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SALT LAKE CITY — An effort to prevent kids from using social media without parental approval cleared a House committee last week, despite concerns from both sides of the aisle that the bill is a potential violation of privacy.
HB311 is the second high-profile social media regulation bill winding its way through the Utah Legislature this year. Sponsored by Rep. Jordan Teuscher, R-South Jordan, the bill would require social media companies to verify the ages of all their users in Utah, and prohibit minors from creating accounts without parental consent.
"Quite honestly, I think this is maybe one of the most important bills that we will consider this session," Teuscher told the House Judiciary Committee on Friday. "And I say that because over the last couple of years as I've served in this position, one of the number one things I hear from constituents and parents is concerns about social media."
Teuscher's bill originally had an outright ban on social media use for those under the age of 16, but it was substituted to simply require parental consent for all users under the age of 18. In doing so, it would require social media companies to verify the ages of all users, whether they are linked to a minor's account or not.
That is the principal concern for several opponents who spoke against the bill during Friday's hearing. Several spoke of their existing distrust of big tech companies, and they told lawmakers they worry about having to prove to the companies that they are old enough to create an account.
The substituted bill also removed a requirement that users provide proof of a government ID in order to verify their age, but opponents questioned whether social media companies could verify age without using official documents.
"The original bill before the amendment showed that you had to provide proof of your age and who you were," said Tiffany Barker. "Well, that proof is from a government ID. The government ID is linked to your address, all your information and also to your children because your address is obviously their address."
Teuscher said tech companies have other ways of verifying age, including using data collected on users or having existing users verify the identity of friends or family members who are signing up for the platform.
Kouri Marshall, the director of state and local government for the Chamber of Progress, a tech industry coalition, told the committee he was unconvinced that the bill wouldn't result in tech companies collecting more information from their users.
"Look, no matter how the substitute is spun, this bill would still require anyone with a social media account created before 2024 to submit proof of their identity, including adult users who created their accounts after turning 18," he said. "This requirement would result in increased data collection for everyone on the internet, not just children. ... These techniques would have to be used for every user — each and every person sitting in the room today. You would be required to yield personal data about yourself to social media companies in order to quench the thirst of this bill."
Others pointed out that while identification is required to purchase alcohol or tobacco in stores, a social media verification requirement would be different because of the platforms' ability to record that information permanently.
"When I go into a store, if I want to buy something adult, I show my ID. I show it to them, I don't give it to them," said Elaine England. "I don't let them record it. ... So my issue is the data-mining portion, because I don't trust social media companies; I don't trust them to delete it. ... I don't trust them to not sell it, because how would I be able to verify and prove that?"
Several committee members also expressed concerns with the privacy implications, and while the bill was advanced unanimously, Teuscher promised to consider amendments to address the concerns surrounding age verification.
With the change to remove the ban on certain accounts, Teuscher's bill is strikingly similar to a companion bill he is co-sponsoring with Sen. Mike McKell, R-Spanish Fork. Like Teuscher's bill, SB152 would require age verification and parental consent for users under the age of 18.
Unlike McKell's bill, though, Teuscher's bill also provides that contracts between minors and interactive computer services are invalid without parental consent, and it prohibits social media companies from using features they know cause minors to become addicted to their platform.
The Senate bill would require platforms to change how accounts for minors interact with other accounts by preventing companies from collecting data from minors, showing minors advertising or suggesting ads, accounts or content to minors. SB152 would also require companies to give parents full access to minor accounts and allow parents to limit the hours of access for their kids.
Both bills empower the state Division of Consumer Protection to investigate violations. Teuscher said his bill would create a "legal presumption that social media is harmful for minors under 16," so if social media companies are sued for harm, they would have to overcome that presumption by proving that their platforms are not harmful.
McKell presented SB152 on the Senate floor on Monday, and asked his colleagues to give it initial approval while he works on an amendment to make the age verification requirement "less prescriptive." Senators rejected the bill on a first vote — seemingly because they wanted to see the amendment before taking a vote — but it was quickly revived and circled pending amendments.
McKell did not respond to a request for comment about how he plans to change his bill.
Although both bills include many of the same provisions, Teuscher said he plans to have them both pass through the Legislature and be signed into law.