California law will require web companies like Facebook, Twitter, and Google to scrub the online activity of users under 18, if the minors request it. The law, which is the first of its kind, is scheduled to go into effect in 2015.
Supporters of the so-called “eraser law” say the legislation, signed by California Governor Jerry Brown on Monday, will protect internet users against youthful indiscretion which could haunt them for the rest of their digital life.
“Kids so often self-reveal before they self-reflect,” James Steyer, founder of Common Sense Media, a San Francisco-based advocacy group that lobbied for the law, told the San Francisco Chronicle. “Mistakes can stay with teens for life, and their digital footprint can follow them wherever they go.”
The law does not require companies to remove data from their servers – only from the website itself. Also, companies must only respond to take-down requests from the person who first posted that information. That means if one Google Plus user posts an embarrassing image or message about their friend, Google Plus is not required to enforce a request from the friend.
Sites also escape liability if an image is copied and reproduced elsewhere before it is removed.
Some sites, including Facebook and Twitter, already allow users to retract their posts.
Brown is still considering an amendment to the law that would force social media sites to announce to internet users whether they comply with do-not-track requests.
Another stipulation would forbid companies from advertising products illegal for children – such as guns and alcohol – on a minor’s social media page.
A 2003 California law forces companies to disclose the information they are collecting about a user. Another makes it possible for at-risk individuals, namely domestic violence victims, to have their personal information removed from the web. A similar provision also signed into law by Brown made it illegal for California universities and employers to demand a social media user’s log-in credentials as a pre-condition for acceptance.
Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt said earlier this year that the time has come for the internet to institute a process that allows people to protect themselves online. He compared the current climate to a youth who commits a crime and then has that incident expunged from their record upon turning 18. Yet, a cursory internet search on that person could reveal their misgiving years later.
“In America, there’s a sense of fairness that’s culturally true for all of us,” Schmidt said, as quoted by CNET. “The lack of a delete button on the internet is a significant issue. There is a time when erasure is a right thing.”