California’s Eraser Button law, which went into effect on January 1, 2015, could impact the business practices of every “Internet Web site, online service, online application, or mobile application” directed toward users in California under the age of 18. What does this law actually say, and what should website and app owners look out for?
The law, which is commonly referred to as the “Eraser Button” bill, and which can be read in its entirety here, applies to services (and let’s just call websites, apps, and such “services” for the purpose of this post) that are “directed to minors.” What does “directed to minors” mean?
The bill defines it as a service “that is created for the purpose of reaching an audience that is predominately comprised of minors, and is not intended for a more general audience comprised of adults.” Given how vague that definition is, you can expect no shortage of lawsuits claiming that this or that service is directed to minors. My suggestion: if you’re in doubt about whether or not your service is directed to minors, your probably best off complying with the law.
As far as the “Eraser Button” bit, the law gives minors the right to request and receive removal of information posted by the minor. Services must:
- Notify the minor that the removal mechanism exists,
- Provide clear instructions on how to do so,
- Either provide a means for removal of (or anonymization of) the content or provide a means for the request that the service remove (or anonymize) the content, and
- Finally, provide a disclaimer that the process doesn’t ensure complete or comprehensive removal.
There are several exceptions to the Eraser Button rules. It doesn’t apply to content that is:
- Required to be maintained by another federal or state law,
- Posted by someone other than the minor, or
- Anonymous or otherwise can’t be personally identified with the minor.
The law also doesn’t apply to content for which the minor was compensated. Finally, if the minor doesn’t follow the removal instructions, he or she is out of luck.
One point that this law is silent on is whether the rules apply once the minor turns 18. If you post information on a site when you’re 17, do you have to request that it be removed prior to your 18th birthday? I guess that’s another subject for future litigation.
Another provision of this law requires service operators to take “reasonable actions in good faith designed to avoid marketing or advertising” certain things online to minors. These include, among other things, alcohol, firearms and related goods (including, oddly enough, “handgun safety certificates”), spray paint and items for graffiti, tobacco products and e-cigarettes, “dangerous” fireworks, tanning services, certain dietary supplements, lottery tickets, tattoos, and drug paraphernalia. You know, all the fun stuff that kids like.
The law doesn’t state what the consequences are if a service fails to comply, it simply says what you’re not allowed to do.
Operators of online services should take some time to review this new law and make sure they’re in compliance.