Age verification and digital wallets for minors: EU launches strategy for child online safety
The European Union has devised a new strategy to help protect its children online as more protective technologies become available and children’s online interaction becomes longer and increasingly inhospitable. Age verification technologies, age-friendly design and possibilities for Member States to include children in their digital identity and digital wallet systems are part of the plan that launches a decade of initiatives aimed at improving the safety of children online.
Not to be confused with the 2012 Better Internet for Children initiative, the new Better Internet for Kids (BIK+) strategy hopes to tackle the deterioration of children’s online experience as they spend an increasing amount of their life.
A Snapshot of Online Life for Kids
Despite some successes of the 2012 plan, the figures that push the restart reveal the issues. In Europe, 54% of 9-16 year olds visit social networking sites daily or more often. Eight percent of European 15-year-olds are “numerically unconfident”.
The time children spend online has almost doubled between 2010 and 2020 in many countries and a majority of children use their smartphones daily or “almost all the time”.
Globally, a third of children say they have been bullied online, the number of online images of suspected child abuse processed worldwide nearly doubled between 2017 and 2019 and got even worse during the pandemic.
What a safer online experience means
BIK+ is the digital arm of the broad EU strategy on the Rights of the Child (RoC) launched in 2021. Adopted on May 11, 2022, BIK+ aims to improve age-appropriate digital services towards three main objectives.
Overall, a safe digital environment to protect children from harmful and illegal content; to give children the skills to make safe choices and express themselves online and to improve the active participation of children, essentially to give them more voice. In this regard, there will be a review conducted by the children of BIK+ every two years.
Technology will play a clear role in the first goal – a safer environment – but children must also have the skills to understand it, an area where age-appropriate design comes to the fore.
The strategy aims to inform policy-making in Member States and to set up a pan-European helpline (‘116 111’) which children can call online if they have any problems.
Age verification, digital ID, age-appropriate design, euCONSENT: the EU’s growing toolbox
In April 2022, the European Parliament and Member States reached a political agreement on the EU’s Digital Services Act (DSA). The law, which is expected to be passed in January 2024, harmonises the means of controlling online platforms to combat harmful and illegal content.
“The Commission will facilitate a comprehensive European code of conduct on age-appropriate design, based on the new rules of the DSA and in accordance with the SMAV directive [Audiovisual Media Services Directive] and GDPR,” reads the text (emphasis in original), describing a mechanism similar to the recent UK Children’s Code. “The code aims to ensure the privacy, safety and security of children when using digital products and services. This process will involve industry, policy makers, civil society and children.
The text of BIK+ sets out its intention for technology to protect children online:
“Building on ongoing work and taking into account the new DSA rules for online platforms, the Commission will support methods to prove age in a secure and privacy-preserving way, in order to be recognized throughout the EU. The Commission will work with Member States (which, in accordance with national legislation, may choose to issue electronic identity cards to under-18s under the recent proposal on a European digital identity), relevant stakeholders and European standardization organizations strengthen effective age verification methods, in priority. This work will encourage market solutions through a strong certification and interoperability framework.
“Work in progress” refers to the euCONSENT project for interoperable browser-based age verification in Europe.
“euCONSENT is already using the existing centralized eIDAS to verify a user’s age, through the Belgian eIDAS provider, itsme. eIDAS 2.0, which is a digital wallet, will hopefully see wider adoption in the EU and extend this opportunity to more citizens,” says Iain Corby, Executive Director of the Age Verification Providers Association (AVPA ) and euCONSENT project manager in an email to Biometric update on the interaction between the different projects and BIK+.
euCONSENT supports many other age verification methods for those who don’t have access to eIDAS or prefer not to use a government online age verification system, Corby explains, such as those based on biometrics.
“For example, AI-based estimation techniques such as facial image analysis are very inclusive, especially for those who do not have access to government-issued physical or digital ID documents, and do not require users to share sensitive personal data.”
euCONSENT is developing its approach for a better experience for everyone, including children.
“The solution developed by euCONSENT focuses on how, after establishing a user’s age, we can anonymously confirm to online services whether that customer meets their age limit criteria without a very disruptive impact. on the user’s online experience.
“It requires an additional layer on top of eIDAS. Similarly, for younger children, euCONSENT streamlines the process of seeking parental consent and improves its rigor by establishing that a legal relationship exists between the child and the adult they designate.
Updates on this age verification feature will be available at the euCONSENT conference in Athens and online on 25 May 2022.
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