The UK government may soon force online companies like Facebook to introduce stringent age regulations on their websites operating in the UK, according to a report by the Daily Mail.
According to the report, the purpose of the regulations will be to ensure that tech giants like Facebook are aware of the age of a user, and to properly identify child users, before accessing and storing their personal information and allowing them to access potentially sensitive content.
The Mail says that the regulations will take the form of age checks, which will vary depending on the type of webpage that a user is attempting to access.
🇬🇧 Why bother, people lie about their age anyway. 🇬🇧— C. S. 🇬🇧(ENGLAND) (@Colsta13) 8 March 2019
These may simply be tick-boxes to confirm age, or a more sophisticated system whereby a user must provide identification — such as a passport number or birth certificate — which will give them a digital 'fingerprint' to use for age validation on other websites. As it stands, companies like Facebook simply ask people to confirm their age without proof, leading many to feel concerned that children can simply lie about their age.
If the social media companies are unable to confirm a user's age, then they will be obliged to assume that they are children, limiting the amount of content available.
Moreover, companies who refuse to carry out the scheme may face whopping fines of up to four percent of their turnover — which would be approximately £1.67 billion in the case of Facebook.
At some point you just have to realize that Zuck's job is no longer to set a direction but to provide a plausible story around all the uncontrollable social, economic, and political forces surrounding Facebook.— Eric Lombrozo (@eric_lombrozo) 7 March 2019
Currently, figures show that a third of British children aged 11 and nearly half of those aged 12 have an account on at least one social media platform, including Facebook and Twitter.
The age check plan, which is slated for implementation as early as autumn 2019, is allegedly being put together by the UK's Information Commissioner's Office (ICO), and will also be part of a wider strategy aimed an ensuring young people are not exposed to harmful material.
None of my kids use Facebook or their other products. Give it time. Facebook will become a zombie. He made billions off of non privacy oriented Millenials. Free websites work till they don’t. Give it time.— Hanakookie (@Hanakookie1) 7 March 2019
The ICO deputy commissioner, Steve Wood, is quoted as telling the Mail that, "We are going to be making it quite clear that there is a reasonable expectation that companies stick to their own published terms and policies, including what they say about age restrictions."
Facebook cares about privacy just like the NRA cares about gun laws.— Raghav Arora (@raghavaroraa) 7 March 2019
The report comes amidst increasing concern in Britain regarding the potential vulnerability of children using social media. The UK government has announced a series of measures over the past few weeks that it is putting together to tackle apparently malicious online content, including a plan to set up an independent technology regulator that will be tasked solely with monitoring "harmful content" on social media.
The Mail quotes Baroness Beeban Kidron, who tabled a House of Lords amendment which ensured the new age check code was drawn up and put into law, as saying: "I expect the code to say: 'You may not, as a company, help children find things that are detrimental to their health and well-being'. That is transformative. This is so radical because it goes into the engine room, into the mechanics of how businesses work and says you cannot exploit children."
News of the age checks comes hot on the heels of report into online "disinformation" by the UK parliamentary Digital and Culture Committee. The report concluded that Facebook had become a "digital gangster" and called for the social media giant to be regulated by new government law, also saying that the UK should lead the way in a global effort to restore "balance" between social media platforms and "the people."