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California Lawmakers Pass Bill Protecting Children From Manipulative Tech Companies

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The bill’s proponents liken it to other consumer welfare rules like nutrition standards and car seats, but opponents warn it could endanger users’ privacy.


The First State Children’s Code in the Country

California state senators passed a bipartisan bill Monday that would require online sites and apps to proactively design their products with child safety in mind.

Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) has not voiced his opinion on the bill, but if he signs it into law, it will make California the first state to implement legislation of its kind in the country.

AB 2273, the California Age-Appropriate Design Code Act, does not give many specific directions to tech companies, but it may create the potential for legal challenges if they don’t take adequate steps to ensure the safety of their younger users.

Some of the bill’s measures intend to block minors from viewing explicit content, limit the collection of their personal information, and restrict web services from gathering children’s geolocation data unless “strictly necessary.”

The law would also clamp down on “dark patterns,” a general term for manipulative design features meant to encourage minors to give away personal information unnecessarily.

“The digital ecosystem is not safe by default for children,” democratic state lawmaker Buffy Wicks, who co-sponsored the bill with Republican Jordan Cunningham, told The New York Times. “We think the Kids’ Code, as we call it, would make tech safer for children by essentially requiring these companies to better protect them.”

AB 2273 forces web services to enable the highest privacy settings by default for minors.

 Additionally, it requires services to establish the age of child users with a “reasonable level of certainty.”

If signed, the law would go into effect in 2024.

Are the Internet’s ‘Wild West’ Days Over?

California could set the example for other states, or the federal government, to build digital guardrails for minors, and tech companies may find it easier to proactively update their child protections across the country to avoid the difficulty of enforcing different policies in different states.

Another bill, AB 2408, which would let parents sue social media companies over addictive features, failed to pass the California legislature earlier this month.

The United States already has a 1998 federal law that protects children’s privacy, but it only applies to those under 13 years of age and only when they use online services specifically targeting children.

AB 2273 was based on similar legislation passed last year in the United Kingdom, the “Children’s Code,” which created comprehensive safety standards for minors, such as preventing adult strangers from contacting them or disabling social media features that could show a child’s exact location on a map to other users.

Baroness Beeban Kidron, a key figure behind the U.K. law, leads a nonprofit that sponsored AB 2273. He and other advocates have compared the law to nutrition labels, testing for cribs and car seats, and similar consumer welfare regulations.

The bill, however, has its detractors.

Eric Goldman, a professor at the Santa Clara University School of Law, has argued that AB 2273’s age verification requirements, though well-intentioned, could become intrusive on the very users whose privacy the bill is seeking to safeguard.

“The actual process of age authentication usually involves either (1) an interrogation of personal details or (2) evaluating the user’s face so that software can estimate the age,” Goldman wrote in an op-ed. “Neither process is error-free, and either imposes costs that some businesses can’t afford.”

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (CNBC) (The Verge)

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Washington State Launches Investigation Into Abuse at Private Special Ed. Schools

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Allegations include staff kicking a fourth-grader and dragging a child with autism around by his leg.


Abuse Allegations

Washington State’s Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) has launched an investigation into a system of private schools for kids with disabilities after ProPublica and the Seattle Times reported on allegations of abuse.

The series of articles focused on Northwest School of Innovative Learning (NWSOIL). NWSOIL is a set of private schools that serve 500 Washington public school students with serious disabilities. ProPublica and the Seattle Times found years of complaints from parents and school districts against NWSOIL alleging abuse, overuse of isolation rooms, and unqualified aides teaching instead of certified professionals.

One district claimed NWSOIL staff kicked a fourth-grader. Another alleged that a child with autism was dragged around by his thigh.

Many former NWSOIL employees also claim that they were pressured by their parent company to to enroll more students and skimp on basic resources, like staffing.

Investigation Launched

In a seven-page letter, OSPI reminded NWSOIL of its authority to revoke or suspend a school’s approval, meaning that it could shut NWSOIL down. 

“Given the serious nature of the allegations made in the articles, OSPI is examining what, if any, actions need to be taken with respect to Northwest SOIL’s approval to contract with Washington school districts,” Tania May, assistant superintendent for special education at OSPI, wrote in the letter.

OSPI has demanded any records of mistreatment, maltreatment, abuse, or neglect as well as documents pertaining to restraint or isolation of students and calls to the police. They are also seeking information about the student-to-teacher ratio and staff qualifications. 

In the letter, OSPI claims that all of this was previously unknown to them as well as to police, Child Protective Services, and local school districts. They are asking NWSOIL for an explanation as to why the allegations were not reported. 

NWSOIL defended itself in a public statement.

