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New bill would add mandatory age verification to social networks

This has been announced by a group of US senators a bipartisan bill that would require social media platforms to verify users’ ages, prevent anyone under the age of 13 from signing up, and create special rules for minors over the age of 13. It would also require the government to test a voluntary nationwide verification system that would use official documents and IDs to check people’s ages online.

The bill, the Protecting Kids on Social Media Act, was introduced by Senators Tom Cotton (R-AR), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Chris Murphy (D-CT) and Katie Britt (R-AL) on Wednesday. It’s designed to protect younger users from things like social media addiction, but it also requires a major re-evaluation of how adults And children work online.

There are carveouts for some types of services

If passed, the bill would apply to platforms that offer services in the US and let users publish text, images and videos. However, there are plenty of exceptions for services that offer things like video conferencing, cloud storage, and “crowd-sourced content for reference guides” (read: Wikipedia). Platforms that are not exempt would have to take “reasonable steps” to confirm a user’s age, “taking into account existing age verification technologies” and beyond simply checking a box that says you are over 18.

Users under the age of 13 – who have already been theoretically banned from many social media platforms – are not allowed to create accounts under the rule. For older minors, social media platforms would not be able to use personal data for algorithmic recommendation systems, although platforms can propose content or advertisements “based on the context in which the information or advertisement relates to the content viewed by the individual.” Sites also require a mechanism for parents or guardians to allow their children to use the platforms.

Violations would be treated as violations of the Federal Trade Commission Act, which could carry severe penalties.

The bill does not require any specific method of age verification, and it says it should not be interpreted as “requiring users to provide government-issued identification for age verification.” But in his most unusual stipulation, the Secretary of Commerce would have to test a program that does just that. No later than two years after the bill goes into effect, the Secretary of Commerce should create a pilot program that would allow people to obtain a “secure digital identification credential” by uploading copies of IDs or validating identity information shared with electronic government documentation.

The reference is not supposed to pass on any private information to the social networks or keep any records Where users have verified their identities, though the bill allows the pilot program to “keep aggregated data that is anonymized so that it cannot be linked to individual users.” (This is somewhat similar to Louisiana law requiring government ID to access adult websites.) Individuals and social media platforms are not required to participate in the program.

Some are concerned about the bill as it is currently written. “Being a parent in the twenty-first century is hard, but putting government between parents and their teens is the wrong approach,” NetChoice VP and general counsel Carl Szabo said in a statement. “Congress should seek solutions to address the concerns of social media companies, parents and teens, rather than violating Americans’ constitutionally protected rights and violating their privacy.”

This new bill mirrors laws already passed in some states. Utah’s governor signed controversial laws in March requiring parental consent for users under the age of 18 to use social media. The governor of Arkansas signed into law just a few weeks later requiring parental consent for underage users, but exempting most social media platforms.

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