On Jan. 1, minors in California can start erasing their online history — including photos

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On January 1, 2015, being a minor on the Internet will get a lot less embarrassing.

That’s the date the Golden State’s revision to the so-called California Online Privacy Protection Act, or CalOPPA, goes into effect. The tweak is being referred to as the so-called “Internet Eraser Law.”

Websites — Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and yes, even Craiglist — take notice:

The revision allows for Californians 18 and younger to wipe content and personal information posted to any website. That content can include, for example, online chats, audio, and photographs. The law will effect websites incorporated in different states that minors access from California.

CalOPPA was signed into law in 2003. Much has obviously changed since then.

The update means 18 year-olds and younger can remove incriminating party pictures or most other content they’ve posted in the past that could someday come back to haunt them. Or compromise job opportunities, since social media is often the first stop for job recruiters and companies looking at potential candidates.

The revision also imposes fines and restrictions for online operators and apps specifically advertising to minors. The fines, if levied, will amount to $2,500 per violation. That means no adverts shilling guns, tobacco, or fireworks, for example.

“Companies need to take stock as to whether the law applies to them and also whether their sites are directed towards minors and whether minors are using the service,” said Tracy Shapiro, a San Francisco-based attorney with Wilson, Sonsini, Goodrich & Rogati who reps some of the Valley’s biggest tech giants.

This means that online operators and app developers “need to take inventory of their sites where minors can post content. For example, if the sites are collecting birth dates,” Shapiro said.

“They need to have these procedures in place when the law goes into effect.”

According to The Secure Times:

“Online operators do not need to allow removal of information in certain circumstances, including where (1) the content or information was posted by a third party; (2) state or federal law requires the operator or third party to retain such content or information; or (3) the operator anonymizes the content or information. The bill further clarifies that online operators need only remove the information from public view; the bill does not require wholesale deletion of the information from the online operator’s servers.”

The revised law has potentially massive ramifications for not just Web service providers but also, for the first time, mobile app developers.

According to the CalOPPA statutes:

“An operator of a commercial Web site or online service that collects personally identifiable information through the Internet about individual consumers residing in California who use or visit its commercial Web site or online service shall conspicuously post its privacy policy on its Web site, or in the case of an operator of an online service, make that policy available in accordance with paragraph (5) of subdivision (b) of Section 22577. An operator shall be in violation of this subdivision only if the operator fails to post its policy within 30 days after being notified of noncompliance.”

Nicholas Pacillo, a spokesman for California Attorney General Kamala Harris, did not return numerous emails and phone calls for comment. Weird!

News of the CalOPPA amendment dovetails neatly with the recent decision by the feds to begin going after online operators and app developers violating tenets of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, which VentureBeat exclusively reported last month. The feds tweaked COPPA last year in order to give online advertisers, gaming outfits, and others a so-called grace period to adapt to the rapidly changing online mobile advertising space or face the consequences. That grace period, according to the FTC, is now over.

The feds’ COPPA amendment means that mobile ad marketers, ad retargeters, and other firms caught selling information or otherwise violating COPPA statutes will be fined up to $16,000 per infraction. That translates into $16,000 for each app download or login where COPPA is being violated.

COPPA was crafted by Congress in 1998 to protect children from online predators and protect marketing firms from selling information about their Internet usage and personal details to third-party data firms. When children log onto gaming sites and download apps, the information they give is, by law, supposed to remain safe with the companies they’re interacting with.

The 2013 revision to COPPA broadened the act, extending the definition of children’s personal information to include “persistent identifiers such cookies that track a child’s activity online, as well as geolocation information, photos, videos, and audio recordings,” the FTC announced last summer.

As for the CalOPPA amendment, it means that app developers and website operators need to begin better policing their sites.

They need to notify minors and issue “clear instructions on how to remove the content,” Shapiro said.


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