“Use of restraints and seclusion are always used as a last response when a student is at imminent risk of hurting themselves or others, it said. “We strongly deny any allegation that we understaff and/or pressure staff to increase admissions in order to maximize profits.” 

Washington state representatives are considering a reform bill that will give them more oversight on the publicly funded system of private special education schools. 

In this legislation, OSPI and at least one district that sends students to this program would be required to visit before approving the contract. It would also standardize district agreements with programs like NWSOIL, including financial safeguards to make sure funds are being used appropriately.

See the full series: (ProPublica) (The Seattle Times)

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31 Children Found Working Graveyard Shift in U.S. Meatpacking Plants

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Evidence suggests the company may have minors employed at 400 other locations.


The Complaint

The Department of Labor (DOL) recently found that a leading contractor for sanitation allegedly employed 31 minors from ages 13 to 17 for overnight cleaning of slaughterhouses and meatpacking facilities. 

Packers Sanitation Services, Inc. is under investigation for employing over 30 minors in three locations in the Midwest. The DOL claims the children were cleaning dangerous equipment with hazardous chemicals up to 6 or 7 days a week. Several of these children reported injuries, including chemical burns. 

The DOL filed a complaint with the Federal District Court of Nebraska for a nationwide injunction on Packers. According to their complaint, evidence suggests that Packers may have kids working at 400 other locations across the country. 

The court partially fulfilled the DOL’s request and ordered Packers to “immediately cease and refrain from employing oppressive child labor.”

The order also demanded Packers comply with the DOL’s investigation because the complaint included claims that Packers’ managers had been tampering with evidence – including obstructing interviews and attempting to hide or delete important documents, text messages, and incident reports. 

The Response

According to the complaint, the purpose for the nationwide injunction request is the safety of the kids while the DOL investigates.

While Wage and Hour is continuing to pour over records to identify such children, it is slow, painstaking work. Yet, the children working overnight on the kill floor of these slaughterhouses cannot wait,” it reads.

Packers denied the accusations. In a statement to NBC News, it said that it has “an absolute company-wide prohibition against the employment of anyone under the age of 18 and zero tolerance for any violation of that policy — period.”

Packers also said it was surprised by the complaint because it claims to be cooperating with the investigation by providing important documents and responses. 

A hearing has been set for Nov. 26 to decide whether the order will be dissolved, extended, or modified. 

See what others are saying: (New York Times) (NBC News) (CBS News)

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Officers Charged After Detaining Woman in Car Hit by Train, Woman Faces Charges Too

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The woman suffered nine broken ribs, a broken arm, a broken leg, a broken sternum, broken teeth, and several other injuries, her lawyer said.


Prosecutors Bring Charges

Less than two months after police in Colorado left a woman handcuffed in a patrol car parked on a railroad crossing as a freight train plowed through it, the severely injured woman has still been charged, according to a statement Monday.

In September, multiple law enforcement agencies responded to a road rage incident in Fort Lupton, where they arrested 20-year-old Yareni Rios-Gonzalez for allegedly brandishing a firearm at another driver. While they searched her vehicle, they placed her in a squad car that was parked on train tracks.

Despite being hospitalized for nearly two weeks after the incident, Rios-Gonzalez has been charged with felony menacing, the Weld County District Attorney’s Office said in a statement.

Her lawyer, Paul Wilkinson, told Reuters the news that she was being charged was disappointing and added that he will file a lawsuit against police for his client’s injuries and for violating her civil rights.

Two officers were also charged for their involvement in the incident. Officer Jordan Steinke, from the Fort Lupton Police Department, faces one count each of attempted manslaughter and second-degree assault, both felonies, as well as reckless endangerment, a misdemeanor. Sgt. Pablo Vazquez, from the Platteville Police Department, faces five counts of reckless endangerment, one count of obstructing a highway or other passageway, one count of careless driving, and one count of parking where prohibited, all misdemeanors.

Abandoned on the Tracks

A Platteville police officer reportedly stopped Rios-Gonzalez just past the railroad tracks and parked the patrol car on the crossing.

In body camera footage obtained by 9News, she can be heard screaming from inside the vehicle, trying to get their attention as the freight train barreled toward them.

At one point, the locomotive’s horn blares audibly in the distance, but the officers either fail to hear it or ignore it.

By the time the cops notice the incoming train, there are mere seconds until impact, and they scramble away leaving the woman trapped inside.

Vazquez can be heard saying he did not know he parked on the tracks and that he was unaware another officer had placed Rios-Gonzalez in his patrol car.

Rios-Gonzalez suffered nine broken ribs, a broken arm, a broken leg, a broken sternum, broken teeth, and several other injuries, according to Wilkinson.

See what others are saying: (Reuters) (CBS News) (The Colorado Sun)

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