Will There Be An “Eraser Button” On Social Media For Teens?

by Gray Reed & McGraw
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There are two bills (SB 568 and SB 501) working their way through the California Legislature that may require social media sites to erase the content of minors.

Oops . . . I shouldn’t have posted that.

California Senate Bill 568, which has already passed the Senate, would allow minors to request websites to remove that picture the teen thought would be awesome to post at 2:30 in the morning, but no longer looks good while you are applying for jobs or a spot at Harvard.  It only applies to content actually posted by the minor and not those pictures posted by the teen’s friends who have less scruples.

Before minors celebrate by temporarily posting offensive jokes or pictures, the bill wisely provides that there is no guarantee removal by the initial website ensures complete elimination of the materials from the entire web.  The law states the removal process:

does not ensure complete or comprehensive removal of the content or information submitted to or posted on the operator’s Internet Web site, service, or application by the user.

The existing federal COPPA regulations provide for a similar removal process of content for children under 13 by the parents, but this law would force websites to add the process for those up to 17 and allow the request to come from the minor.  Considering most social media reputational harm is likely to happen in college (let’s just say I’m glad I went through college before smartphones and social media), I am sure there are some who like this to be law for people of all ages?

And now, a word from our sponsor.

Another interesting part of SB 568 prohibits websites from marketing a product or service to a minor, if the minor cannot legally purchase the product or participate in the service in the State of California.  This prohibition applies to all sites and apps “directed to minors” or if the operators “has actual knowledge that a minor is using its” service.

This “directed to” or “actual knowledge” is also a similar COPPA concept which is why certain sites like Facebook do not allow users under 12, but do allow users 13 and above.  Because Facebook has actual knowledge of its users between 13 and 17, it would not be allowed (or possibly allow others) to market alcohol or possibly even R-rates movies.

Dude, my mom erased my PII!

California SB 501, meanwhile, would require websites to remove personally identifiable information about minors upon the request of the minor OR the parent within 96 hours of the request.

As opposed to the first bill, this one would only apply to a “Social networking Internet Web site” which is defined as:

an Internet Web-based service that allows an individual to construct a public or partly public profile within a bounded system, articulate a list of other users with whom the individual shares a connection, and view and traverse his or her list of connections and those made by others in the system.

Why do I care?

These bills are not likely to become law in the next couple months (S.B. 568 would not go into effect until January 1, 2015).  Even if you are not running Facebook, you should care.  To the extent you advertise on social media adult products or services, you need to pay attention and be prepared for any changes.

If you have a website “directed” to minors or with actual minors using it, the law will require certain disclosures and procedures.  Simply failing to have the listed disclosures can get you in trouble.  You will have to be careful in how you accumulate and store information so that you can respond to requests timely to avoid related civil penalties.  Perhaps, between now and when (or if) these bills become law, you will have to consider what value the 13-17 year old market means to you in light of these changes?

Even if you are so uncool that your site does not want to deal with teens (and won’t be deemed “directed” towards teens based on your content), you should at least adjust your terms of service to prohibit use by anyone under 18 to avoid having to deal with these proposals.

Google and Facebook are fighting this law, so perhaps there will be some changes or they will die.  For more on these bills and the implications, read the Privacy and Security Matters Blog.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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