Hack of Age Verification Company Shows Privacy Danger of Social Media Laws

We’ve said it before: online age verification is incompatible with privacy. Companies responsible for storing or processing sensitive documents like drivers’ licenses are likely to encounter data breaches, potentially exposing not only personal data like users’ government-issued ID, but also information about the sites that they visit. 

This threat is not hypothetical. This morning, 404 Media reported that a major identity verification company, AU10TIX, left login credentials exposed online for more than a year, allowing access to this very sensitive user data. 

A researcher gained access to the company’s logging platform, “which in turn contained links to data related to specific people who had uploaded their identity documents,” including “the person’s name, date of birth, nationality, identification number, and the type of document uploaded such as a drivers’ license,” as well as images of those identity documents. Platforms reportedly using AU10TIX for identity verification include TikTok and X, formerly Twitter. 

Lawmakers pushing forward with dangerous age verifications laws should stop and consider this report. Proposals like the federal Kids Online Safety Act and California’s Assembly Bill 3080 are moving further toward passage, with lawmakers in the House scheduled to vote in a key committee on KOSA this week, and California's Senate Judiciary committee set to discuss  AB 3080 next week. Several other laws requiring age verification for accessing “adult” content and social media content have already passed in states across the country. EFF and others are challenging some of these laws in court. 

In the final analysis, age verification systems are surveillance systems. Mandating them forces websites to require visitors to submit information such as government-issued identification to companies like AU10TIX. Hacks and data breaches of this sensitive information are not a hypothetical concern; it is simply a matter of when the data will be exposed, as this breach shows. 

Data breaches can lead to any number of dangers for users: phishing, blackmail, or identity theft, in addition to the loss of anonymity and privacy. Requiring users to upload government documents—some of the most sensitive user data—will hurt all users. 

According to the news report, so far the exposure of user data in the AU10TIX case did not lead to exposure beyond what the researcher showed was possible. If age verification requirements are passed into law, users will likely find themselves forced to share their private information across networks of third-party companies if they want to continue accessing and sharing online content. Within a year, it wouldn’t be strange to have uploaded your ID to a half-dozen different platforms. 

No matter how vigilant you are, you cannot control what other companies do with your data. If age verification requirements become law, you’ll have to be lucky every time you are forced to share your private information. Hackers will just have to be lucky once. 

Wednesday 26th June 2024 11:07 pm

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