Pressure age tests provide online forums with a thorny challenge


Captcha question description showing mixed birthday cake with candles

Example: Natalie Peoples/Axios

As parents and lawmakers worry about the way children and teenagers use online services, social media and streaming platforms are trying to figure out the best ways to verify a user’s age.

driving news; Those concerns — along with recent laws in the United Kingdom and California — have prompted companies to try new procedures to prevent underage users from accessing sites and services for older people.

  • Age verification and age estimation are part of an effort to make technology safer for kids amid growing complaints about mental health issues, privacy violations and more.
  • Proposed laws in individual states take some radical approaches to age verification. In Utah, a bill that would restrict children and teenagers from using social media without their parents’ permission, as well as ban adults who can’t verify their age, is headed to the governor’s desk, Axios Salt Lake City’s Kim Bojorquez reports..

Why is it important? Platforms are deploying age verification techniques in the absence of uniform rules or widely accepted guidelines on how to do so without violating privacy or leaving huge loopholes.

  • Efforts to better assess users’ ages may increase adoption of facial recognition technology and complaints about tracking users’ identities and personal data.

The plot: “Age verification is a seemingly reasonable, simple question, but the online world creates all kinds of problems,” Cody Wenzke, senior advisor at the Civic Technology Project’s Center for Democracy and Technology Equity, told Axios.

  • “If you’re in a restaurant and you order a drink, it’s very easy to have the waiter give you your ID back quickly,” Wenzke said. “There are no servers checking your ID online and instead it has to involve some kind of technological intermediary to find out how old you are.”
  • “There is a time and a place for age verification and it should be proportionate to the risk of the website,” Irene Lee, a policy advisor at Common Sense Media, told Axios.
  • Lee added that it’s better for platforms to provide strong privacy protections by default rather than trying to identify and police users based on age checks.

The big picturePlatforms looking to increase their user base have a built-in incentive to be more strict about age verification: more checks mean fewer users for advertisers to reach.

  • According to the Financial Times, companies are concerned about having to take too much data from users to verify age.
  • The new rules don’t specify exactly how to do age verification, Aaron Painter, CEO of Namtag, a digital identity verification company, told Axios: “Well, what do I do? Am I legal enough? Am I OK with a self-licensing person or should I go to another level?

what’s happening: Motivated by existing and potential laws, platforms are taking pains to demonstrate that they are responsible for age-appropriate content on their sites with different approaches.

  • Most relevant in the US is the California law, which does not require strict age verification but does require the “presumption” of age and the release of relevant privacy and data protections for the age group.

Meta Last week, Instagram announced that it had expanded its testing to more countries and is testing age verification tools on Instagram and Facebook Dating.

  • The company said early results from a tool from a company called Yoti showed that 96 percent of teens under 18 were prevented from editing their birthdays by allowing users to upload a video or ID.

Snapchat’s The terms of service state users must be 13 or older, and the app is in the process of updating the login process to make it more difficult for users under 13 to create an account, according to a company spokesperson. Young users also cannot change their birthdays.

YouTube: Google users are required to provide their date of birth when creating an account. 13 is the minimum age, and users under 18 get certain privacy protections by default, Google spokeswoman Krista Muldoon said. On YouTube, this means disabled autoplay and “bedtime” and “break” reminders set by default, among other restrictions.

Tiktok: The popular video-sharing app has an “independent, industry-standard age gate” that allows users to enter birthdays, a spokesperson said. The app has extended time limits for users under the age of 18. Dates of birth cannot be changed after the user is registered. Users 13 and under are given a “view-only” experience on the app.

Streaming platforms Like Disney+ and Netflix, they’ve also started rolling out age verification methods when they started advertising.

  • “The fight is for them, where is the call for regulation and protection going, and where do they want to go with their business model?” Lee said.
  • The more streaming platforms embrace targeted advertising, the more they need to comply with new laws covering user data.

Between the lines; Teens are always creative when it comes to blocking things they want, and parents sometimes look the other way — or help their kids get access to accounts.

The main point is: There are no agreed upon guidelines for measuring the age of online users for accuracy or to protect civil rights.

  • “There is currently no standard best practice,” Venzke said. “It’s a little bit of throwing darts at a dartboard to see what’s most effective right now, and that can have all kinds of implications for privacy and freedom of expression.”


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