California Wants to Give Kids an Online Eraser Button

The state is looking to protect minors from themselves.

Do-overs: Minors are getting a digital "eraser button." 
www.webstrana.com
Brendan Sasso
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Brendan Sasso
Feb. 24, 2014, midnight

Cali­for­nia wants to help keep kids from cre­at­ing In­ter­net legacies they might nev­er live down.

With young people in­creas­ingly post­ing every move they make (and every thought they think) on­line, and with Con­gress do­ing little in re­cent years to ex­pand fed­er­al pri­vacy pro­tec­tions, the state is mov­ing to en­sure that minor youth­ful in­dis­cre­tions don’t haunt its young res­id­ents for years to come.

Start­ing next year, state law will re­quire web­sites to of­fer an “eraser but­ton” for minors — a pro­vi­sion aimed at en­abling any­one un­der 18 to de­lete in­form­a­tion they post on­line.

The meas­ure — which also re­quires web­sites and apps to in­form minors of their rights to have a post re­moved and to make it clear how to ex­er­cise those rights — is part of a dec­ade-plus pat­tern in a state that is home to the world’s largest In­ter­net com­pan­ies and to some of the toughest on­line pri­vacy reg­u­la­tions in the na­tion.

In 2002, Cali­for­nia be­came the first state to pass a law re­quir­ing com­pan­ies to no­ti­fy cus­tom­ers if their data pri­vacy has been breached. Today, 46 states plus the Dis­trict of Columbia have data-breach no­ti­fic­a­tion laws, and Con­gress is con­sid­er­ing a fed­er­al stand­ard.

In 2003, the state passed the land­mark Cali­for­nia On­line Pri­vacy Pro­tec­tion Act, which re­quires all web­sites that col­lect per­son­al in­form­a­tion to post clear pri­vacy policies.

Of­fi­cials have been ag­gress­ive in en­for­cing the on­line pri­vacy law: Cali­for­nia At­tor­ney Gen­er­al Kamala Har­ris has in­ter­preted the le­gis­la­tion to cov­er not only web­sites but also mo­bile ap­plic­a­tions, and in 2012 she sent let­ters to 100 mo­bile apps that lacked ad­equate pri­vacy state­ments. Thirty days later, Delta Air­lines still hadn’t up­dated its app, so she sued.

Last year, Har­ris also suc­cess­fully lob­bied the Le­gis­lature to pass a law re­quir­ing sites and ad­vert­isers to dis­close wheth­er they hon­or “do-not-track” re­quests, for­cing com­pan­ies to re­veal wheth­er they are track­ing users against their wishes.

Pri­vacy ad­voc­ates have cel­eb­rated Cali­for­nia for lead­ing the way on a crit­ic­al is­sue.

“I think [Cali­for­nia of­fi­cials] re­cog­nize that the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment has pretty much ab­dic­ated its re­spons­ib­il­ity to pro­tect con­sumers,” said Justin Brook­man, dir­ect­or of con­sumer pri­vacy for the Cen­ter for Demo­cracy and Tech­no­logy.

And be­cause of the glob­al nature of the In­ter­net, whatever Cali­for­nia re­quires fre­quently be­comes the stand­ard for on­line busi­nesses around the world.

Not every­one, however, is so thrilled with the state’s tough stand­ards.

Crit­ics ar­gue that the eraser-but­ton law cre­ates a false sense of se­cur­ity for teens — there’s noth­ing the state can do, after all, to stop people from down­load­ing em­bar­rass­ing pic­tures from Face­book or retweet­ing an ill-ad­vised tweet. And as many young people have learned, once con­tent is shared on the In­ter­net, it’s nearly im­possible to take back, even if the ori­gin­al ma­ter­i­al is pulled.

Busi­ness groups also warn that Cali­for­nia is in danger of strangling the in­dustry that has provided a tre­mend­ous eco­nom­ic boost to the state and the en­tire na­tion.

But ab­sent any ac­tion at the fed­er­al level, states have been left to their own devices, so to speak. Wash­ing­ton is do­ing little to pro­tect the first gen­er­a­tion in his­tory with a 1-click op­tion for ru­in­ing their lives, and Cali­for­nia’s eraser-but­ton law, however con­tro­ver­sial, is an at­tempt to step in­to that breach.

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