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FTC rejects ESRB’s facial recognition age-checking tech

Federal Trade Commission FTC

The Federal Trade Commission, or FTC, has denied a proposal from the Entertainment Software Ratings Board, or ESRB, to utilize facial recognition technology for age verification in video games. This “Privacy-Protective Facial Age Estimation” system, developed in collaboration with Yoti and SuperAwesome, aimed to scan users’ faces to confirm their age for purchasing adult-rated games.

“This letter is to inform you that the Federal Trade Commission has reviewed your group’s (“the
ESRB group”) application for approval of a proposed verifiable parental consent (“VPC”) method under
the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Rule (“COPPA” or “the Rule”). At this time, the Commission
declines to approve the method, without prejudice to your refiling the application in the future,” the FTC wrote.

The proposal sparked concerns from the beginning. Gamers voiced anxieties regarding privacy, potential biases in the technology’s accuracy, and the use of selfies for age verification. While the ESRB assured the data wouldn’t be stored and aimed the system at parental control, the FTC was not convinced.

Citing 355 public comments on the proposal, the FTC issued a unanimous denial “without prejudice,” meaning the ESRB can resubmit the proposal later. The reasoning behind the denial was not opposition to the concept itself, but rather uncertainties about its functionality.

The FTC highlighted that Yoti, a partner in the project, submitted a facial age estimation model for evaluation to the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) last September. However, the evaluation results have not arrived yet. The ESRB requested a 90-day delay for the FTC’s ruling to await the NIST report, but the FTC opted to deny the proposal for now due to the uncertain timeframe.

This denial does not necessarily mark the end of the road for facial recognition age verification in gaming. The door remains open for the ESRB to refine the proposal and potentially resubmit it once the NIST evaluation provides clarity on the technology’s effectiveness and potential drawbacks.

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