California Law Says All Websites Must Give Minors Option To Delete User Activity

The new law will take effect in January 2015.

ByABC News
September 24, 2013, 4:35 PM

Sept. 24, 2013— -- Posting spring break photos on Facebook. Watching "Battlefield Earth" on Netflix. Tweeting anything with #YOLO. These are just a handful of things people have done on the Internet that they may regret in the future. But a new California law is giving young people the chance to scrub their online activity clean.

An addendum to SB 568, sponsored by California State Sen. Darrell Steinberg, compels online companies and app developers to give minors (defined as anyone younger than 18 years old) the ability to remove any of their online content. The law also says that it's acceptable for a website to allow minor users the ability to file a request for content deletion. Gov. Jerry Brown signed the bill into law on Monday.

Bradley Shear, a lawyer who specializes in Internet privacy and social media, views California's new law as a milestone for an individual's right to privacy, though more from a legal point of view than a philosophical one. "A minor with a juvenile record can petition the courts to have it expunged when he turns 18," he said. "This new law is akin to what's already out there in traditional law."

The law may only apply to Californians, but that doesn't mean companies based outside of the state can ignore the rules. "If your website is accessible by any California resident, then you need to ensure that it's abiding by the new law," Shear said.

Many companies already let users take charge of their content. "Facebook, Twitter and Instagram all provide people the means to delete content," said Shear. "But not all digital platforms do. I think the law forces companies to really incorporate privacy into their design, rather than as an afterthought."

There have been attempts to enact a similar law on the federal level. John Simpson, director of Consumer Watchdog's Privacy Project, said the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act covers kids under the age of 13. "But there are some folks out there in their early teens that aren't quite aware of the consequences of what they might post," he said.

"If your website is accessible by any California resident, then you need to ensure that it's abiding by the new law."

Simpson, a California resident himself, said there are several other pieces of legislation in the works in California focused on privacy. One of those bills, AB 370, wants website owners to explicitly spell out what they do when they receive "do not track" requests. "It could be something as simple as saying 'We don't honor them,' but it's still a step forward," he said.

State Sen. Darrell Steinberg did not immediately respond to ABC News' request for commentary about the law he is sponsoring.

The new law won't take effect until Jan. 1, 2015. Even then, Shear still said it's going to be a bit of a bumpy road. "When a restaurant opens up, you don't expect service to be perfect," he said. "It's just like any new law when it's put in the books. It will take some time to figure out how to enforce it."