Video Game Rating Board Wants ‘Facial Age Estimation’ Technology to Verify Age

The landscape of video games is constantly evolving, with new technologies and innovations shaping the way we play and interact with these digital experiences. One area that has garnered significant attention in recent years is the use of facial recognition technology for age verification purposes. The Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB), the organization responsible for assigning age and content ratings to video games in the United States, is exploring the implementation of facial scanning technology to enhance age verification and ensure compliance with regulations such as the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act Rule (COPPA).

The Role of the ESRB in Video Game Age Ratings

Before delving into the specifics of facial recognition technology, it is important to understand the role of the ESRB in the video game industry. The ESRB is a self-regulatory organization established in 1994 to provide consumers with information about the content of video games. Their ratings system assigns age and consent ratings to games, categorizing them as “E” for everyone, “T” for teen, or “M” for mature audiences. These ratings help parents and guardians make informed decisions about the suitability of games for their children.

The Need for Enhanced Age Verification

While the ESRB ratings provide a helpful guideline, it is crucial to ensure that children are not exposed to inappropriate content. This is where age verification mechanisms come into play. Currently, the ESRB requires games and services to obtain parental consent before collecting personal information from children under the age of 13, in accordance with COPPA regulations. However, the existing methods of obtaining consent have their limitations, prompting the exploration of facial recognition technology as a more robust and efficient solution.

Privacy-Protective Facial Age Estimation: How It Works

The proposed technology, known as Privacy-Protective Facial Age Estimation, aims to leverage facial scanning technology to verify the age of parents or guardians granting consent for their children to play games. Developed in collaboration with SuperAwesome, a company specializing in online child safety technology, and Yoti, a digital ID platform, this system offers a streamlined and secure process for age verification.

To initiate the age verification process, parents would upload a photo of themselves to a secure server. An algorithm would then analyze the facial features and estimate the individual’s age based on patterns in a training dataset. If the estimated age surpasses the predetermined threshold (e.g., 25 years), the parent is deemed eligible to grant consent, and the games would be unlocked for their child to access.

Distinction Between Facial Recognition and Age Estimation

It is important to clarify that the proposed Privacy-Protective Facial Age Estimation technology differs from traditional facial recognition systems. Facial recognition typically involves matching a photo with another photo to confirm an individual’s identity. In contrast, Privacy-Protective Facial Age Estimation focuses solely on estimating the age of the person in the uploaded photo, without storing or using any personal data for AI training or marketing purposes. The goal is to ensure a highly privacy-protective solution for age verification.

Addressing Privacy and Security Concerns

Privacy and security are paramount when implementing any technology that involves personal data. The ESRB, in collaboration with its partners, has taken extensive measures to address these concerns. They have explicitly stated that the technology is not intended for use on children and that no photos or personal data will be stored. The only information communicated to the requesting company is a binary determination of whether the person is over the age of 25. This approach aims to strike a balance between improved age verification and protection of user privacy.

Public Comments and Approval Process

Before implementing the proposed technology, the ESRB has sought public input and feedback. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is currently accepting public comments on the proposal, allowing stakeholders and concerned individuals to voice their opinions and raise any potential issues. This collaborative approach ensures that the final implementation of facial recognition technology for age verification is inclusive, transparent, and aligned with the expectations and needs of the gaming community.

Comparison to International Initiatives

While the use of facial recognition technology for age verification in video games may be a novel concept in the United States, similar initiatives have been deployed in other countries. One notable example is Tencent, a leading Chinese technology company that recently introduced a facial recognition program requiring children to verify their identity before gaining extended playtime. By examining international implementations, the ESRB can learn from best practices and leverage the experiences of other organizations to enhance their own age verification system.

Potential Benefits and Criticisms

The adoption of facial recognition technology for age verification in video games presents both benefits and potential criticisms. Proponents argue that this technology offers a quick and efficient method for parents to grant consent, alleviating concerns about the exposure of children to inappropriate content. The streamlined process, if implemented correctly, could enhance the overall user experience and provide peace of mind for parents.

However, critics raise valid concerns about the accuracy of facial recognition technology and its availability across different devices and platforms. They argue that the responsibility for ensuring consent lies with parents and guardians, rather than gaming companies or service providers. These concerns emphasize the need for thorough testing, transparent guidelines, and ongoing evaluation of the technology’s performance to address any potential shortcomings.


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