member Buffy Wicks, a Democrat from Oakland, passed both state legislative houses unanimously last year and was due to take effect in July 2024.

It was challenged by NetChoice, a commercial association whose members include Google, Amazon, Meta and TikTok. In a statement to the San Francisco Chronicle, NetChoice attorney Chris Marchese praised the judge’s decision "to prevent regulators from violating the free speech and online privacy rights of Californians, their families and their businesses as our case proceeds.”

Attorney General Rob Bonta’s office said it was disappointed by the ruling and declined to comment further. The state could appeal the injunction to the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, the Chronicle said.