California Law Gives Minors Internet Delete Button
September 25, 2013

California Law Gives Minors An Online ‘Delete’ Button

Brett Smith for - Your Universe Online

Kids may say the darndest things, but in the age of social media, those things can come back to haunt them.

To help keep kids from ruining their future job or relationship prospects, California has just passed a law that will give minors the power to compel social media sites to delete their personal history, including comments, posts and pictures.

"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,” said California state senator Darrell Steinberg. “They deserve the right to remove this material that could haunt them for years to come.”

Slated to take effect in 2015, the law covers only content, including photos, generated by the individual. Social media sites will not be held responsible for removing content posted, or reposted, by other users. The companies will also not be compelled to remove the information from their servers.

“Teens often self-reveal before they self-reflect and may post sensitive personal information about themselves - and about others - without realizing the consequences,” said James Steyer, chief executive of children's digital privacy advocate Common Sense Media, in a blog post last Thursday.

As today’s parents raise the first generation of children to grow up entirely in the Internet era, many people are finding issues related to the permanence of social media becoming more and more important. A recent Pew survey found that 59 percent of American children with a social-media profile had deleted or edited something they had posted earlier and 19 percent admitted to regretting comments, photos or updates that they had shared.

Many have been calling for the creation of some type of ‘delete’ button for social media – including Google chairman Eric Schmidt.

"In America, there's a sense of fairness that's culturally true for all of us," said Schmidt at a New York University event back in May. "The lack of a delete button on the Internet is a significant issue. There is a time when erasure is a right thing."

Despite strong support from prominent voices, the new law has its detractors.

"Our chief concern is that this legal uncertainty will discourage operators 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," Emma Llanso, a policy counsel for the Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT), told BBC News.

Stephen Balkam, an executive with the Family Online Safety Institute (FOSI), told the AFP that the law appears to force the disclosure of information about minors.

"Instead of protecting their information, (you) actually end up collecting more of their information, because aside from the need to know what age the child is, they'll need to know whether they're in California or not," Balkam said.

He added that the law might make it more likely that children would lie about their age online.

In 2011, US Representatives Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Joe Barton (R-Texas) introduced a similar bill in the US House of Representatives called the "Do Not Track Kids Act." The effort to “extend, enhance, and revise the provisions relating to collection, use, and disclosure of personal information of children” died in committee.