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Optimism abounds about the future of online child safety at Westminster policy event

Optimism abounds about the future of online child safety at Westminster policy event
 

A group of experts gathered together at a Westminster eForum policy conference to discuss the “Next steps for online safety policy and practice in the UK.”

Iain Corby, executive director at The Age Verification Providers Association, acknowledges the high scale of the problem of stopping young people from consuming pornography in the UK, noting the millions of porn sites worldwide and the widespread use of VPNs to avoid blocks.

However, he thinks it is reasonable that the norms that we apply in the real world are applied online, noting that you would not expect a child to be allowed to go into a “casino to place a bet.”

However, he remained confident it will be possible for over 18s to prove their age, without revealing their identity, predicting that in five years almost all websites “will need to know your approximate age.”

“The technology is there to do it, we can put a man on the moon, and we can certainly allow you to prove your age without disclosing who you are,” he explained.

Helen Burrows, policy and public affairs director, BT Group, poured water on some of the cynics of online age verification. She pointed out that when it comes to “real-world” use cases of ID, adults sometimes fail to be able to do what they want, and young people often manage to circumvent these blocks, for example by using fake IDs.

Burrows claims that there is a “wealth of evidence” that citizens “want change” as well as “laws and regulations” to drive this change, on the subject of online age verification.

“They are willing to accept some changes and some curtailments to some of their rights in order to improve the experience and better protect other rights,” she argued.

Sigurdur Ragnarsson, chief executive officer at Videntifier Technologies, mainly discussed a technology known as hash matching, which groups ‘chunks’ of data and compares them with chunks in other files, which can be used to spot dangerous content online, such as child pornography.

The executive went on to highlight some of the current technical limitations involving this type of technology.

“The most commonly used hashing technology used for video matching is very limited, I can only match videos that are exact duplicates,” he explains.

Going forward he suggests the establishment of a cloud-based platform, linked to multiple other databases, which could be used to effectively scan images or video for harmful content. Ragnarsson also pointed to more advanced algorithms that in the future could identify harmful content, even if the video has been edited or cut up into snippets.

Paula Sussex, CEO of OneID, departed from some of the discussion of controlling children’s online activity to touch on some of the more positive aspects of maintaining anonymity online for example “whistleblowing and journalists who want to be able to speak without fear of recrimination.”

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