ESRB plans “facial age estimation” checker for age verification

ESRB logo, with rating and a dad in a phonePexels/ESRB

The ESRB has proposed a new concept to allow for better parental control over kids playing video games, which involves facial “age estimation”.

The video game rating board for the US, the ESRB, has had its new plans unearthed after the FTC put them up for public opinion. Dubbed Privacy-Protective Facial Age Estimation, the tech would allow parents to upload a photo of themselves to give permission to their child to play certain games.

This also doesn’t appear to just be about mature games, but video games in general. In China, Tencent launched a similar program that requires children to use facial recognition to get more time to play games. Here, the ESRB appears to be proposing a new method of parental locks rather than restrictions.

Article continues after ad

The system would work by having parents upload a camera-taken selfie to a server, where it would go through the algorithm. If it determines that the parent is of the right age, it’ll allow them to unlock games for playing. This could be done for those parents okay with letting kids play mature games like GTAV, or as a way to clamp down on too much video game time.

It’s not just the ESRB that is getting involved. Epic Games-owned Super Awesome and company Yoti have all joined forces in asking the FTC to approve the tech. Super Awesome aims to build “a safer internet for the next generation”.

Article continues after ad

The tech differs from facial recognition, as we’re told by representatives of Epic Games and the ESRB. From the application, and Epic representative:

“The system takes a facial image, converts it into numbers, and compares those numbers to patterns in its training dataset that are associated with known ages.”

New ESRB parental lock will scan your face to unlock games

Blue abstract image of a neural networkStable Diffusion

In the proposal, all three companies involved claim that they would delete the images off the server immediately after. However, other companies that claim this – like Snapchat – have often been caught out still storing the information on servers.

Article continues after ad

This could lead to security risks and if a child tries to upload a photo of themselves to get around it, could expose them.

The ESRB has added:

“To be perfectly clear: Any images and data used for this process are never stored, used for AI training, used for marketing, or shared with anyone; the only piece of information that is communicated to the company requesting VPC is a “Yes” or “No” determination as to whether the person is over the age of 25.”

Article continues after ad

The FTC is now asking the general public to submit their opinions on the ESRB’s new method, which as PCGamer pointed out insists that it won’t subject users to “potential biases”. This is a polite way of saying that facial recognition technology often has issues with racial bias when scanning non-white faces.

The FTC will field opinions and comments until August 21, 2023, after which it will begin the process of potential approval.

Updated to include statements from an Epic representative and ESRB.

Article continues after ad

Related Topics