Challenging to balance reliable methods to verify age with data protection concerns: Janil

Most major social media services require users to be at least 13 years old to register for an account. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - It is a challenge to balance between having reliable methods to verify age and addressing data protection concerns, and global standards on this issue are not yet set.

But the Government is monitoring global developments on age verification, said Senior Minister of State for Communications and Information Janil Puthucheary in Parliament on Wednesday.

He was responding to questions from Mr Melvin Yong (Radin Mas) about age verification and imposing a minimum age limit for children here to use social media platforms.

Dr Janil said most major social media services require users to be at least 13 years old to register for an account.

"Users have to declare their birth date at the point of registration," he said.

To deal with false declarations, some social media services have developed technologies, including a combination of artificial intelligence, machine learning technology and facial recognition algorithms, for proactive detection and removal of underage accounts.

The platforms also act on user reports against such accounts by suspending them, added Dr Janil.

But he said age verification is technically difficult, and the technology continues to evolve.

"It also involves concerns over data protection, especially regarding children's data," said Dr Janil.

He also said the Ministry of Communications and Information (MCI) has frequent engagements with its international counterparts on issues related to online safety, especially for young users.

The minister noted that the Government will introduce measures to deal with such issues, including a recently proposed Code of Practice for Online Safety.

The code will require certain social media services to put in place systems and processes to mitigate exposure to harmful content for Singapore users, with additional safeguards for children.

"We will continue to monitor global developments as well as consult extensively, including on the issue of age verification, as we consider additional measures where viable and appropriate," said Dr Janil.

He said MCI also encourages parents to take an active role in engaging and guiding their children on the appropriate age to use social media.

"Parents may tap on useful resources such as those produced by the Media Literacy Council that promote safe and responsible online behaviour," said Dr Janil.

Responding to Mr Yong's further question on whether there are programmes that train parents on how to help their children navigate social media platforms, the minister said several initiatives are already in place.

These include efforts by the Ministry of Education to provide parents with resources to help them better manage their children's online habits.

Dr Janil also said Internet service providers are required to offer optional filtering services to families registering for or renewing their Internet access subscriptions.

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