In the future, how much will a politician pay to have her online past cleaned up? How many of us will have our childhood mistakes recorded permanently and publicly on the Web?
A new California law requires Web companies to remove online activity whenever a California minor requests a deletion. The law was signed by Governor Jerry Brown on Monday and is scheduled to take effect in 2015, reports SFGate.
The “eraser law” aims to prevent early mistakes from staying with teens for the rest of their lives.
The law has significant limits. If someone else takes a photo of you, it’s not covered by the law. If you’re an adult looking to delete something you posted when you were a minor, you’re not covered. Most significantly, if an embarrassing photo is copied by someone else to another website, it ceases to be covered by the law. In fact, the law only covers media posted by a minor specifically to, for instance, Facebook or Twitter, and only while the poster is under 18.
While the law’s intent is clear, it’s hard to imagine a law like this having more than a narrow impact. Facebook and Twitter already offer deletion options. If a photo or tweet you posted is particularly embarrassing, someone else can simply save it and host it anywhere at all to move beyond the limits of the law. Remember the Streisand Effect: If you want something off the Internet, someone else will copy it and keep it online.
What does this law make of archive services such as the Wayback Machine? Although it doesn’t archive Facebook, Archive.org does make public copies of coutless blogs and websites created by minors. Simply by nature of being a copy, it would seem that the archive lands outside the reach of this law.
For all its limits, it’s important to note that the eraser law is just one piece of a greater move toward online privacy in the state of California. The state already allows victims of domestic violence to have information deleted from the Internet and prevents employers and schools from logging onto employees’ and students’ social media accounts. The question is, where do they go from here?