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Porn back as political hurdle for age verification in UK, Australia takes next step

Porn back as political hurdle for age verification in UK, Australia takes next step
 

UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has been prompted by his Conservative Party members to increase the strictness of age security checks on pornography websites to prevent minors from accessing the content. The previous rebellion was about the threat of jail time for tech bosses deemed to be failing to protect children online.

According to BNN Bloomberg, the proposed amendments to the controversial Online Safety Bill include introducing age verification systems for all porn websites within six months of the legislation becoming active.

The new amendments are scheduled to be debated sometime in the second half of February in the House of Lords. Age verification methods currently discussed include uploading an ID card or credit card details, as well as the deployment of technology akin to Yoti’s age estimation.

The changes come weeks after the Online Safety Bill underwent its third reading in Parliament, which resulted in Sunak conceding to MPs’ demands to add two-year prison sentences for technology firm executives failing to provide enough safeguards to keep children safe online.

Meanwhile, social media companies have different views regarding the Bill, claiming it may reduce user numbers, hitting advertising revenue.

According to an investigation by the Financial Times, sources at social media giants TikTok, Snapchat and Instagram said that more vetting of users might result in fewer users. The primary concern mentioned by some of the unnamed sources is that age estimation technologies may not be reliable.

Others have noted that individuals without identification or those with “legitimate” reasons for not wanting to share it may also be stopped from using social media, should the Bill result in exceedingly stringent safeguards.

A third remark referred to the fact that the Bill may limit freedom of speech by forcing social media’s algorithms to prioritize content from verified users at the expense of those who chose not to undergo verification.

Despite these claims, however, the issue of moderating sensitive and potentially explicit live content on social media, which the Online Safety Bill aims to tackle, is real. For instance, a separate report by the FT recently unveiled a dangerous trend of social media platforms promoting self-harm content.

NSW minister unveils details of digital ID pilot for e-commerce

If the focus of age verification in the UK is currently on children’s safety (its alcohol sales sandbox trials having been quietly set to one side), in Australia, the same technology has been in place for the last few months mainly focusing on enabling online alcohol sales and gambling.

Writing on LinkedIn last week, New South Wales (NSW) Minister for Customer Service and Digital Government Victor Dominello strongly suggested the state is working on a digital identity pilot with age verification checks for online alcohol sales.

“You can buy most things online these days — all you need are a few details: your name, your address, your payment information,” Dominello says. “However, there are some transactions online where you need to show your age. For example, buying alcohol and concert tickets.”

At the same time, the minister clarifies that traditional identity verification methods may expose user data and result in data breaches (such as the Optus hack).

“Given that only Govts can issue identity documents to source, it’s important that in a modern age Govts also provide options, so people do not have to ‘overshare’ their personal information with others in the first place,” Dominello adds.

“In the next few weeks, I will share with you details of a digital ID pilot where you can verify that you are over the age of 18 without having to provide primary documents.”

The post comes amidst a strong push for digital IDs in Australia, particularly in relation to online voting.

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