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Zero knowledge proof is the real answer for keeping kids safe online

Standard age verification methods are not robust enough to stand up to criminal scrutiny and their deployment.

Research shows disinformation about climate change is common online
Research shows disinformation about climate change is common online - Copyright AFP Daniel MIHAILESCU
Research shows disinformation about climate change is common online - Copyright AFP Daniel MIHAILESCU

In the U.K. Barnardo’s, along with a coalition of other organisations, are calling for all pornography sites with British users that host content to implement independent, standardised age verification with minimum standards in a manner that is approved by the media regulator Ofcom. These organisations are seeking the support of parliamentarians to enable legislation to be approved. The Conservative government has signalled that is likely to back these proposals.

The aim of any such type of Bill is so that regulated services are satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that a user is 18 years old or older.

While these calls may have been made with good intentions, digital identity specialists, ID Crypt Global, believe they are likely to fall flat.

As it stands, standard age verification methods are not robust enough to stand up to criminal scrutiny and their deployment within the world of pornography would simply lead to increased levels of blackmail, fraud, identity theft, account takeover and more.

CEO and Founder of ID Crypt Global, Lauren Wilson-Smith, explains to Digital Journal: “Pornography has never been so easily accessible and parents, such as myself, will be understandably worried about this ease of accessibility when it comes to our children.

In this respect, we can all agree that something must be done to limit the exposure of minors to such material.”

That said, the proposals may not be the most effective, as Wilson-Smith observes: “However, it’s vital that we take this step appropriately to ensure that we don’t jeopardise the identity data of millions.”

Wilson-Smith outlines why the measures are likely to fall short of what is required: “Viewers’ privacy must be protected at all times, and we should not expose legal viewers to potentially greater cyber threats simply because of a poor approach to age verification.”

This goes to the heart of the Conservative Government proposals: “The government has already voiced its intentions to provide each of us with a singular universal digital identity, but even this leaves us open to the dangers posed by cyber criminals, due to the fact that it stores all of our personal information in one place.”

Instead alternative steps need to be enacted. As to what this will consist of, Wilson-Smith puts forward: “We must approach the problems posed by age verification in a robust manner and we believe the best way of doing so is via a decentralised approach to identity and the use of zero knowledge proofs.”

In cryptography, a zero-knowledge proof is a method by which one party (the prover) can prove to another party (the verifier) that a given statement is true, while avoiding conveying to the verifier any information beyond the mere fact of the statement’s truth. Explaining what this entails, Wilson-Smith details: “Zero Knowledge Proofs are cryptographically verifiable, and prove identity attributes, such as being over a certain age. These proofs ensure that a viewer is over a required age without said viewer ever having to disclose bank or credit card details, other sensitive personal information, nor subjecting themselves to AI age verification type checks.”

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Dr. Tim Sandle is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for science news. Tim specializes in science, technology, environmental, business, and health journalism. He is additionally a practising microbiologist; and an author. He is also interested in history, politics and current affairs.

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