France, Utah consider age verification for social media users
The French government has advanced a bill to establish an obligation for social networks to put in place a technical solution for verifying the age of users and parental consent for those under 15 years old.
In its initial reading, the bill was overwhelmingly adopted by the lower house, with eighty-two votes for the legislation and two against. It will now go to the senate, which must approve the bill for it to become law, as explained in a francetvinfo.fr article.
Companies suffering a data breach could be fined up to 1 percent of their worldwide turnover, according to the report.
Parents are also allowed to suspend their child’s accounts if they are under 15.
According to data from the National Commission for Computing and Liberties (CNIL), the average age of first registration on social networks is eight and a half years old. More than half of 10-14-year-old children have an account.
According to Jean-Noël Barrot, the French Minister Delegate for Digital Transition, France will soon be the first country to generalize parental control by default on all devices sold on its territory. The government also planned to test an age-verification solution to block minors’ access to pornographic sites.
Utah to introduce Social Media Regulation Act
Meanwhile, in North America, legislators have just proposed a new bill in Utah requiring social media companies to authenticate the age of each person attempting to establish or renew an account. It will also require consent from a parent or guardian if the person is under 18 years old.
This proposed bill mandates that particular social media accounts prohibit messaging directly, display a minor’s account in searches, and store or use any personal information from the said account.
In addition, the Division of Consumer Protection has been authorized to receive and investigate any alleged violations of this act. Administrative fines will be imposed for those found in violation. Private citizens who have experienced losses due to these violations can file a claim with their lawyer and seek damages.
The tech industry trade association, NetChoice, has criticized the proposed legislation. The organization argues that the chosen means are unconstitutional and require businesses to collect sensitive information about all Utahns, putting everyone at risk.
Tech companies struggle with implementation
In light of this new legislation and increasing concerns about how minors use online services, social media and streaming platforms are striving to discover the most effective ways of verifying a user’s age.
Trying to more accurately ascertain users’ ages may be hindered by growing concerns about implementing biometric technology and tracking personal data and identities online.
While legislation may require age verification, the law does not tell companies exactly how to do this.
“It’s left commercial companies out there saying, Alright, what do I do?” says Aaron Painter, the CEO of Nametag, in an Axios article. “Is it going to be sufficient for the law? Am I okay with someone self-consenting, or do I need to go to another level?”
Platforms like Instagram, Snapchat, YouTube, TikTok and streaming services such as Disney+ and Netflix have implemented age verification tools to ensure users are not accessing content they should not be. However, there is currently no standard best practice, so companies are finding their own ways to ensure users are not accessing inappropriate content.
“Right now, it’s a little bit of throwing darts at the dartboard to see what is most effective, and that can create all sorts of implications for privacy and free expression,” says Cody Venzke, the senior counsel at the Center for Democracy and Technology’s Equity in Civic Technology project, to Axios.