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Roblox biometric, Instagram liveness features seem to subtract trust

Roblox biometric, Instagram liveness features seem to subtract trust

Working to make social media safe for all subscribers may be the most thankless task after spotting and deleting anti-vax lies. And yet executives just keep making things more difficult.

A pair of news stories this week, one about Roblox’ biometrics and another about Meta‘s Instagram, show a corporate pattern: ready, fire, aim.

The Washington Post wrote this week about voice chat, a newer, opt-in function available on Roblox’s world-building online game of the same name.

Long a favorite capability for players of first-person shooter games, voice chat is creeping into internet quarters marketed more at families and younger players. Voice functions are part of the coming metaverse.

Roblox the adventure game, with its simplistic blocky, build-it-yourself aesthetic, is one of those platforms that younger children particularly like. Players have to be at least 13 years old to use the voice chat function, typing their birthdate in a form.

To use voice chat, subscribers have to prove their age and identity by submitting a selfie and a government-issued ID – a biometric authentication protocol that even if it were perfectly effective, raises privacy and other concerns. Roblox has already suffered multiple data breaches.

It is unclear if subscribers and the parents of minor subscribers are aware of the feature, its safety protocols and privacy protections.

Company executives discussing the capability have said ID data will not be stored, and the selfie is only used for a biometric check to confirm the picture ID matches the person presenting it. Data for the age verification system is encrypted by Veriff, which passes on whether the user verification has been passed.

According to reporting by the Post and others, children playing Roblox are mixing with other players creating, for example, their own fascist, slaveholding communities, making simulated sex noises and unleashing racial slurs.

A senior PR executive at Roblox, is quoted in the Post story saying that safety is the company’s top priority. The company reportedly has added voice chat over a year to be careful with safety. One of the earliest mentions of the feature was in September.

Minors and others overhearing obnoxious or worse conversations does not seem to have come up over that time. And there have been numerous stories about the twists governments are going through to create age verification methods that do not also compromise privacy rights.

Instagram is getting heat for its verification process, too. And like Roblox, Instagram says it has worked methodically to perfect its process and policy, and yet subscribers say they have been blind-sided.

According to The Verge, Instagram executives have chafed under the onslaught of bot subscribers. Their answer has been to throw a request in the face of subscribers for a video selfie to prove liveness.

And, as pointed out in The Verge article, the official Instagram Comms Twitter account notes, liveness authentication is just “one of the ways we use video selfies.” Another tweet notes that Instagram does not use facial recognition.

That open-endedness is good for investors, of course, but it is a red flag for people wanting to protect their privacy.

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