At the New Scientist, Samford University law professor Woodrow Hartzog discusses legislation in California (SB 568 HTML; pdf) concerning children’s privacy in an opinion column. (Gov. Jerry Brown (D) has signed the bill into law.) Hartzog writes:
California has enacted bill SB-568, known as the “online eraser law”. Among other things, from 2015 it gives residents under 18 a limited right to delete personal information that they, as registered users of sites and networks, posted online or on a mobile app.
Critics claim it is a toothless law because it is full of exceptions and its scope too limited to properly protect teenagers, for example by excluding re-posts. They also fear a disastrous effect on the social web, with broken conversation chains abounding (though many social media users have been able to delete posts for years without significant issues of this sort).
While the critics correctly identify the unclear language in the statute, they miss the point when they say it will be ineffective because it won’t remove the truly harmful “viral” information that gets widely shared on the internet.
What they fail to realise is that the modest protection offered by this eraser law is not a defect, it’s a feature. These limitations represent deference to free speech principles while giving users the option of erasing heaps of disclosures that no one found interesting enough to share. […]
California’s new law only applies to the “front end” of the web, the user interface. If a teen elects to have information erased, the website or application doesn’t have to delete it from databases, it only has to make posts invisible to others. […]
Because it explicitly exempts information posted by a third party, users can only delete their own posts. There is no right to delete copies that have been shared, re-posted, retweeted or otherwise distributed.
However, such a limitation is a necessity. To allow a user to delete the re-posts of others or, even worse, to give users the power to delete any reference to them on the web – as proposed by the most robust version of “the right to be forgotten” currently being contemplated in the European Union – would be disastrous. It would be unfeasible, a significant administrative burden and, most importantly, a serious threat to freedom of speech. […]
Embracing such modest protections won’t, of course, solve all of the privacy problems inherent in the social web. But a complete “right to be forgotten” or any other digital privacy panacea has always been an illusion.