California’s ‘Eraser’ Law Has Become the Laughingstock of State Bills

Everyone makes bad decisions when they’re teenagers, but the rising generation is struggling to leave those mistakes in the past. Nothing is gone forever on the Internet – unless the California government has its way.

[The law would] require the operator of an Internet Web site, online service, online application, or mobile application to permit a minor, who is a registered user… to remove, or to request and obtain removal of, content or information…The bill would require the operator to provide notice to a minor that the minor may remove the content or information, as specified.

shutterstock_87938587Forbes contributor Eric Goldman called the law sloppy drafting, primarily because the wording of when minors can request the removal of information is vague. Will this law protect the content of Internet users for years to come? Or will their protection be lifted the day they turn 18?

People are just as capable of making mistakes in their 20s and 30s as they are in their teens. Why should minors be able to put the past behind them while adults have to live with it?

TechCrunch writer Gregory Ferenstein also took a couple punches at the law. First, many social networks have delete buttons, but the law doesn’t say anything about permanently deleting content – something we’ve seen Facebook struggle with before. Also, the one thing that the law makes abundantly clear is that third party content doesn’t need to be removed. Meaning photos uploaded out of malice from a cyber-bully don’t fall under this protection. Minors would have to rely on the good graces of the “Report abuse” button if the site has one.

Naturally the so-called “eraser law” is padded with other addendums about limiting the number of ads that minors see, limiting the amount of information collected on users under 18, and making privacy policies crystal clear.

When you step back and look at it, the grouping of these ideas is a little strange. Yes, they all fall under the same umbrella of keeping our precious children safe – and who would ever oppose that? – but together it feels like a knee-jerk reaction to shield our kids from bad influences.

In the small print, the law lays out exactly what ads minors shouldn’t be exposed to: alcoholic beverages, firearms, spray paint, tobacco products, tanning services, dietary supplements, and permanent tattoos. Ironically, these are all the same things that minors are getting involved in that they will want to have deleted from their social presence in the future.

shutterstock_94609246Are kids just a bunch of hooligans uploading statuses with no regard to the future? Or are they precious angels that have never laid eyes on a bottle of vodka and would never dream of getting a tattoo? It’s like a group of moms wrote the bill because they’re scared of the Facebook or that tweeter thing.

Both Goldman and Ferenstein are convinced that by the time this law goes into effect (in January 2015) there will be enough rewrites, additions, and legal contests to make it look completely different from the original – for better or worse. The bill still has a long way to go for anyone to take it seriously.

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Amanda Dodge