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The age verification debate is heating up among global policymakers

The age verification debate is heating up among global policymakers

Debates about introducing age verification systems to protect minors online have been heating up across the world with tech giants stalling regulation and experts debating the best solutions. Meanwhile, policymakers and activists are making arguments on child safety and privacy.

Tech companies push for age verification exemptions in US states

Legislative action introducing parental consent and kids’ online safety is moving from the US federal level to individual states. More than 60 bills were introduced this year regulating access to social media for teens under 18 and mandating the redesign of internet platforms to ensure kids’ safety.

Big Tech companies, however, have been lobbying state-level governments to exempt themselves from the new rules and scoring wins in states such as Arkansas, Utah and California, Politico reported last week. These states have introduced exemptions from their child safety provisions.

The lobbying campaign has been led by tech industry trade associations NetChoice and TechNet, which together represent companies like Meta, Google, Amazon, TikTok, Snapchat and Twitter. NetChoise and TechNet have sent letters asking for a veto on state bills to the governor of Arkansas, with NetChoice also sending the same request to the governor of Utah.

The tech industry is also arguing that complying with different state laws would be cumbersome and that a single federal standard would be easier and cheaper. There may be another reason the tech industry supports this solution: Federal lawmakers have been introducing parental consent and kids online safety bills this session but a divided Congress means those measures have a slim chance at passing, the report notes.

Age verification solutions are raising privacy questions, Yoti responds

The price of child protection might be the end of privacy for everyone, digital rights groups are arguing in a new Verge report.

The report highlighted the difficulties of implementing age recognition systems and privacy concerns raised by organizations such as the French National Commission on Informatics and Liberty (CNIL), Big Brother Watch, Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). The debate includes face-based age detection systems for age such as those made by Yoti and used by platforms such as Facebook and Instagram.

Face-based age detection may not accurately identify the age of a person while “collecting biometric data of this scale inherently puts people’s privacy at risk,” argues U.K. group Big Brother Watch. At the same time, the EFF believes that all age verification solutions are “surveillance systems.”

Yoti co-founder and CEO Robin Tombs responded to the Verge report in a LinkedIn post pushing back against claims of surveillance. Tombs said that the company has already performed over 500 million age checks and no faces were retained or sold on.

He also responded to ACLU’s claims that difficulties in “identifying who is a kid online” would “prevent adults from accessing content online as well.” Tombs clarified that its face age estimation is not facial recognition as it does not attempt to recognize and identify anyone.

“The algorithm has been trained to analyze patterns in human faces to estimate age,” Tombs says.

Australia may introduce government ID in age verification for adult content

The Australian government is currently devising how to verify users visiting pornographic and adult content websites and one solution may be introducing government IDs.

Australian communications minister Michelle Rowland said the country would release a roadmap for verifying the age of users visiting adult content in the “near future.” Before that, however, the government would need to determine how to respond to other reforms, including changes to the Privacy Act and the rollout of government digital ID, the Guardian reports.

The federal government allocated $26.9m in the budget to the development of digital government ID.

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