Q: “My daughter is 15 and I found that she was posting photos of herself on the Web. They are not naked or anything, but they are inappropriate — she is pictured with older kids who are drinking beer, smoking pot and looking like thugs. Needless to say, she is grounded forever. But I am worried about how this may affect her with future employment or college applications. Is there something that I can do as a parent, or something that she can do to take these down off the Web?”
A: There are two major laws that are designed to help erase children’s indiscretions from the Web. One is a federal law called the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) and the other is a California State Law Business and Professions Code Section 22581 (SB 568), commonly referred to as the Delete Button.
COPPA, initially enacted in 1998, directs the Federal Trade Commission to adopt rules protecting minors from online marketing, sharing of their private information and, in certain instances, allows them and/or their parents the right to demand that certain information be deleted or made private. The primary goal of COPPA is to place parents in control over what information is collected from their young children online.
California’s Delete Button law will go into effect Jan. 1. According to its author, state Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, “Young children and teens are still developing their critical-thinking skills and judgment. A large part of a child’s social and emotional development is occurring while that child navigates through the digital world while online and through their cellphone.
“Children ages 8 to 18 spend an average of an hour and a half each day using a computer for purposes other than school work. Seventy-five percent of teenagers now own cellphones, and 25 percent use those phones for social media. As children are coming of age in the digital world, we see that they have a tendency to reveal before they reflect. When polled, 92 percent of teens said they should be allowed to erase personal information that they post.”
Children should be allowed to erase what they post because mistakes can follow a young person for a long time and impact their chances of getting into college and landing a job. In fact, a 2011 Kaplan survey found that 27 percent of college admissions officers check Google and 26 percent check Facebook as part of the applicant-review process. More than a third of employers, according to a CareerBuilder study, say they will not hire someone whose Facebook page includes photos of that person drinking or in provocative clothing.
COPPA and SB 568 allow removal of indiscretions. COPPA applies to minors 13 and under, while SB 568 allows those 18 and under to delete these types of photos and posts if they were the ones who originated them. The website operator should have guidelines for your daughter to delete them. The digital Delete Button does not apply to situations where the content was submitted by a third party, was reposted, or forwarded and republished by another.
Therefore, while your daughter may be able to remove the photos she has posted, if they have been tagged, forwarded or otherwise reposted, then the law will not compel the operator to delete this third-party content.
We are currently handling several cases where defendants stole naked photos of either their roommate’s, ex’s or friend’s phones or computers and then posted them online. These cases are generally handled under an invasion-of-privacy tort theory. As the Internet pervades our lives, the law adapts to deal with it. That is the beauty of the law. I hope, for your daughter’s sake, that you can remove these photos before they are republished.
Christopher B. Dolan is owner of the Dolan Law Firm. Email questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.