The ESRB seeks a COPPA provision to let apps scan children’s faces for age verification

why does this continue

You might have heard the legal disclaimer “ask your parents’ permission before going online” in some advertisements aimed at children, which is understandable because giving parents control over what their children access in the digital realm is important. However, a request made on June 2nd by the Entertainment Software Ratings Board has recently started making the rounds and arousing concerns, as the ESRB is asking the US Federal Trade Commission to tweak the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) to allow an app to use face scanning tech as a form of age verification.

The ESRB is joined by Yoti, a developer of the facial scanning technology in question, and SuperAwesome, which runs the free parental consent management platform Kids Web Services and also owns several kid-focused advertising and influencer marketing businesses. Yoti’s tech reportedly doesn’t scan user faces to identify them personally, only taking the facial image, converting it into numbers, and using those numbers against “patterns in its training dataset that are associated with known ages.” Yoti has pointed towards the adoption of its tech for age verification uses by Instagram and Facebook in November 2022.

As reporting of this application to the FTC spread, multiple concerns about data collection and AI learning abuse started to understandably arise, which prompted a lengthy response from an ESRB spokesperson who tries to tamp down concerns:

“First and foremost, this application is not to authorize the use of this technology with children. Full stop. Nor does this software take and store ‘selfies’ of users or attempt to confirm the identity of users. Furthermore, this application makes no mention of using age estimation to prevent children from purchasing and/or downloading restrictively rated video games, nor do we intend to recommend its use in that way.

“Any images and data used for this process are never stored, used for AI training, used for marketing, or shared with anyone; the only piece of information that is communicated to the company requesting VPC is a ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ determination as to whether the person is over the age of 25.”

Despite these attempted assurances, GamesIndustry points out several other red flags: SuperAwesome is a subsidiary of Epic Games, which readers will remember was fined by the FTC for COPPA violations in Fortnite; Yoti CEO Robin Tombs is a co-founder of the gambling company Gamesys who stepped away in 2019 after the company was fined by the UK Gambling Commission; and while Yoti’s tech has already been in use, there are edge cases where it fails and asks for age verification by using methods that are in place already, which points out that (in true techbro fashion) the company’s face scanner is trying to create a solution to a problem that has already been solved.

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