There’s a bill moving in California (SB 1361) that restricts how social networking sites display the personal information of 13 to 17 yr olds. It’s billed as a privacy bill and at first glance seems relatively harmless — after all, kids don’t need to be broadcasting their contact information, right? Maybe. It all depends.
It depends on the situation, obviously. We teach our kids to recognize risky situations and to react appropriately.
But whether or not teens are at risk by publishing their telephone numbers is not the threshold question here. The law presumes such and I’m not aware of any specific findings offered in testimony about the bill.
Instead, the issue at hand is whether we need a law to restrict social networking websites from publishing certain information from teenagers. And with any law, there’s always the corresponding principle of unintended consequences.
A bit more about the bill. It restricts a social networking website from displaying the home address and telephone numbers of minors who self-identify as being under 18. It only applies to “web fields specifically designated to display the registered user’s home address or telephone number” – recognizing the impracticality of having hundreds of thousands of websites police every area where kids can share information.
Arguing against bills that aim to protect children is really hard work – who can be against the children (or in this case, adolescents)? But I truly believe this bill has serious unintended consequences and sets a bad precedent for how minors are allowed to share information on the Internet.
Here’s why SB 1361 shouldn’t become law:
- It’s a one-size-fits-all approach that encourages kids to lie about their age. If a teen can’t share this info in a pre-prescribed field, they will either share it in a general space, share it via text or email, or lie about their age in order to share the info.—thereby circumventing a site’s safety features.
- It undercuts existing safety solutions and the sort of “teachable moments” endorsed by the NTIA OSTWG and Berkman Internet safety reports.
- It wrongly assumes that predators discover a kid’s home address or telephone number through the Internet and then contact them offline (instead, we know that at-risk kids are groomed online, not offline).
- It provides a false sense of security to parents.
- Finally, it’s better to educate teens on how to properly give out their contact information than to have the government do it for them.
The bill is before the Assembly, having been referred to the Arts/Entertainment committee. It will likely be heard in the next week or two, and has already passed the Senate.