Already one of the strictest states in the country when it comes to protecting online privacy, California recently passed another law that may require website operators to change their privacy policies. The new law would essentially be an insurance policy against youthful bad judgment, allowing minors to erase those embarrassing public comments or internet posts that could make for awkward conversation with a future admissions officer or employer.
Under S.B. 568, known as the “Eraser Act,” websites that are “directed to minors” (defined as people under the age of 18) or have “actual knowledge” that minors use the site, would be required to allow minors who are “registered user[s] of the operator’s Internet Web site” to erase unwanted content from the site that was posted by the minor. Websites could comply either by allowing users to erase the content themselves or by providing a way for users to contact the site operator and request to have the content removed. The requirement only applies to content that could be traced back to the youth. Specifically, if the web content is anonymous the site operator is in the clear. In addition, the law does not require site operators to remove content posted to the site by a third party other than the minor.
For sites that already allow users to delete content that they post, the new law is unlikely to have a significant impact. Sites that do not permit users to delete all of their public posts, however, may be forced to change the way minors interact with their sites.
The new law is just the most recent in a growing list of laws and regulations addressing online privacy. Under the federal “Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act” (COPPA), which has recently been reconsidered by the FTC, websites that are “directed to” and collect personal information from children under the age of 13 must provide notice of the type of information they collect, and a “reasonable means” for a parent to review the information on their child and to prevent use of that information. California is also undoubtedly a strict state when it comes to consumer protection, having recently passed a law that will require website operators to disclose how they respond to users’ requests not to track their online behavior, on top of an existing requirement that website operators disclose, upon request, certain information about how personal data are used or shared for direct marketing purposes.
Critics of the Eraser Act claim that the new law is too ambiguous to implement effectively, overly burdensome on website operators, and may even violate the First Amendment rights of site operators. Another concern is that the law will create conflict or ambiguity with COPPA, since it defines minors as children under the age of 13 rather than 18 as the Eraser Act does.
The law is not scheduled to take effect until January 1, 2015, and Arent Fox will continue to monitor developments related to the new law and any other requirements for website operators.