California “eraser law” lets minors remove embarrassing online content

BY newsdesk  September 25, 2013 at 5:21 PM EDT

Photo by Gabriele Lopez/Flickr.

Wish you could take back posting that embarrassing photo on Facebook? The one where you’re dressed up as a Sith Lord for the midnight premiere of “Star Wars Episode III”? (No comment on whether that describes an actual photo of the author he’d like to get back.) Well, if you’re a minor in California, you’ll soon be able to.

On Monday, California Gov. Jerry Brown approved a new law that would force companies like Facebook, Twitter, and Google to take down something a minor has posted, if that minor requests it.
The “eraser law” is set to go into effect in 2015, and has attracted some controversy from internet freedom activists. Emma Llanso, policy counsel for the Center for Democracy & Technology, worried that the bill could cause confusion. “If the sites are unclear whether they are covered under the scope of the bill, the response could be to bar minors from the sites entirely,” Llanso said. And many sites, like Facebook and Twitter, already let users delete certain content.

The law doesn’t require companies to remove the data from their servers, just the website. Tech companies only have to respond to the user who originally posted the content. So if someone put up a photo of their friend drinking alcohol while underage, the friend couldn’t use the law to take the photo offline.

Plus, there are questions about whether such a law could even be effective because it’s unclear whether “deleting” content also will include any iterations or derivative works.

TechCrunch’s Gregory Ferenstein explains:

“To have any sort of teeth, the law will eventually have to permit the erasure of data that has been reposted, archived, or interacted with. And, as a result, must create a grow a whole new body of case law dedicated to choosing when the right to be forgotten trumps our right to share and discuss information.”

Remember, no one over 18 can make these requests, so once you’re an adult, you’ve just got to live with that photo of you in Star Wars regalia.

H/T Marc Sollinger