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Why Kids Need an "Eraser Button"

Join Common Sense Media in calling for legislation requiring websites to let kids easily erase information they put online.

Editor's Note: The "eraser button" bill (SB 568) was signed into law by Governor Brown on Monday, September 23, 2013.

I wanted to share the letter I sent to California Governor Jerry Brown's office this week in regards to important legislation to protect kids' privacy online. We know there's been growing concern about everyone's privacy, especially kids', and we see this as part of a larger national trend.

Dear Governor Brown:

I respectfully urge you to sign Senate Bill 568, introduced by Senate President pro Tempore Darrell Steinberg, which would improve the online and mobile landscape for California minors in two important ways:

  • First, it would prohibit websites, online services, and online or mobile apps that are directed to minors from marketing specified dangerous or age-inappropriate products and services to minors. It's a no-brainer that websites and apps that target kids or that know a user is a minor shouldn't serve these inappropriate ads.
  • Second, SB 568 would permit minors to remove content or information that they personally posted on websites, online services, and online or mobile apps, in effect requiring an "eraser button" that kids sorely need. Too often, young people post information they later regret but can't delete from the online and mobile world. All of us -- especially kids -- should be able to delete what we post.

Notably, the California State Legislature passed this measure with nearly universal bipartisan support, and there has been no opposition from industry.

Today's kids and teens are growing up surrounded by media and technology. While access to digital services provides incredible opportunities, it also presents some pitfalls. There are inherent privacy risks when our personally identifiable information is indiscriminately posted, indefinitely stored, and quietly collected and analyzed by marketers, identity thieves, and others. Those risks are especially serious when it comes to kids and teens, who are tracked more closely and widely than adults.

Teens especially are avid daily users of social media. Three out of four teenagers have a profile on a social networking site, such as Facebook or Twitter. These sites offer many benefits for connecting, communicating, and learning, yet children and teens often self-reveal before they self-reflect and may post sensitive personal information about themselves -- and about others -- without realizing the consequences.

According to a recent Pew poll, teens are sharing more information about themselves on their social media profiles, and pruning and revising profile content is an important part of teens' online identity management: 59 percent have deleted or edited something that they posted in the past, and 19 percent have posted updates, comments, photos, or videos that they later regretted sharing.

Regardless of the platforms we use, our personal information belongs to us. It is not a commodity to be controlled, traded, or mined by online and mobile companies or data brokers. Both parents and teens agree. In a recent Pew poll, 70 percent of parents expressed concern about how their child's online activity might impact their getting into college or getting a job.

Moreover, a Common Sense Media poll found that 94 percent of adults and 92 percent of teens said they should be able to request the deletion of all their personal information held by a search engine, social network, or marketing company after a specific time period.

SB 568 responds to these concerns. Though there is more work to be done, we urge you to sign this bill as a solid first step in the long march to protect our children's privacy online in California and nationwide.

Respectfully submitted,

James P. Steyer
CEO, Common Sense Media

Jim Steyer
Jim is Common Sense Media's CEO and founder -- read all about him here.