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9 Feb, 2022 09:59

Porn sites may employ facial recognition to verify user’s age – reports

Australian activists have slammed plans for age verification for adult site users as “an unjustifiable invasion of our privacy”
Porn sites may employ facial recognition to verify user’s age – reports

Two government agencies in Australia have teamed up to expand the testing of age-verification technology to porn sites, with facial recognition considered among the possible options, leaked papers have revealed.

According to the documents obtained by the Canberra Times, the Office of the eSafety Commissioner and the Digital Transformation Agency (DTA) have been involved in the trials of age-verification means for online gambling and alcohol sales since late 2021.

And this testing program will be expanded to include porn websites sometime between April and June this year, the outlet reported on Monday.

Facial recognition has been proposed among the tools for adult contentment viewers to prove they’re 18 or older, according to notes that were submitted to eSafety commissioner Julie Inman-Grant last autumn.

Both agencies have denied testing age-verification tech for porn sites when addressed by the media.

However, the Office of the eSafety Commissioner acknowledged ordering a “roadmap” for trials similar to those described by the Canberra Times back in 2020, following recommendations from a parliamentary committee.

The agency’s spokesman said that eSafety had been focused on identifying the most effective and privacy-preserving verification tools, but added that it “has not yet formed a view on the use of any particular technology.”

Samantha Floreani of Digital Rights Watch Australia has expressed concern over the report, telling VICE that “any system which logs, records or otherwise documents individuals’ access to pornography or other restricted material makes us all less safe and is an unjustifiable invasion of our privacy.”

As for the age-verification tech, it had been lacking accuracy and allowed for easy bypass through the use of VPNs, the activist pointed out. Facial recognition, in particular, has been “less accurate on the faces of women, non-binary people and people with darker skin tones,” which could prevent whole groups of people from using this tech.

But while Australia is only speculating about it, the UK government is already on the brink of officially introducing age verification for its porn site users.

On Tuesday, British digital minister Chris Philp announced amendments to last year’s Online Safety Bill, describing them as “world-leading measures to protect children from accessing pornography online.”

The proposed changes would force adult websites to introduce “robust checks” to assure their viewers are of the appropriate age. It would be up to the platforms to decide on the specific age-verification tools, but they could include submitting users’ credit card data or addressing third-party services to confirm their age against government database.

The websites to violate those rules could be slapped with a fine of up to 10% of global annual revenue by UK media regulator Ofcom or end up being blocked in the country.

The amendments are expected to be submitted to parliament in the next few months and introduced “as soon as possible” after the bill is passed.