California gives teenagers an 'eraser button' to delete their web mistakes

Filed Under: Featured, Law & order, Social networks

Computer key. Image courtesy of ShutterstockLegislators in California are working to give teens more control over content they have posted on the web by giving them the ability to push the reset button on their social media profiles.

California Governor, Jerry Brown, received a letter from the CEO of Common Sense Media, James P Steyer, in which it states:

Children and teens often self-reveal before they self-reflect and may post sensitive personal information about themselves - and about others - without realizing the consequences.

Now a unanimously passed Senate Bill will guarantee privacy rights for minors in California as well as an 'eraser button' which will allow them to delete their faux pas. This new bill will make the West Coast state the first in the US to require websites to allow under-18s to remove their own content from the site, as well as to make it clear how to do so.

The law does have some limitations though – it only covers content posted by the child making the removal request and so does not cover anything that their friends or family may have uploaded about them. The bill also only requires removal of information from public websites and not from servers.

California's governor has yet to take a stance on the bill but, as reported in The New York Times, he has until mid-October to sign it, after which it will become law even without his signature. The new law would have an effective start date of January 1, 2015.

The law, designed to protect kids from bullying and embarrassment, also considers the potential harm to future educational or job prospects. This is timely considering how companies are increasingly likely to use the web to run background checks on prospective new employees.

In April this year, a survey by CareerBuilder discovered that 1 in 3 employers reject applicants based on unsavory social media posts. The kind of information that led to their decision included embarrassing photos, evidence of drink or drug use, and lack of good communication skills - i.e. just the type of profile many teens are presenting to the world.

Whether California's new 'eraser button' will help kids bury their indiscretions and avoid having their youthful past determine their adult futures is debatable and Senate Bill 568 is not universally approved of. There is concern that it could lead to other States passing their own laws, thereby leading to a situation whereby website operators would have to navigate a multitude of legislation in order to serve content that may be consumed by minors.

In a letter to lawmakers the non-profit group, the Center for Democracy and Technology, who lobby for internet freedoms said,

We are principally concerned that this legal uncertainty for website operators will discourage them from developing content and services tailored to younger users, and will lead popular sites and services that may appeal to minors to prohibit minors from using their services.

And then there is the question of how a website operator would know they were serving content to a minor and in what state? Presumably that would involve asking for a site visitor's age and location – someone better hold onto the privacy advocates' collars!

Image of smartphone courtesy of Shutterstock.

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12 Responses to California gives teenagers an 'eraser button' to delete their web mistakes

  1. Freida Gray · 402 days ago

    Don't sites already give visitors the option of deleting their content?

    • Jon · 401 days ago

      Yes, on most sites there is. But with this method of deleting content politicians will be able to cash off on this in some way.

    • Alec, Smart · 401 days ago

      "Don't sites already give visitors the option of deleting their content?"

      You mean like that post?

      Evidently not. ;-)

  2. omegapsy · 402 days ago

    Good lord, allot of this mess can be avoided by simply using common sense. Other than that, if laws like this begin to spawn in other states, sooner or later the companies that are running the sites will just say enough is enough and stop officially serving the minor culture. Especially considering most minor's lie about their age online anyhow, at least I know I did at one point or another, this just seems like a cheap scapegoat for teens and such to be stupid on the net and not have to stand by what they post or say. Don't get me wrong, there are some good things that can come out of this, but do you really think that is what "today's youth" will use it for?

  3. Contact law makes it illegal for anyone under the age of 18 to engage in a contract, and agreeing to the terms of service of a website constitutes a contract. Therefore it is already inherently illegal for anyone under the age of 18 to use the kinds of websites that this law applies to.

    What SHOULD be done is to put together an enforcement team that cracks down on website owners and make THEM remove content from their websites that was clearly posted by children.

    Either that or provide a "parent backdoor" that ties the child's account to a parent's account and allow the parent to monitor and police their child's activity.

    • None of that really matters when the majority of issues they seem to think they are going to "fix" with this only occur when the data is waaaay out of control of the kid, the kid's parents and the companies hosting the data.

      Besides, if you make a law stating everyone who posts content on the internet has to be 18, everyone on the internet is going to suddenly be 18. Think about previous laws making it so you had to agree to be at least 13 to post anything. One day there's a bunch of <13 year old kids using the internet without their parents' consent - law enacted... *poof* they're all at least 13.

  4. That's not how the Internet works. They have good intentions, and providers should respond to requests, but you can't tell teenagers that you can delete mistakes off the internet, because that's not how it works. Stuff on the Internet is there for good.

  5. Jonny · 401 days ago

    Oh, good. Yet another reason for teens to believe that there are no consequences for their actions. A government mandate is so much better than parents actually teaching their children to be responsible and accountable.

  6. Beth H · 401 days ago

    Ha! I am an adult and I would appreciate the opportunity to take back what I have written on occasion....

  7. Why is a law even needed? No matter how old you are, if you post something on the internet, you should be able to delete it. This already works on 99.9% of all websites.

  8. AlRetd · 401 days ago

    Ah but it allows teens to delete negative material a future employer might use to NOT hire them. Another privilege for Californians that 0bummer is taking away from the rest of us, Freedom of Speech!

  9. Aunt Getgo · 401 days ago

    Oh God yes protect the minors! Don't make them be accountable for things they post. Cover their asses. Don't make them learn lessons. Keep them stupid and protected. And lastly be sure to leave your doors unlocked so they don't have to break in and party.

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About the author

Lee Munson is the founder of Security FAQs, a social media manager with BH Consulting and a blogger with a huge passion for information security.