October 02, 2013

New California Law Aims to Give Teens an "Online Eraser" Button

California Gov. Jerry Brown signed a new law at the end of September that requires websites, mobile apps and other online services to protect the privacy of California residents under the age of 18 by providing them with an option to delete information they have posted. Companies have some time to come into compliance, however; the law does not go into effect until January 1, 2015.

The law provides protections above and beyond the federal Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), which governs the online collection of personal information from children—but which extends only to children under age 13, not teenagers. Although the law covers only the collection of information of minors who reside in California, like other California laws, it may become the national standard, given the global nature of e-commerce and the importance to many companies of doing business in California.

The new California law, dubbed the "online eraser" bill, SB 568, applies to platforms "directed to minors" or where the operator "has actual knowledge that a minor is using" its platform. It gives minors under the age of 18 a right to take down pictures, videos or comments they posted or stored on websites, social media or mobile apps. Sites must either allow teens to remove personal content themselves or set up a way for minors to request that the information be removed. (Operators are not required to delete the content entirely; rather they can comply simply by hiding the post from public view.) The law does not lay out specific penalties for sites that fail to comply.

The law contains a number of exceptions. For example, it does not require platform owners to remove content about a minor posted by someone else – such as a teenager's friend. Nor does it require removal of content for which the minor was paid.

The bill, said to be the first of its kind to expand upon COPPA, was passed in an effort to increase privacy protections for minors online, California State Senate President Pro Tempore Darell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) said. "This is a groundbreaking protection for our kids who often act impetuously with postings of ill-advised pictures or messages before they think through the consequences. They deserve the right to remove this material that could haunt them for years to come."

Critics of the bill expressed concern that this type of state-level regulation of online content would impose limits on interstate commerce in violation of the U.S. Constitution and could lead to compliance confusion.

In addition to providing an online eraser, the law also restricts online advertising of certain products to minors, such as alcohol, tobacco, and firearms.

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