California Law Protects Website Users Under the Age of 18

California has become the first state to pass a law giving minors, those under the age of 18, the right to remove any information they have posted to a website. The law also restricts the website from selling their personal information.

The new law in California will be effective beginning January 1st, 2015. The law applies to any mobile service or website if it has members under the age of 18 who are also residents of the State of California. Needless to say, this will encompass a large number of websites and mobile apps.

Content Removal Rights

Websites will need to permit minors to remove information or any content they have posted. For example, if you have a forum and a minor has made forum posts, the minor must be allowed to remove the posts. If the minor has been banned from the site then the website owner will need to remove the content upon request from the minor.

This will be a minor inconvenience for some websites, but a major headache for others. Much will depend on how the website content is managed. For some sites deleting content site wide will be as easy as pushing a button. For other sites a manual and laborious task of finding and deleting content will be required. For those sites they will want to think twice about permitting minors to post and the ramifications if a minor user gets upset and then demands their content be removed.

Selling Personal Information

California law will prohibit websites from using personal information about a minor to market certain categories of products. Initially, this will include firearms and alcohol, as one might expect, but also aerosol paint, tanning products, and certain dietary supplements. It is reasonable to expect the list of prohibited items will only grow.

It is important to realize this ban will override the website’s privacy policy. A website cannot have a policy of using personal information to market these categories of products.

Time to Plan

The law was passed in 2013 and becomes effective beginning in 2015. This is to give website owners time to evaluate their website: who their users are, what content can be provided by users, how easy it is to remove content, what information is sold, and so on.

One issue will be to see if your website is or is not directed to minors and make necessary changes.

Claimed ignorance about the age of a user will not be a defense. The law says information such as their profile, what they say in their posts, their location and address or identifying themselves as going to school will be enough to put you on notice a minor is using your site.