2023 marks the centenary of age verification. It was in 1923 that the first female Member of Parliament in the UK, Nancy Astor, passed a Private Members Bill, the “Intoxicating Liquor (Sale to Persons under Eighteen) Act” making 18 the legal age to buy alcohol. As the global trade body for suppliers of age assurance solutions, using a growing range age verification and AI-based age estimation methods, it promises to be a busy year.
Creating international Standards
We will start the year by submitting a new international standard for Age Assurance to the IEEE for approval. P2089.1 is the second in a series of standards developed in partnership with the 5Rights Foundation. In addition to describing a best practice process for implementing age assurance which can be used both online services and age verification providers, this document also defines new standardized levels of confidence for online age checks. These will simplify the work of lawmakers, regulators, online services and suppliers by giving clarity around the level of accuracy and reliability required when an age check is completed.
Driving global Legislation
2023 promises to be an intensive year of law-making. The UK’s Online Safety Bill will be scrutinized by the House of Lords. We are working with a wide range of civil society groups, charities and campaigners to accelerate its implementation, particularly to prevent children from being exposed to hardcore pornography online. Current plans by the regulator, OFCOM, would not see any change in the level of protection for children before 2025 at the earliest. And if their record on implementation the new regulations on video-sharing platforms is the model, then that came into force in 2020 and has still not led to any enforcement action, so it may be 2028 before parents feel their children are safer online.
In the USA, we have put forward our LA-based Chief Technical Strategist to sit on the working group convened to prepare for the implementation of the California Age-Appropriate Design Code Act. This is due to enter into force in the summer of 2024. With almost no familiarity with age assurance across America, there is a huge amount of education required. We also aim to ensure that the standards adopted by California and other US states align with the global market, simplifying the process of protecting children online, and minimizing the costs of compliance.
At a Federal level, we will continue to support Senator Mike Lee who introduced a bill to require age verification for online pornography in the final days of the last Congress and will be re-introducing it to the newly constituted Senate.
In Canada, we’re on standby to provide technical arguments to refute claims that age checks pose an unconstitutional threat to privacy, when the new Broadcasting Act comes is passed. We’ve a long record of providing evidence to the Canadian Parliament which paved the way for the amendment tabled by Senator Julie Miville-Dechêne.
Aligning Regulation across jurisdictions
In Australia, we are preparing to support the team of the eSafety Commissioner as they draft a new industry code on age verification.
In the UK, our work on the Children’s Advisory Panel during the implementation of the Age Appropriate Design Code has now concluded in anticipation of a new consultative body being created under revised legislation. To date, our input has influenced the Commissioner’s thinking on the scope of the code, with the welcome extension to include sites intended for adults which we argued were in fact still likely to be accessed by children such as dating and porn sites.
We will also continue to talk to competition regulators about the prospect of Big Tech stepping in to offer age assurance services to all those who use their platforms. There is no doubt many global players could do this tomorrow if they chose, but it would be a significant addition to their existing market dominance if, for example, gambling operators were forced to advertise through them to be confident they were only reaching an adult audience.
Enabling Interoperability on and offline
Our practical efforts will focus on delivering effective interoperability for both online and in-person age checks.
If online age verification becomes the new “cookie popup” it is doomed to failure. Users will not tolerate being required to prove their age repeatedly to each new site they visit. The Association has been tackling this issue since it was formed in 2018, and work was accelerated by funding from the EU Commission to deliver euCONSENT, a pilot project instigated by the European Parliament. Last year, that successfully delivered a proof of concept with over 2000 adults and children seamlessly navigating three test websites, reusing age checks initially completed on the first site they visited, even if the subsequent sites were served by competing age verification providers. The network preserved user anonymity and facilitated an open and competitive market in age checking services, allowing for a choice of methods to prove age, including AI-based estimation techniques.
In 2023, a new non-profit organisation will launch, based in Brussels, to which the euCONSENT consortium has donated all the intellectual property and goodwill from the project. We hope it will develop into the backbone of the solution required to support the new EU age-appropriate design code, and the requirements of GDPR, the Digital Services Act and the Audio-Visual Media Services Directive.
We will also be leading efforts in the UK to create the infrastructure required for universal acceptance of a digital proof of age in stores, bars, casinos etc. The ease with which images on a smartphone can be altered means there needs to be a sophisticated cryptographic mechanism to validate a digital proof, and enabling this for use by credentials from multiple competing issuers adds a further level of complexity. Our partnership with the Proof of Age Standards Scheme has delivered a procurement process to select a preferred supplier for this backbone, and the AVPA will now step forward to orchestrate the collective effort needed to fund its deployment.
Integrating Digital Identities
We must often remind people that age verification is distinct from identity. The essence of AV is proving your age without disclosing who you are. But digital IDs, whether supplied by private companies, or by governments e.g. EU ID, mobile Drivers Licences, ePassports etc. are all reliable sources of age, and integrating these into a seamless user experience on and offline will also be important this year. In fact, there are fare more legal requirements to prove your age online than your identity, so AV will continue to drive this market
Whether at federal or state level, through legislation or court interpretation, driven by governments or private sector partners’ policies, we will continue to monitor developments which affect the sector, highlighting opportunities and stepping in to mitigate risks
As people become more acutely aware of the value of their personal data, and the risks associated with sharing it, the AV sector will need to go above and beyond the efforts of other online sectors to demonstrate its commitment to privacy-by-design and data minimization. We will continue to encourage regulators to scrutinize age assurance solutions as closely as they might financial services or healthcare providers.
And we will be on the front foot to refute spurious arguments based on often deliberately misleading claims about our industry, making the positive case for applying the protections we’ve afforded children in the real world for over a century to their activities in the virtual world.