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Age Verification: It’s not the measure; it’s the means!

April 15, 2024

Online age verification systems are becoming increasingly common as websites and platforms try to comply with laws restricting access to certain types of content for minors. From porn sites to social media networks to online gambling, users are frequently asked to submit some form of identification to prove they are over a certain age threshold.

While the goal of preventing children’s exposure to age-inappropriate material is laudable, the required methods of age verification raise significant privacy concerns. Uploading sensitive documents like a driver’s license or passport means providing far more personal information than just your age. Your full name, photo, address, and other identifying details are shared with the website and potentially any third-party age verification service they utilize.

Not only does this create a significant risk if these databases of personal data are hacked or misused, but it also means your private browsing habits could potentially be linked to your real identity. Someone could theoretically compile records showing every single site you have had to “age verify” for by matching up the document details. Creating an online record of one’s browsing activities associated with intimate content is vastly different than flashing an ID at a liquor store. This type of profiling and monitoring of legal online activities is a massive intrusion of privacy, chills access to constitutionally protected speech, and is a clear violation of our human rights.

There are better approaches than having websites collect and store sensitive personal data just to confirm your age. Such as::

  • Allowing more flexible parental controls and centralized age “unlocks” instead of verifying at each site
  • Labeling of adult sites
  • Device-based age verification

As age verification systems continue to proliferate across the internet, we have to find solutions that still let adults browse freely without compromising privacy and anonymity. Uploading official IDs or sharing personally identifying information should not be a requirement for simply accessing legal content online. We need better age assurance methods that avoid creating massive databases of identity documents ripe for abuse.



An illustration of a person looking at a phone.

An illustrated image of a person looking at their phone while laying down. They appear to be inside of an eyeball. (Photo © Andrea Devia Nuño, Hero Studios)

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