Bill to boost online privacy

SACRAMENTO — The state Senate on Thursday approved a measure that would prohibit social networking sites from posting certain personal information about minors in California.

The bill would require the sites to remove the option allowing users to publicly post their home address or phone number if users say they are younger than 18. The measure passed 25-4 and moves to the Assembly.

The bill's sponsor, Democratic Sen. Ellen Corbett of San Leandro, said the legislation will increase protections against sexual predators and identity theft.

"Anyone with children, grandchildren or who are just concerned about a minor's well-being knows that it is all too possible for them to be victimized by information that they unknowingly allow to escape onto the Internet," Corbett said.

A 2005 study by the Polly Klaas Foundation found that young people frequently engage in risky behavior online. One in 10 children ages 8 to 12 said they communicate with strangers on the Web, the study found, while more than half of teens ages 13 to 18 said they have used instant messaging features to chat with strangers.

Social networking sites that knowingly violate Corbett's bill could face fines of up to $10,000.

However, privacy advocates note that site operators can only act based on the information a user provides and cannot be sure of a user's true age.