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Bill protecting kids' online privacy advances

With more children than ever tweeting, texting and socially networking online, a bill aimed at protecting their digital privacy proved a hit in Sacramento last week, passing the Senate on a 37-0 vote.

Privacy advocates hailed the bill, which includes a requirement that social media sites provide a so-called "eraser button" allowing minors under 18 to remove their own ill-advised postings.

"Too often a teenager will post an inappropriate picture or statement that in the moment seems frivolous or fun, but that they later regret," said Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, the bill's author, in a written statement.

"The eraser button really matters," said James Steyer, CEO of Common Sense Media, a San Francisco-based nonprofit that collaborated with Steinberg on the measure.

If the law is enacted, Steyer said it will require websites to apply their "technical wizardry" to developing the user-operated delete buttons. "They will figure it out," he said.

But Internet experts cited some potential drawbacks to the idea.

Facebook, the dominant social networking site for teens, can easily erase a user's page but can't retract content that a youth's friends have downloaded and reposted, said Leo Laporte of Petaluma, an online tech show host.

Laporte, a father of two, said he appreciates the hazards of instantaneous, international and possibly indelible communication.

"I think many people, including teenagers, post stuff online that they'll eventually regret," he said in an e-mail.

But the "likely result" of a law such as Steinberg's "will be to force sites to block users under 18 entirely."


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