Website and mobile app operators everywhere need to be aware of a new California law dealing with online advertising to children that took effect on January 1, 2015. The law protects any minors under the age of 18 who live in California, and there are more than 9 million residents of California under the age of 18. Consequently, even if the website or mobile app operator is located in another state, they probably have users located in California, and need to comply with the new law.
What does the new law do? First, it prohibits the operators of a website or app directed to minors from advertising or marketing certain products and services, which I’ve listed below.
Second, for websites and apps not specifically directed to minors, it prohibits marketing such products and services to minors that the operator actually knows are using the website or app, if the marketing or advertising is specifically directed to that minor based on information specific to that minor, including his profile, activity, address, or location (but excluding IP address and product identification numbers for the operation of a service). However, an operator of one of these broader-audience websites and apps will be considered in compliance so long as it takes reasonable actions in good faith to avoid any prohibited marketing or advertising.
Third, a website or app operator directed to minors or who has actual knowledge that minors are using its site/app cannot knowingly use, disclose, compile, or allow a third party to use, disclose, or compile, the personal information of a minor with with actual knowledge that such use, disclosure, or compilation will be for the purpose of marketing or advertising prohibited goods or services to that minor.
For sites/apps directed to minors where the advertising is provided by a third party, the operator is in compliance if it notifies the third party service that the site/app is directed to minors. Once that notice is provided, the third party service becomes subject to the law’s restrictions. A company providing these third party advertising services will need to set up a procedure for sites/apps to notify it that they are directed to minors, and a procedure for compliance with the advertising restrictions.
Now for the fun part. Here is the list of products and services that the advertising prohibitions apply to:
- Alcoholic beverages
- Firearms and handguns
- Ammunition, including reloaded ammunition
- Handgun safety certificates
- Aerosol paint containers that could be used for defacing property
- Etching cream that could be used for defacing property
- Tobacco, cigarettes, rolling papers, blunt wraps, or any other paraphernalia that could be used for smoking or ingestion of tobacco, products prepared from tobacco, or any controlled substance
- BB or pellet guns and devices
- Dangerous fireworks
- Tanning (in an ultraviolet tanning device)
- Dietary supplement products containing ephedrine group alkaloids
- Tickets or shares in a lottery game
- Salvia divinorum or Salvinorin A, or any substance containing those products (these are psychoactive plants in the mint family, that can induce hallucinatory experiences – I had to look it up!)
- Body branding
- Permanent tattoos
- Drug paraphernalia
- Electronic cigarettes
- Obscene matter
- Less lethal weapons, as defined in the California Penal Code (including tear gas guns, slingshots, crossbows, stun guns, etc.)
So basically, all the kinds of things that kids are interested in, but shouldn’t be. The stuff of parents’ nightmares.
As I mentioned at the top, this law doesn’t just apply to operators of websites and apps located in California. The key to the law is that the minors be located in California; the website/app operator can be anywhere. Since California has more than 9 million residents under the age of 18, it is likely that if you operate an app or website directed at minors, one or more of your users will be in California. And of course, if you actually know that one of the users of your website is a minor residing in California, the law applies. Having registration information on a user that shows the user is a California minor may be enough.
The new law also imposes some content-removal obligations on the operators of these websites and apps, which I will cover in a different post.
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