LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – The United States, continental Europe and the United Kingdom are rolling out new laws requiring age verification to limit children’s access to adult sites. However, various problems have emerged, such as the existence of loopholes and risks in protecting personal information.
In the US state of Louisiana, a law has been enforced since the beginning of the year that requires people to submit their digital driver’s license to a third-party agency that verifies their age when accessing adult sites.
The European Union’s “Digital Services Act” and the UK’s “Online Safety Act” require age verification to block the display of advertisements aimed at children and access to adult sites.
Lisa Holgarten, executive director of the Brook Health Center, a UK advocacy group for safe internet access for children, said: “Young people are at extreme risk online. We believe platforms are doing enough. I can’t imagine,” he says.
Activists hope the introduction of a law requiring age verification will be a turning point on these issues.
At the same time, some major IT companies also began to introduce age verification.
But data experts say age verification and other forms of identification threaten the privacy of internet users of all ages through the collection, storage, and potential disclosure of information.
Age verification is nothing new. In the 1990s, the United States enacted a law restricting access to adult and gambling sites by children under the age of 18 by requiring users to submit credit card information.
Then, as internet usage grew and concerns about phishing for credit cardholders grew, companies began looking for less risky age verification methods.
On adult sites, users themselves press a button and declare that they are over 18 years old, but it is criticized that it is too easy to make a false declaration.
Last year, Meta-owned Instagram launched a “social voucher,” in which three mutual followers check each other’s ages.
Meta also incorporates a method that uses artificial intelligence (AI) to estimate age based on user posts, interactions with other accounts, and specific content.
But digital rights experts say this is a testament to how tech companies collect so much data.
“Social media sites are already collecting vast amounts of highly personal data,” said Mark Johnson, executive director of rights activist group Big Brother Watch. It shouldn’t be forced,” he said.
Meta also uses Yoti, a technology that scans selfies, recognizes faces, and analyzes users’ ages. It explains that the data will be erased as soon as the authentication is completed.
However, France’s National Commission for Information and Freedom (CNIL) last year said scans of faces could be used to intimidate, especially when requested by adult sites, all ages currently in use. He said he thought there was a flaw in the authentication method.
There have already been cases where children’s data has been leaked to inappropriate places through age verification.
In November last year, the learning records of 28 million children were used by gambling sites to develop age verification methods, and the British government was criticized for its handling of the data.
The database included the child’s full name, date of birth, gender, email address and nationality.
In the US state of Louisiana, the new law has been criticized for failing to achieve its goal of stopping children from visiting adult sites. Mobile data and virtual private networks (VPNs) can easily bypass age verification.
“There may be other states that think[Louisiana law]is a good idea, but I don’t think it works very well,” said Ken Levy, a law professor at Louisiana State University. says.
Experts say that keeping the internet safe requires international cooperation and limits what local and national politicians can do.
(Reporter Adam Smith)