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Finding a coherent framework for age verification to keep kids safe online

Finding a coherent framework for age verification to keep kids safe online
 

A June 2023 policy paper on age verification to keep kids safe online proposes a framework for regulators to develop policies that balance privacy and security in age verification.

“To protect children online,” it reads, “you first must know who is a child.” The paper proposes recommendations within three categories: balance, specificity, and understanding. The policy paper states that regulators must manage risk and weigh costs and benefits. They need to be specific so obligated parties can understand what’s being asked of them. Lastly, they should facilitate research into the impacts of age assurance in practice.

Several bills and laws at the state and federal levels address age verification. The Protecting Kids on Social Media Act, introduced in late April of this year, calls for implementing a pilot program that provides digital IDs to citizens and legal residents. Critics express concerns about the U.S. government’s ability to secure digital ID data when they’ve been breached. A recent breach in May exposed the Personally Identifiable Information (PII) of 237,000 current and former federal employees.

In a webinar, Scott Babwah Brennen, one of the report’s writers, discussed the benefits and drawbacks of implementing age verification technology for social media. Nicole Saad Bembridge, associate counsel at NetChoice, an advocacy group for the preservation of “free enterprise and free expression” on the internet, spoke as well.

Implemented in March of this year, Utah’s Social Media Regulation law requires identity verification and limits social media usage to the parents’ discretion. “This imposes a really significant barrier to exercising [first amendment] rights. It also precludes anonymity and pseudonymity, which is especially important for political minorities,” says Saad Bembridge.

Brennen sees that many of these bills designed to protect kids online fail to give a coherent idea of how to implement the technology. For instance, the Age Appropriate Design Act in California, “is this risk-based approach,” but “it doesn’t do a very good job of actually laying out what are the risks for the products and features that platforms use,” he says in the webinar.

“A lot of these bills don’t seem to acknowledge this is actually a hard problem,” he says. “In a lot of the bills there is minimal reference to the actual techniques platforms should be using to do age verification.” Still, Brennan believes the solution for accurate age verification is a coherent implementation framework.

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