A new California law gives minors the right to ask Web sites like Facebook, Google and Twitter to remove or hide any content they wish, essentially allowing kids to “scrub” their digital history before they enter the adult world.
However, the new law also would ban advertising certain products to minors, as well as third-party advertisers who are somehow notified by the site in question that the user is a minor. The products include alcohol, firearms, tobacco products, but also spray paint, etching cream, lottery tickets, permanent tattoos, and electronic cigarattes. (Facebook has already moved to eliminate controversial ads.)
Scrubbing your profile
The most interesting element of the new law, however, is the provision that a minor may opt “to remove or, if the operator prefers, to request and obtain removal of, content or information posted on the operator’s Internet Web site, online service, online application, or mobile application by the user”.
The law requires the site operator or developer to provide clear instructions on how the minor may do this himself, or request the Web site or developer to do it for him. The law places no restrictions on what content may be removed, or how much; it also does not place penalties on a Web site operator or developer who does not do so in a timely manner.
The law appears to have no “grandfather clause,” or provision that an adult living in the state could retroactively cull embarassing photos from their past. Nor is Facebook required to erase that picture of you drunkenly making out with your ex; instead, the law only requires that it be totally hidden from view. Finally, if one of your friends posted that photo on his own account, you won’t be able to do anything about it, especially if someone else has cut and pasted it to a third-party site, like a blog. And if you somehow were paid for that photo, the Web site also doesn’t have to pull it, either.
Twitter already allows you to delete tweets you don’t like. Facebook’s Graph Search is an easy way—too easy—to pore through Timelines for embarassing photos. (Here’s how to do it—and how to avoid it happening to you.) And while there’s always the option of erasing yourself from the Internet, most people probably want the freedom of publishing what they want, without the past coming back to haunt them.
The good news, however, is that Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Yahoo all are headquartered in California, so the companies won’t have much wiggle room to avoid complying with it. Nevertheless, that still doesn’t mean that the law is a get-out-of-jail-free card for school admissions and job interviews. But if you’ve accidentally overdosed on cough syrup, wrapped yourself in tinsel, and recorded a video of yourself twerking, you may be able to save your dignity. Maybe.
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