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Wave of age verification laws sweeps the US, bringing opportunity for biometrics

Wave of age verification laws sweeps the US, bringing opportunity for biometrics
 

The United States continues to see a legislative push to make XXX adult content sites exclusive to adults through the imposition of stronger age verification measures. Major porn providers are facing millions of dollars in fines for failing to accurately verify the age of users. Biometric authentication and age estimation firms like Trust Stamp see an opportunity. But lawmakers, privacy advocates and pornographers all have their own opinions on how to solve the problem.

Texas AG vows to continue age verification crackdown

Texas is leading the charge on age verification laws, with Attorney General Ken Paxton at the helm. The state’s recent win in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit found that its age verification law, House Bill 1181, does not violate the First Amendment, and that biometric age estimation based on a facial image is allowable under the law. Now, Paxton is on a roll: Pornhub has already blocked access to its site in Texas over the age verification kerfuffle, and a release from the Attorney General’s office says Paxton is now suing Multi Media, LLC, and Hammy Media, which operate pornographic video and live streaming sites such as Chaturbate and xHamster.

Paxton has vowed to aggressively enforce HB 1181, which means more pornographic content sites are likely to face his legislative wrath. “In Texas, companies cannot get away with showing porn to children,” Paxton says. “If they don’t want to comply, they should leave Texas.”

In its own news release, Trust Stamp calls the appeals court decision “a major affirmation of the urgent need and market potential for AI-based age estimation services.”

“The Texas statute recognizes the risk of personal information being stored in potentially insecure environments and with Trust Stamp’s age estimation technology, no biometric data is ever stored,” says Andrew Gowasack, President of Trust Stamp. “HB 1181 imposes substantial penalties on non-compliant sites and we believe that there will now be a rush to comply with the law. That aside, there are countless online and in-person use cases for age estimation services, and we believe that they all create substantial opportunities for our privacy-protecting AI-Powered solution.”

Oklahoma passes age verification bill, as New York considers it

There is a domino effect at play with age verification laws, with legislators in Oklahoma passing a bill that would put age restrictions on social media. According to PoncaCity Now, HB 3914  would require social media account holders to be at least 16 years old, and to have parental consent for users under 18.

The bill does not specify how social media platforms should verify age, but suggests potential verification options such as biometrics, a digital ID card or “any commercial reasonable age verification method.” State Rep. Chad Caldwell, who authored the bill, says it is intentionally broad in its definitions, in part to drive innovation in age estimation and verification development. “We’re giving some opportunities to some of the most technologically advanced companies in the entire world to develop some different systems.”

Companies that fail to comply with the age verification requirements face a $2,500 fine.

In New York, online safety advocates are pushing for the passage of two age verification bills: the Safe for Kids Act and the New York Child Data Protection Act. The Watertown Daily Times says the bills aim to address the mental and psychological harm that social media has been shown to do to some children.

Specifically, the Child Data Protection Act looks to prohibit web services from collecting, using, sharing or processing personal information for users younger than 18 without informed consent, and prevent the sale of any data regarding minor users without written permission. The Safe For Kids Act would ban social media companies from deploying algorithms to maintain engagement for users younger than 18 without parental consent, and require those companies provide non-algorithmically crafted feeds when consent is not provided.

Objectors say age verification laws won’t save kids

In South Dakota, the ACLU is opposing House Bill 1257, arguing that the age verification legislation is unconstitutional, and that, besides which, most kids know how to use a VPN to subvert geolocation that places them in a particular state. In a post on its site, the organization says the law will have “a chilling effect on free expression online,” deterring adults from accessing legal and consensual adult content.

Furthermore, it says, the law opens up new possibilities for criminals looking to exploit potentially sensitive information. “The bill requires companies to delete users’ personal information immediately, but without proper protections, the risk of a data breach or hacking is still substantial,” the ACLU says. “And this isn’t just a hypothetical. Health insurers, massive retail corporations and government agencies have all faced data breaches.”

The ACLU points to the “unintended consequences” of similar legislation in Utah, Montana, Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, Mississippi, North Carolina and Virginia.

Zuck says age verification should be Apple’s problem, not his

On the social media side of the debate, Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg and other leaders are forwarding responsibility for age verification to Apple and Google, with a note that says, “Not our problem.” A report in 9 to 5 Mac says Twitter’s former head of trust and safety, Yoel Roth, has joined Zuckerberg in arguing that Apple and Google are better positioned to perform age verification through their app stores.

Roth says that, “when you are in a position like an App Store, when you have payment card information, and additional information from somebody’s device, you may have more of a signal around how old they are than just an app would.”

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