Facebook is scanning some users’ faces to verify age. The Coalition wants laws that go further

Meta has started to scan the faces of some users to check if they are as old as they claim,aspolitical pressure grows on the tech giant to protect the mental health of children.

The parent company of Facebook and Instagram quietly announced last month it would start verifying the age of existing users who attempt to edit their date of birth from below 18 years to above.

Opposition Leader Peter Dutton and opposition communications spokesman David Coleman on Thursday.

Opposition Leader Peter Dutton and opposition communications spokesman David Coleman on Thursday.Louise Kennerley

People who do so will be asked to prove their age by uploading a video selfie or submitting an ID.

The new tool would help “give teens safe,age-appropriate and positive experiences on our apps”,a local Meta spokeswoman said in comments distributed to industry groups last month.

The feature has existed on Instagram since March last year and has now been expanded to Facebook.

It does not go as far as thepolicy announced by Opposition Leader Peter Dutton on Thursday. He said the Coalition,if elected,would within 100 days of forming government push for laws forcing social platforms to check if people were 16 before opening an account.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese.Alex Ellinghausen

After months of political dispute about how to protect Australians from misinformation,bullying and anxiety stemming from social media use,Prime Minister Anthony Albanese also affirmed Labor’s in-principle support for age verification rules.

The prime minister spruiked a $6.5 million age verification trial in the May budget.

Dutton said it was clear that young teens were suffering from an increase in mental health and body image issues since the popularisation of Facebook,Instagram and TikTok.

“The question is,what do we do about it?” he said.

“The one option that you can take is just to do nothing and allow a lawless environment to prosper and allow these companies to continue to profit at the expense of Australian children and their future,or you can take the path that we’re proposing now.”

Albanese said children’s social media use was one of the biggest talking points among parents.

He accused Dutton of copying the Labor’s age verification policy,even though the opposition had been spruiking age assurance rules for months before Labor moved on the issue.

Questions remain about the technology that would be used to verify the age of users.

Meta’s announcement is underpinned by world-leading identity-verification software company Yoti,which has created a biometric facial age estimation system.

Dutton said on Thursday that the technology was improving. Albanese said while he agreed with the principle of blocking children,he cautioned that “you need to work out how you do it”.

Coalition communications spokesman David Coleman said the little information revealed about the government’s trial indicated it may resemble more of a research project into overseas developments on age verification than a practical trial.

“It doesn’t make sense to ‘trial’ age verification for social media without actually requiring social media companies to participate,” he said.

“The social media companies should be required to actually trial age verification at sign-up. We know they can do it,they just don’t want to.”

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Paul Sakkal is federal political correspondent for The Age and Sydney Morning Herald who previously covered Victorian politics and has won two Walkley awards.

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