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US government blocks “age estimation” technology that would have analysed faces

The US Federal Trade Commission has blocked plans to introduce “privacy-protective facial age estimation” technology, which would have analysed the geometry of a user’s face to determine their age.

An application to use the technology had been submitted in July last year by the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB), UK-based identity software firm Yoti, and youth marketing company SuperAwesome – previously part of Fortnite maker Epic Games.

The technology had been designed to enforce the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Rule (COPPA), which requires parental consent to be given for any online service likely to engage with users under the age of 13.

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The FTC’s decision to deny the application to add facial age estimation technology as a new COPPA parental consent method was unanimous, though without prejudice – so a request to use the technology could be submitted again in future, and the FTC itself has not ruled on its merits one way or another.

In a statement shared with Eurogamer last year, the ESRB said the technology had been designed to be used by adults seeking to give parental permissions, rather than children thmselves.

“First and foremost, this application is not to authorise the use of this technology with children. Full stop. Nor does this software take and store ‘selfies’ of users or attempt to confirm the identity of users,” an ESRB spokesperson told Eurogamer.

“Furthermore, this application makes no mention of using age estimation to prevent children from purchasing and/or downloading restrictively rated video games, nor do we intend to recommend its use in that way.”

Photographic imagery would not have been taken or stored, and there would be no attempt to identify anybody using facial recognition algorithms, the ESRB had said.

It’s unclear if and when the ESRB and others might resubmit the technology for review in the future.

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