California, in an act of absolute stupidity, has just attempted to legislate the Internet. Any attempt at legislating the Internet from a technical perspective is incredibly difficult and while China has made a valiant go at it there are continuing chinks in even their armor.
September 23, 2013 Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law Senate Bill No. 568 which is being heralded as a world-wide delete button for users under 18. This is great in theory – just imagine how many minors can think of at least one post or picture they’d like to turn back time on and delete before ever sending it out to the web. Unfortunately the Internet is one of those places where bad choices often live forever and youth gets a really good lesson on the consequences of acting without thinking.
In addition to this time-turner button the law also prohibits the collection of minors’ personal information for marketing purposes and requires minors, who are registered users of the site (loophole), the ability to remove or request removal of content posted to the website, unless the content was posted by a 3rd party (another loophole).
So let’s move on from the obvious loopholes to the legislation itself, which everyone who thought about it for 2 seconds found a way around. Let’s move on to how the Internet actually works. By appearance the California lawmakers either have no understanding of where the data that flies across the Internet comes from or they really do believe it’s all housed in Silicon Valley, because being a California law the only companies that have to abide by this law are in California. Websites located in other states with users in California have no reason to comply with this law and likely haven’t even heard about it.
Second the law also specifies it’s applicable to minors, however in section (1)g “…shall not be construed to require an operator of an Internet Web site, online service, online application, or mobile application to collect or retain age information about users.” So…anyone else wonder how this law is actually supposed to work?
Next the legislation says the post must be deleted from the page, but there is nothing included about actually deleting the post or image from the server itself. In fact the legislation says just the opposite, “An operator shall be deemed compliant if: It renders the content or information posted by the minor user no longer visible to other users of the service and the public even if the content or information remains on the operator’s servers in some form.”
Lastly the legislation addresses the issues of Screenshots and the sharing of posts and pictures, “An operator shall be deemed compliant if: Despite making the original posting by the minor user invisible, it remains visible because a third party has copied the posting or reposted the content or information posted by the minor.” So you’re teenager just shared a semi-nude picture of herself, she’s hit the magic delete button, but it’s too late screenshots were taken, and the image has been shared countless times. What does she do now with this new legislation? Absolutely nothing, remember that is now official 3rd party content which is protected under this law. Oops.
So in the end California has a new law, that only affects California companies, continues to protect anonymity, 3rd party content, the ability to share and repost the content, and has absolutely no teeth to enforce itself. It’s another win for the vastness of the Internet and a loss for California teens if they believe they will now have access to a total delete button; likely decreasing their self restraint and causing even more embarrassment.
Even though it’s truly junk legislation I’m sure Gov. Brown felt all warm and fuzzy when he signed it, as though he was really protecting the children…