UK security bill to introduce biometric age verification for social media registration

online age verification

New Online Security Bill published by UK government this week will see the introduction of comprehensive rules to prevent online harms to children, including biometrics-based age checks, reports the Sunday Times.

Part of the plan is to enforce new terms and conditions about minimum age requirements to social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube which will be overseen by Ofcom, which will gain new duty of care powers over tech companies.

Research undertaken by Ofcom found that 79 percent of 12 to 15 year olds surveyed reported that they had at least one potentially harmful experience online in the past 12 months, according to a government project report on the topic.

Currently, children must be 12 or over to make a Google account, 13 to register for Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube, and over 16 to access WhatsApp (owned by Facebook). Under new measures, people may be asked to upload identification for age verification.

Digital ID company Yoti is currently developing its biometrics-powered age estimation technology to be able to estimate ages under 13 for online safety; campaigning to parents and young people to support the development of the age estimation algorithm.

“These are far-reaching proposals and therefore it will be important to strike the right balance between protecting people from harm without undermining freedom of expression,” says Facebook spokesperson.

The UK government however has been criticised for only focusing on the larger social media platforms, who already comply with extensive regulations. “This misplaced approach makes the bill somewhat redundant. The bill will also effectively outsource the function of adjudicating which speech is harmful to Twitter, Facebook and Google; This is the duty of governments, not corporate giants. We fear that the government will not only undermine the fundamental freedoms of the Internet, but will make existing problems worse,” says the Online Harms Foundation.

Furthermore, many could be excluded if age verification was introduced, because millions are potentially without the correct ID documents, say social media companies.

Government project entitled Verification of Children Online published last year reported that technical measures to establish the age of users plays a key part in protecting children from harm. The final legislation, when introduced to Parliament, will require companies to report child sexual exploitation and abuse content identified on their services.

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