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UPDATE: Gov. Jerry Brown signs bill increasing online privacy for minors in California

A teenager and his younger brother enjoy trading insults over an instant messaging system.
A teenager and his younger brother enjoy trading insults over an instant messaging system.
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Update 3:01 p.m.: Gov. Jerry Brown signs bill giving California teenagers an online "eraser button"

The governor signed a new law that requires websites, mobile apps, and online services aimed at minors and which collect their information to offer young web users an option to delete or remove the information they post.

Below is a statement from State Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) on the bill signing:

California has taken a major step today to protect our children with the Governor’s signing of SB 568, a measure that increases privacy protections for minors on the internet. Senate President pro Tempore Darrell Steinberg’s measure will allow children and adolescents under the age of 18 to remove their postings on internet and social media sites, and will prohibit the advertising of harmful products on websites specifically targeted to minors.

“This is a groundbreaking protection for our kids who often act impetuously with postings of ill-advised pictures or messages before they think through the consequences. They deserve the right to remove this material that could haunt them for years to come,” said Steinberg (D-Sacramento). “At the same time, this bill will help keep minors from being bombarded with advertisements for harmful products that are illegal for them to use, like alcohol, tobacco and guns. I thank Governor Brown for recognizing that these common sense protections will help our children as they navigate the on-line world.”

The bill signing comes on the same day that Senator Steinberg joins with representatives of Facebook to help parents learn more about ways to keep their children and families safer while using social media. The Facebook Safety Program will be presented in conjunction with Sacramento City Unified School District from tonight at the Rosemont High School auditorium, 9594 Kiefer Boulevard, Sacramento from 6:00 p.m. – 7:00 p.m.

Minors are spending more time on-line than ever before. Also, a recent Kaplan study found that an increasing number of college admissions officers, more than one out of every four, check Google and Facebook as part of the application review process. A 2010 Wall Street Journal investigation found 30 percent more “cookies” and other tracking devices on the top 50 websites for children and teens when compared with general audience sites. 

SB 568 will make California the first state in the nation to require website operators to allow persons under 18-years-old to remove their own postings on that website, and to clearly inform minors how to do so. The operator would not be required to erase that content which may have been re-posted by a third party before the author has removed it.

On websites that are specifically directed to minors, the bill also prohibits harmful advertising of products which would otherwise be illegal for minors to purchase such as firearms, alcohol and tobacco. This same advertising prohibition applies to general interest websites when the operator has actual knowledge that the user is under 18-years-old.

The provisions of SB 568 will become effective as of January 1, 2015. The measure has no listed opposition and is supported by Common Sense Media, Children NOW, Crime Victims United, the Child Abuse Prevention Center and the California Partnership to End Domestic Violence.

Previous story 8:18 a.m.: California teenagers could get an online ‘eraser button’ if Gov. Jerry Brown signs bill

Ever written an email, pause, and then hit the delete button? We all have...and sometimes we wished we would have pressed delete before hitting the send button.

In the digital world, our messages, posts and pictures can live forever. So California lawmakers want to give kids the chance to avoid problems or humiliation by cleaning up foolishly posted messages online.

The bill sitting on the Governor’s desk has been nicknamed the “eraser button” bill.

“Too many young people self-reveal before they self-reflect,” said Jim Steyer, CEO of Common Sense Media.  

The San Francisco based advocacy group focused on children and digital media supported the bill sponsored by State Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento). It would require websites, mobile apps, and online services aimed at minors and which collect their information to offer young web users an option to delete or remove information they post.

The big social media giants, Twitter and Facebook, already give people a delete button. Others would have to offer a similar option and notify youngsters that the “eraser” option or button is available to them.

The proposed legislation would also prohibit web operators from collecting or sharing kids personal information with third party advertising and marketers interested in selling products that are prohibited from minors in California. Items include tattoos, alcohol, tobacco, tanning booths, lottery tickets, guns and ammunition, graffiti tools, certain types of fireworks, dietary supplements and obscene material, like porn.

The bill has enjoyed support from both parties in both houses of the legislature. And the authors of the bill worked with social media companies like Facebook and Google on the language.

Opponents of the “eraser button” bill say it would force web operators, who are unbound by state lines, to develop a patchwork of policies in order to comply with each state’s differing Internet privacy laws.

The federal government’s “Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act” covers children under the age of 13.

“Privacy protections are needed for teenagers as well, as their use of social media increases into their teen years,” Steinberg said in a statement in April when the Senate passed the bill unanimously.

The bill doesn’t guarantee complete removal or the purge of unwanted posts from the Internet. It doesn’t protect against re-posting. And the eraser option is only available to the minor who originally posted or uploaded the content. Nor would it require websites to delete the information from its data servers.

Sometimes digital messages can become evidence. For example, a tweet threatening to bomb a school that is sent to police is treated the same as someone telephoning the threat to the police station.

Tom LeVeque coordinates Arcadia Police Department’s social media efforts. The 29-year law enforcement veteran says when a minor posts unwise messages, police can’t ignore it.

 “We can’t stop and say: ‘Oh I think it’s a hoax or I think it’s not going to occur and therefore we’re not going to respond,’” LeVeque said.

We saw some of this during the summer when Southern California police jumped onto Twitter, Dogpile, Facebook and other social media websites to learn where the next flash bash mob would pop up. It can be a drain on resources to respond to each potential threat posted via digital media, but LeVeque said police try to “vet and verify” online.

“We have ways to get back in and contact the providers and try and identify who has ownership of the particular source from where the Internet message came from,” he said.  

The “eraser button” bill, if signed into law, would give websites and app operators that have young users until January 2015 to comply.