Maryland passes 2 major privacy laws, despite tech industry resistance

The Maryland Legislature this weekend passed two sweeping privacy bills that aim to limit how powerful tech platforms can collect and use the personal data of consumers and young people, despite strong objections from industry trade groups they represent giants like Amazon, Google and Meta.

One bill, the Maryland Online Data Privacy Act, would impose far-reaching restrictions on how companies can collect and use consumers' personal data in the state. The other, the Maryland Kids Code, would prohibit some social media, video game and other online platforms from tracking children under 18 and using manipulative techniques – such as autoplaying videos or bombarding children with notifications – to keep young people glued online.

“We are making a statement to the tech industry and to Marylanders that we need to curb some of this data collection,” said Delegate Sara Love, a Democratic member of the Maryland House of Delegates. Ms. Love, who sponsored the Consumer Bill and co-sponsored the Children's Bill, described the passage of the two measures as a “huge” privacy milestone, adding: “We have to put up some barriers to protect our consumers”.

The new rules require approval from Gov. Wes Moore of Maryland, a Democrat, who has not taken a public position on the measures.

With the passage of the bills, Maryland joins a small number of states including California, Connecticut, Texas and Utah that have enacted both comprehensive privacy legislation and children's online privacy or social media protections. But the tech industry has challenged some of the new laws.

Over the past year, NetChoice, a tech industry trade group representing Amazon, Google and Meta, successfully sued to stop children's online privacy or social media restrictions in several states, arguing that the laws violated constitutional rights of its members to freely distribute information.

NetChoice did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The Maryland Kids Code is modeled after a 2022 California law called the Age-Appropriate Design Code Act. Like the California law, the Maryland bill would require certain social media and video game platforms to turn on settings by default. higher privacy for minors. It would also prohibit services from unnecessarily profiling minors and collecting their precise location.

A federal judge in California, however, temporarily blocked the state's child code law, ruling in favor of NetChoice on free speech grounds. (The New York Times and the Student Press Law Center filed a joint brief last year in the California case in support of NetChoice, arguing that the law could limit newsworthy content available to students.)

NetChoice similarly opposed the Maryland Kids Code. In testimony last year against an earlier version of the bill, Carl Szabo, NetChoice's general counsel, argued that it violated companies' rights to freely distribute information, as well as the rights of minors and adults to freely obtain information.

Maryland lawmakers say they worked with constitutional experts and amended it to address free speech concerns. The bill was approved unanimously.

“We are technically the second state to pass a children's code,” said Delegate Jared Solomon, a Democratic state lawmaker who sponsored the children's code bill. “But we hope to be the first state to resist the inevitable judicial challenge that we know is coming.”

Several other tech trade groups strongly opposed the other bill passed Saturday, the Maryland Online Data Privacy Act.

This bill would require companies to minimize the data they collect about consumers online. It would also ban online services from collecting or sharing intimate personal information — such as data about your ethnicity, religion, health, sexual orientation, precise location, biometric data or immigration status — unless it is “strictly necessary.”

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