Brussels, 24 April 2023. Members of the consortium that delivered a successful proof of concept for a simple one-stop-shop Europe-wide online age verification system have come together to create a new non-profit organisation to bring the solution into live operation.
euCONSENT was a pilot project, initiated by the European Parliament and funded to the tune of €1.4m by the Commission. Its challenge was to demonstrate that it was possible for one age check to be used across multiple websites, without the user needing to take any further action, while preserving their privacy through anonymity.
The project also tackled the challenge of obtaining parental consent, where if a child proves to be under 13 – 16 years old (dependent on the law in the Member State), they also need their parent’s consent before they can agree to their personal date being processed.
2,000 adults and children participated in pilots where they visited up to three dummy websites – representing an alcohol delivery service, a dating site and a social media site, proving their age through a choice of methods to only the first site they opened. Subsequently, sites were able to re-use that original age check without troubling the user any further.
In the next phase of the solution’s development, euCONSENT aims to see the network being used in live operations, allowing users of competing age assurance providers to navigate any website served by these providers without a new check.
Technically, the project is preparing to integrate with the next version of eIDAS – a European Digital Identity Wallet, and introduce additional, pioneering cryptographic protections advocated by the French data protection authority, the CNIL.
Underpinning the work of the new body is its core objective to respect the UN Charter on the Rights of the Child, which will be overseen by three leading academic experts in the fields of child rights, privacy and internet law – Professors Sonia Livingstone, Simone van der Hof and Abhilash Nair.
Seed funding for the new venture has come from its commercial members, but the quest is now on for the resources required for the next phase, with the EU, Member States, large platforms and foundations all being approached to contribute to this essential “public good.” The organisation is seeking €2.5m to deploy a working, universal, accessible mechanism to deliver compliance with an avalanche of laws requiring effective online age assurance.
John Carr, OBE, President of the NGO and chair of its Advisory Board said:
“Delivering a system of child protection for the digital environment that is truly rights-respecting is an important task, and one that many families are calling for. The challenge is to serve children’s best interests by balancing their rights to protection and safety with their rights to participation, inclusion and privacy, among other rights. It’s great that the euCONSENT team has been consulting European children from the outset, and will continue to be guided by their views as the system begins live operations.”
Iain Corby, Secretary General , said:
“Without user-friendly, interoperable age verification, there is a danger that age-checks become the new cookie pop-up, but on steroids! People are naturally cautious about using government-issued digital identities to prove their age as they surf the web, and equally nervous about giving Big Tech even more opportunity to track what they do online by relying on either of these options to prove their age online. euCONSENT will combine the choice of a trusted, third-party age verification supplier, with the convenience of a single age check giving access to any age-restricted service, while also enabling an age-aware internet without excessive costs to consumers or websites.