California’s Eraser Bill: Is It a Victory or Just an Empty Promise?

October 24, 2013

Thursday, October 24, 2013 by Natalie Deyneka
In what is may be an enormous relief for parents all over California, Governor Jerry Brown signed Senate Bill No. 568, affectionately known as the “Eraser Bill,” into law last month. The law will take effect starting January 1, 2015.  Why the relief?  For one thing, the bill limits the ability online retailers to market alcoholic beverages, firearms, obscene matter, and many other items to a minor “if the marketing or advertising is specifically directed to that minor based upon information specific to that minor.”  Already, federal law (the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act of 1998, to be precise) prohibits the collection of personal information from children absent a notice indicating what information is being collected, for what purpose, and a chance for parents to refuse further collection of information. Now, Internet operators and advertising services that serve minors in California will be prohibited from using collected information about a minor to intentionally market any items prohibited under the bill.
And of course, although the law will technically only apply to California residents, it is certainly worth wondering whether Internet operators based in other states will simply adjust their policies across the board to make things easier.

And, even more significantly, what effect could this eventually have on more negative online activity like cyberbullying?

In addition to limiting marketing towards minors, the bill has another interesting component.  Specifically, it includes a section that says operators of Websites, online services, mobile applications, or online applications must remove online content at a minor’s request.  That is to say, when someone under the age of eighteen posts a picture or message that they wish they hadn’t  (I mean, haven’t we all done that at one point or another?) they will have a legal right to remove the content.  As the bill’s author, Senator Darrell Steinberg explained, “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.”
However, while the idea behind the law is laudable and is sure to be appreciated by many a teenager applying for jobs, colleges, etc., the realistic impact of the law may be somewhat limited.  Despite it’s “eraser” provision news sources have already pointed out that “websites will not be required to delete re-postings by a third party of the minor’s original post.”  Moreover, as Slate points out, do we really want to be sending out the message that, “whatever you do on the Internet is fine because you can always just hit ‘undo’ afterwards?” And, even more significantly, what effect could this eventually have on more negative online activity like cyberbullying?
Regardless of the realistic application of the law, the idea and force behind it are certainly commendable.  Hopefully, if nothing else, the law will at least prompt more dialogue between children and adults about what content is appropriate to post online and how difficult it is to truly hit an erase button when it comes to the internet.