Striking Contrasts in Digital Identity Verification: Australia vs UK

September 1, 2023

In the realm of digital identity and age verification, the recent decisions made by the Australian and UK governments have set the stage for a thought-provoking comparison. On August 30, 2023, Australia announced its decision not to mandate age verification for adult websites, citing concerns about the technology's maturity and inherent privacy and security risks. Meanwhile, the United Kingdom has been ahead of the curve, having implemented age verification legislation in 2017, utilizing facial recognition technology to protect minors from accessing harmful content online.

A tale of 2 approaches

The divergence in approach between Australia and the UK encapsulates the ongoing global debate over balancing the protection of children with safeguarding privacy and security. While Australia's decision not to mandate age verification underscores the government's commitment to addressing technology's imperfections and potential pitfalls, the UK's insistence on enforcing age verification speaks to the urgency it places on shielding vulnerable populations from the perils of adult content.

In Australia, the review conducted by eSafety Commissioner Julie Inman Grant unveiled critical concerns surrounding the nascent state of age verification technology. The ease of bypassing certain methods and the potential for unauthorized data collection underscored the prudence of Australia's cautionary stance. On the other hand, the UK's utilization of digital identities highlights the nation's drive to adopt technological solutions for social challenges, even in the face of controversies related to privacy and effectiveness.

The illusion of absolute guarantees and the stifling of innovation

Central to this dichotomy is the notion of an absolute guarantee of privacy and security—a fallacy that hinders the progression of technology innovation. In a digital age marked by unprecedented connectivity, the pursuit of perfect solutions can stymie the growth of promising technologies. The very nature of innovation requires a degree of risk, experimentation, and learning from shortcomings. The expectation of absolute perfection can shackle technological evolution by fostering an environment where fear of failure stifles creativity and progress.

Australia's decision, underpinned by concerns of privacy and data security, underscores the delicate balance that must be struck between safeguarding individual rights and embracing technological advancements. While privacy and data security are paramount, clinging to the ideal of absolute privacy can hamper innovation and hinder a nation's digital future in a global landscape driven by technological prowess.

Privacy advocates play a vital role in challenging the status quo, but the emphasis should shift toward pushing the boundaries of innovation while acknowledging that risks exist in all facets of digital life. Instead of retreating in fear of potential breaches, embracing innovative solutions that address these concerns can yield a future where privacy is upheld without compromising the pace of technological advancement.

If we bring Web3 into the conversation, we have witnessed projects that progressively evolve from centralized to decentralized teams; all of this was achieved through innovative technologies such as DAOs. Whilst DAOs have certainly created more decentralized environments, they are also prone to flaws and attack vectors. This however doesn’t take away the fact that the environment is more decentralized than it was before, and is a step away from being completely centralized.

If we apply the same logic to the current situation around digital identity technology (and it’s alleged immaturity), these technologies are progressively more trustworthy and safer than not having any systems in place. 

The call for innovation and progression

In a world where technology evolves at an astonishing pace, governments must cultivate an environment that fosters innovation while respecting privacy and data security. The contrasting paths taken by Australia and the UK serve as a microcosm of the broader debate on digital identity, age verification, and technology adoption. The path to an effective and balanced approach lies in acknowledging the necessity of innovation and technological adoption to drive the evolution of laws and regulations that better support privacy, digital identities, and data security.

As a company that’s built on the foundations of self sovereignty and privacy, we recognise these challenges as opportunities for better representation of ourselves and peers alike in the sector. Technology like the Vault, and the use of verifiable credentials and ZK style on-chain credentials are all progressively safer and more private for every user and any digital purpose that requires verification.  

We’re currently testing a new feature whereby users can verify their ‘proof of human’ on Discord, which leverages the Vault and VQL. If you or know of any project that would like to test this out (it effectively removes those verification-bots), please reach out to us on Discord using the ticketing system.

In conclusion, the dichotomy between Australia and the UK showcases the intricacies of striking the right balance between safeguarding society's most vulnerable members and propelling technological evolution. The key lies in embracing innovation while managing risks—a path that requires governments, technology companies, and privacy advocates to collaborate on crafting solutions that empower users while upholding the values of privacy and security. Only through this collaborative effort can a harmonious coexistence between innovation and privacy be achieved, setting the stage for a digital future that is both progressive and secure.