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April 22, 2024
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FTC denies facial age estimation as verification tactic

FTC denies facial age estimation as verification tactic

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ESRB, SuperAwesome, and Yoti joint application to OK the technology under COPPA laws is denied for now, may be re-filed at a later date

The US Federal Trade Commission has denied an attempt to add facial age estimation technology to the list of acceptable forms of obtaining parental consent for collecting kids’ information under the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA).

The application was jointly filed last year by the Entertainment Software Rating Board, SuperAwesome (which runs the free parental consent management platform Kids Web Services as well as kid-focused advertising and influencer marketing businesses), and Yoti, a developer of the technology in question.

COPPA requires sites and services directed to or collecting information from children under 13 to first obtain parental consent. Currently COPPA’s list of approved consent methods include the use of a credit card or driver’s license, having users mail or fax in a signed parental consent form, or having parents join a video call with trained personnel to give the OK.

The FTC received 354 comments on the issue. Those opposed voice concerns around privacy protections, deepfakes, and whether the technology involved actually worked, while those in favor said it was similar to the existing available methods of verifying parental consent, and believed the proposed technology had sufficient privacy safeguards.

Ultimately, the commissioners voted 4-0 to deny the application, but did not rule on the merits of the proposal so that it may be re-filed in the future.

The FTC noted that Yoti submitted its technology for review by the National Institute of Standards and Technology last September, and it believes the resulting evaluation of the technology should help it better understand the issue and the application.

The ESRB had asked the FTC to hold its ruling for 90 days to allow for the NIST’s assessment to come back, but it declined that request as it couldn’t be sure the assessment could be completed and then considered by the FTC within that window.

[Update]: An ESRB representative responded to the news, saying, “We are disappointed that the Federal Trade Commission declined to either issue a substantive decision or delay further ruling on our pending application…”

“In light of the FTC’s statements in its recent COPPA Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (and elsewhere) welcoming innovation in VPC methods, we remain hopeful that facial age estimation and other innovative technologies will be considered COPPA-compliant when used to obtain verifiable parental consent in the near future.

As for whether the ESRB would re-file its application in the future, the group said, “We have not made a decision at this time.”

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