The United States ranks privacy concerns somewhere between finding Pinterest projects we can actually pull off and how long is the line for Cronuts. We just don’t care much about privacy compared to the rest of the world. That’s true from both the government’s perspective (not just the latest NSA issues, or non-issues depending on how you look at it) and the view of the public who’ve collectively shrugged over a variety of privacy concerns. We’re a far cry from Europe where they have documented not one but two different Fundamental Rights that discuss privacy in a digital age:
There are two notable exceptions to our lack of privacy interest. First is medical information, because nobody needs to know about that mole. Second is anything involving The Children. Because we believe The Children are the future. Secure their privacy and let them lead the way. Show them all the Instagrams they possess inside.
When it comes to meaningful privacy legislation, unless it involves medical information or The Children, it just doesn’t happen. So it isn’t too big of a surprise that two bills pending in the California state legislature are dealing with social networking privacy and The Children. SB-501 deals with collecting personal information from The Children on social networking sites and will require sites to remove any collected information within 4 days of a request. That bill is far less interesting than the other one currently working through committees.
California bill SB-568 has the super-sexy title of “Privacy: Internet: minors.” Or, as all the cool kids are calling it, P:I:m. The bill tackles two issues–not marketing certain products to minors (such as guns, alcohol, and spray paint–which means your idea to launch a website that tries to get kids to drink vodka while packing heat and then go tag a building is totally not cool) and forcing social networking sites to remove content posted by a minor upon request.
The second issue is one we’ve heard before. The Children are young, you see, and so we should give them the ability to remove those embarrassing duckface photos they’ve been posting for the past year. As soon as they realize how embarrassing they are. Unfortunately, this somewhat noble goal isn’t really addressed by P:I:m because of some giant loopholes in the law.
The first giant loophole is that while the original content can be taken down, any reposted content by another party is not subject to the request. So the moment someone shares that photo or copies it to their own pages/files, all control is gone. While other sections may force that photo to not be identified with the person making the request, the content itself will still remain online.
The second giant loophole is that these requests will not need to be honored if the platform provides a way for the user to remove the content themselves. If The Children can’t read the manual, this law doesn’t help them. And are there any platforms still out there that don’t allow you to remove your own content.
The third giant loophole isn’t as much a loophole as a design flaw–it only applies to requests by minors. Yes, we will protect The Children but only up until the day they are 17 years and 364 days old (or 365 for those rare Leap Babies, unless they insist on being 1/4th of their actual age in which case they are annoying and will lose all protection). The moment they turn 18 years old then they are ousted from The Children faster than David Lee Roth is kicked out of Van Halen (again). This may not be a loophole, but it is a strange design decision to only offer some protection to The Children while they are still one of The Children.
And ultimately, given these three loopholes, who is this law protecting? Any truly embarrassing content will be reposted by others, or it will be on a platform where you can delete your own copy, or by the time you are embarrassed by it you are likely over 18. In any of these cases the law won’t help you, so who will it help?
I tried to ask the author of the bill who he thought would be protected by this new law. I thought it was a relevant question since, even though it’s only a state law, it will likely have national implications since California is a big state (and has the headquarters of some big social networks whose names rhyme with Schmacebook, Schmitter, Schminterest, SchminkedIn and Schmoogle). Unfortunately, I can’t. You see, although the bill’s author Senator Steinberg is concerned about The Children and social networking, his website only allows you to contact him if you live in his district.
Maybe if I was under 18 he’d listen.