Age verification is in the news again due to the tragic case of Molly Russell, who took her own life at the age of 14. Concluding an inquest into the case, Coroner Andrew Walker said last week that Molly had died suffering from depression and that the thousands of images of self-harm and suicide she said “would not have should not have been available for a child”.
Platforms like Instagram have been extremely resistant to the age-based content portal, fearing it will hurt their business model and make them look more like a publisher for legislative purposes, but the pressure is now on. them, as well as other online services like search engines, to start doing that.
In the offline world, we are required to prove our age when, for example, we buy alcohol, learn to drive, register to vote, open a bank account, apply for a bus pass and many other occasions, but applying this to the online world is fraught with pitfalls. In 2019, the UK government scrapped plans to introduce a nationwide age verification scheme for porn sites due to technical issues and concerns about surveillance and the risk of blackmail.
But make no mistake, age verification is coming. A series of new laws are in the works in the United States, Europe, the United Kingdom, Australia and elsewhere.
If you are online you will need to prove your age, Ian Corby, AVPA
“There’s just a slew of laws in place or about to come into force that basically say if you’re online you’ll have to prove your age,” said Ian Corby, executive director of the trade body. The Age. Verification Providers Association (AVPA), speaking at an Open Identity Exchange Identity Trust 2022 event in London last week.
Currently, when we are required to prove our age online, we tend to send a scan of a document such as a passport, but this is obviously less than ideal. First of all, it’s a terrible UX; second, it gives additional sensitive information about who we are; third, we have to repeat the rigmarole for each different site. An ideal solution would be privacy-friendly, interoperable, and tamper-proof, and wouldn’t block people who don’t have technology like a smartphone.
There are many projects developing technologies to adapt to this bill. Some access date of birth from open banking APIs, others use rigorous verification techniques based on passports or credit cards, and some deploy heuristics such as face and voice analysis based on data. ‘IA. This diversity of approaches makes standardization, which is essential for interoperability, difficult. Nonetheless, AVPA is contributing to an IEEE standard on best practice age assurance, and Corby said he expects that work to bear fruit soon.
Where will age verification be used?
While age verification was initially about restricting access to porn sites, the current debate is much broader. The current Online Safety Bill covers all services “likely to be accessible to children”.
However, rather than viewing age verification as restrictive, it can facilitate appropriate access to education, gaming, streaming, social media and banking services, said Dr. Rachel O’Connell, Founder and CEO of TrustElevate, a provider of child age verification and parental consent software. designed to help platforms verify the age ranges of their users.
“This applies to all industries,” she said. “It’s not just customer onboarding, but also data processing, all sales and marketing related activities on one platform, protection against online harm, age of people from of age-related content, the conclusion of contracts and payments, for example, enabling the digital integration of children’s and adolescents’ bank accounts, as well as for age-related products and services of service.”
O’Connell uses the analogy of a height gauge at a theme park. “If you’re less than a meter tall, you don’t go on the adult ride, you go on the kid’s ride. So in this amusement park, you have adults, teenagers, and kids interacting, but there are certain restrictions for users. He’s trying to bring that to the online world.”
The main UK regulator of the online space is Ofcom. Speaking in a personal capacity, Asad Ali, a digital identity technology researcher at the watchdog, expressed hope that the delayed online security bill will pass soon, so that his team can get on working on solutions for age verification regulation. Current Prime Minister Liz Truss said she wanted to ‘amend’ the Bill before sending it to the Lords, and new Culture Secretary Michelle Donelan said this week she was working hard to deliver it. If it succeeds, and Ali believes it will, it will be one of the world’s most ambitious attempts to control content on the web.
The bill, in its current form, has been widely criticized for its broad scope (all services likely to be available to children), its vague definitions, the powers it gives to the Ofcom and the DCMS Secretary to define harmful content, the inclusion of restrictions on end-to-end encryption and its potential for increased online surveillance. Indeed, some lawyers have asked for a complete rewrite. Nonetheless, Ali said the child protection measures contained in the bill are positive. Regulating how social media algorithms can deliver inappropriate content to children would be a big win, he said, adding that similar measures should extend to search engines.
“Not everyone uses TikTok but I think everyone uses Google or an equivalent search engine, and there is a lot of harmful content that can be accessed very easily.”
What is the law governing age verification?
The following current and upcoming laws require platforms to assess the age of people who use them.
The UK Online Safety Bill is currently in its final stages of Parliament, after which it will go to the House of Lords. It required mandatory age verification and senior executives of online platforms (even the smallest ones) could be jailed if they failed to act on illegal content posted on their sites.
EU GDPR Article 8 requires companies that process children’s data to first obtain their consent. This has not been applied so far. The UK is working on a “business and consumer friendly” replacement for GDPR.
The EU Audiovisual Media Services Directive (AVMSD) contains specific rules to protect minors from inappropriate on-demand audiovisual media services.
The California Age Appropriate Design Code Act. Recently enacted into state law, it requires online platforms to proactively consider the interests of children in the design of their services, including algorithmic feeds and targeted advertising, and to default to using the strictest privacy settings.
California consumer privacy law requires voluntary consent to sell the personal information of a consumer under the age of 16.
The US Federal Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) of 2010 may be updated to include age verification.
Australia’s draft online privacy code states that social media services should take reasonable steps to verify the age of people who use the social media service.
Who will be affected?
- Search engines – will need to show age-appropriate search results
- Social media and other platforms hosting posted or user-generated content – will need to age limit content and ensure that algorithms do not pass material that is harmful to minors
- ISPs – will have to monitor platforms, forcing them to disconnect if they do not enforce age verification
- Consumers – will need to verify their age to use certain sites or specific areas of sites