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Meta, porn industry and Kansas governor weigh in on age verification

Meta, porn industry and Kansas governor weigh in on age verification
 

As Europe mulls how to restrict access to certain content for minors, Meta offers its own solution. Meanwhile, U.S. states grapple with First Amendment implications of introducing age verification to porn sites.

Meta wants Google and Apple to take over age verification in Europe

Meta is calling for implementing age verification across Europe and proposed a way to do it. The company wants to “ensure that parents only need to verify the age of their child once and noted that the most effective way of achieving this would be to have operating systems or app stores complete the verification process.

The move would pass on the responsibility of age verification from social media platforms to firms such as Apple and Google. Other platforms have also in argued in favor of the solution, including Twitter and Match, the company behind dating apps like Tinder, Hinge and OkCupid.

Meta delivered its statement during a hearing of an Irish parliament committee focused on children’s rights this Tuesday. The company was invited to appear before the Oireachtas Committee on Children alongside TikTok to discuss protecting children against online threats using artificial intelligence, Irish national broadcaster RTE reports.

AI systems have been used to remove material related to bullying and harassment on Facebook. Meta, however, says that AI is still not effective enough in reducing harm as bullying and harassment can be “quite contextual.”

The company has also been facing similar complaints across the Atlantic where a group of U.S. attorneys general is suing Meta Platforms and Instagram for allegedly ignoring the emotional harm that comes from the use of social platforms.

Meta has been taking different approaches to ease pressure from global regulators on the age verification question. The company has been experimenting with facial age estimation technology from UK firm Yoti in several countries.

US: Access to porn is a 1st Amendment right, say right groups

As more U.S. states enact laws requiring age verification to access pornographic sites, porn distributors and civil rights advocates have been pushing back against the new regulation, arguing that it could violate constitutional rights.

Free Speech Coalition, a group representing the adult entertainment industry, applied to the Supreme Court last week to block a Texas law mandating age verification for accessing porn sites. Its main argument is that the law violates the First Amendment rights of adults by burdening their access to protected speech and unreasonably invading their privacy.

Similar arguments have been heard from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) at the beginning of April. The human rights organization reminded that courts have “repeatedly struck down laws imposing requirements that burden adults’ access to non-obscene sexual content in the name of protecting children.” This includes laws regulating everything from drive-in movies to video games to websites.

In March, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the Texas law was constitutional as the state has a compelling interest in protecting minors from pornography. The Free Speech Coalition, however, argues that this decision goes against a previous Supreme Court precedent arguing that adults should not face overly burdensome restrictions in order to protect children from “harmful” content, Reason magazine reports.

The results of these “burdensome restrictions” are already showing, according to the porn distributors. Adult entertainment platform Pornhub has already exited six U.S. states after enacting age verification laws and has contemplated leaving the seventh one, Florida.

Kansas age verification law gets green light from governor

Kansas Democratic Governor Laura Kelly has decided not to veto a law that will force websites hosting nudity or sexual images and text to introduce age verification to limit underage access. The governor did, however, warn that the “well-meaning” effort is “vague in its application and may end up infringing on constitutional rights.

Despite these reservations, the decision will allow Senate Bill 394 to become law without the signature, Kansas Reflector reports. The legislation enables parents or guardians of anyone under 18 accessing online pornography to seek damages of US$50,000 or more from companies did not prevent minors from accessing sexual content and nudity.

If the new legislation passes, Kansas could join the increasing number of U.S. states enacting age verification laws since 2022. This includes Texas, Arkansas, Indiana, Louisiana, Mississippi, Montana, Utah and Virginia. Lawmakers have introduced proposals in more than 20 other states, according to an APN News tracker.

Louisiana shows how digital IDs could aid age verification

U.S. states’ efforts to introduce age verification software as a way to prevent minors from accessing pornography have not been very successful so far. Instead of complying with new mandates, many porn sites have simply turned to blocking their websites in individual states. One success story, however, comes from Louisiana which was one of the first states to lawfully authorize a digital driver’s license (mDL) as an official form of identification.

Louisiana’s LA Wallet app, which was previously used during the Covid-19 pandemic, is now being used to access porn. Pornhub’s parent company Aylo (formerly MindGeek) has chosen to use an anonymous remote age verification service LA Wallet A-RAV to vet users on its websites.

The service is run through a third-party app created and operated by the software company Envoc. Once a user accesses a pornographic website, the pop-up will appear asking them to verify their age. The third-party app provides a code which the user then types into the LA Waller, president of Envoc Calvin Fabre told trade publication Government Technology.

“LA Wallet does not know the originating website, only that a compliance company is requesting an anonymous age challenge through the LA Wallet system,” says Fabre.

Louisiana passed legislation mandating age verification for adult websites in 2022. When the law came into effect in January 2023, enrollments into LA Wallet doubled compared to the previous month, jumping from 30,000 to 67,000. LA Wallet has so far completed more than 2.9 million remote age verification sessions, according to Fabre.

Envoc is also working on a new facial age estimation app and adding new use cases to LA Wallet.

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