How Meta’s global head of safety approaches online age verification

“The ability to know somebody’s age and try to protect privacy at the same time can be challenging,” says Meta’s Global Head of Safety Antigone Davis. Meta has been advocating for app store operators like Apple and Google to be in charge of verifying users’ ages and soliciting parental consent for app downloads. Now, it’s using its own virtual reality Quest store as a model for how it thinks that should work.

Meta is prompting Quest 2 and 3 users to reenter their birthdays so that it can place accounts in the appropriate age experience as it tries to centralize age verification through its Quest store. Teens aged 13 to 17 will have more privacy settings turned on by default and can be monitored through parental supervision tools. Preteens aged 10 to 12 have even more restrictive settings turned on, with only parents or guardians able to change privacy settings.

Davis told The Verge that Meta is trying to solve for age verification challenges with this effort “while protecting privacy and access considerations. And you’ll see the same thing in the federal legislation that we’re proposing.”

Meta has been investing in its own user age group API so that app developers can sort their offerings into different age groups. Meta is asking developers to self-certify which age group (preteens, teens, or adults) their apps are targeted at, and by using the API, Meta can communicate with the app about whether a user is eligible to use it or not.

It’s similar to what Meta has proposed at the federal level, where it wants to see mobile app store operators like Apple and Google be tasked with verifying users’ ages so that information can be shared with apps used on their devices. That would mean that users wouldn’t need to verify their ages from one app to the next because they’d do it once while setting up their phones.

If that sounds like Meta passing the buck to other tech companies for age verification, Davis says its work on the Quest store should show that it stands by what it’s advocating for.

“Where we have an app store, we are” taking action, Davis told The Verge. “That’s evidenced by what we’re doing today.”

Still, finding the right method for age verification remains a tricky task. Some policymakers have scoffed at using methods like self-proclaimed birthdates to verify age since it’s easy to lie on the app. Davis said Meta will double-check any users who say they’re suddenly in a different age category when they reenter their birthday and require them to verify with an ID or credit card. Meta doesn’t store that information long-term after it completes the process.

“There is no one panacea”

Across different services, Meta has tried an array of age verification methods. For example, it’s used AI face-scanning tool Yoti on Facebook Dating and also will occasionally check government IDs, which it stores short-term with encryption. But there’s no perfect solution.

“There is no one panacea,” Davis said. “That’s why I think you see the industry has struggled a bit to come up with a simple and easy solution.”

That’s why, according to Davis, the simplest and least privacy-invasive way to do age verification would be when consumers are setting up their phones, especially since it’s a time when kids and teens are likely right next to their parents, increasing the chance of more accurate age information.

While online safety measures for kids are a hot topic in Congress, there’s limited time to get legislation passed this year. Meanwhile, states, including Florida, have moved forward with their own age verification laws, requiring parental consent to use social media for large groups of young teens.

Davis said that’s creating a complicated patchwork for companies to navigate. “What you’re finding right now is that some states specify the type and form of age verification, some states don’t specify the type and form of age verification. Some have some idea of accuracy rates that they think should apply; some don’t offer any accuracy rates,” Davis said. “There’s significant ambiguity in many of the laws, and I think there will be some concerns about liability and risk for all companies with the laws as they currently are.”

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