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. By Jim Steyer
Why Kids Need an "Eraser Button"

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

About Jim Steyer

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

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Comments (6)

Adult written by Dave P

Jim, conceptually this is a great idea, but its just isn't practical. Take the example of the app SnapChat. Users send photos to one another and once the recipient opens the photo it is deleted from their device within seconds. This app is notoriously used for sexting among teens. The catch is that there's nothing to prevent the recipient from taking a screen capture of the image. They now have that photo on their device. Many apps and online services do in fact have many options to delete posts and uploads today. To me, the issue resides with these points: - Too many parents aren't able to keep up with the technology their kids use. Mom and Dad get Facebook accounts, kids move to Twitter, Tumblr and Instagram. - Some parents don't educate their children on the proper use of social media and the ramifications. - There is a tendency for many not to want to be held accountable for their actions. I'm not surprised that there wasn't any pushback from anyone in the online industry. No one wants to be the company flagged as enabling the erosion of children's profiles. When we all sign up for accounts on various online services, we are adhering to terms set by those properties. Many online services don't "allow" children on them but kids will falsify their age to join. So, in the end, it is primarily (as it should be), be up to us parents to educate our children and monitor what they're doing.
Adult written by Jim Steyer

Thank you for your comment, Dave. We couldn't agree more that parents need to be involved and know what their kids are doing online. That said, kids and teens are prone to impulsive mistakes and the aim of the "eraser button" is just to give them a quick chance to recover. But this law is by no means a fix-all. A post or picture, once shared, can be captured in a screenshot or forwarded on in an instant and at that point it cannot be taken back.
Adult written by Royce Richardson

This erase button is a great idea, and I am wondering why there is not more action about having this feature for adults, and anyone who used social media. So why is that?
Adult written by Dave P

With the variety of platforms and competing interests across the various sites (Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, etc.) there is no magic bullet way to easily delete someone's digital trail online. Each platform offers a way to delete to some extent, but with caching and indexing from the likes of Google, Bing, Yahoo and others, some content will live on virtually indefinitely.
Adult written by [email protected]

I'm a fan of common sense media and my question really is a nuts and bolts type of IT question. I don't understand how the second part, permitting minors to remove content, is possible. How can you erase content once it has been archived by the company that hosts the service, or the bot that crawls the site for a search engine, or reposted by another user possibly on a different social media platform? It just doesn't seem logistically or legally possible. Any resources that you can offer that explain how that can be done would be appreciated. Thanks.
Adult written by Jim Steyer

Thanks for your insightful comment. You are right that this law cannot ensure that a user's deleted content will be scrubbed from the company's server. That said, it's as good as gone, since the information cannot pop back up into public view or be used by the company in any way. You also raise another good point - that once information has been reposted by another use, it can no longer be erased, since then it would infringe on that user's first amendment rights. This is why kids still, always, need to self-reflect before they self-reveal.