How age verification tech could cross over to social media, Google’s Shadow Hand and the fake town with 141,000 residents

How age verification tech could cross over to social media, Google’s Shadow Hand and the fake town with 141,000 residents
  • PublishedMay 14, 2024

Hello and welcome to Screenshot, your weekly tech update from national technology reporter Ange Lavoipierre, featuring the best, worst and strangest in tech and online news. Read to the end for an A+ Subreddit recommendation you didn’t know you needed.

How age verification for porn could migrate to social media

“Keeping kids off porn” is the unambiguously noble sales pitch for the government’s new age verification pilot, receiving $6.5 million in this year’s budget. “Keeping kids off porn and social media” is less likely to fit on a badge, but they might be about to give it a try.

When Labor first announced its plan on May 1, the scope was more cautious, promising a technology trial “to protect children from harmful content, like pornography and other age-restricted online services”.

You know, like gambling.

The possibility of extending the scheme to cover social media was also there, captured in the wonderfully broad category of “harmful content”, but it was vague at best.

A teen checks her Twitter notifications.
The federal government’s announcement referred to protecting children “from harmful content, like pornography and other age-restricted online services”.(ABC News: Will Ockenden )

Age verification for porn with a dash of “harmful content” for good measure had also been the Coalition’s line since November.

Six months later, discovering they were now wearing the exact same dress as Labor, the opposition settled on a new wedge: age verification for social media.

“We need to include Instagram, we need to include TikTok, because Australian children are suffering due to the conduct of social media platforms,” said the Coalition’s communications spokesman David Coleman, numerous times, in different ways, over the past fortnight.

Enter stage left, South Australia.

On Monday, Premier Peter Malinausakus announced his government was looking into banning children under 14 from social media, in what would be the first Australian law of its kind.

Gee, though, how on earth would one enforce such a thing?

Malinausakus didn’t name-check the government’s age verification pilot directly, but he came pretty close.

“If indeed the advice comes back … that this is very difficult for state governments to regulate, then I think it will leave an open field for the federal parliament to act,” he said.

The timing was suspiciously convenient for federal Labor, on the eve of its budget launch where the trial is set to be formally announced.

So where’s all this going? Could the national age verification trial come to be about social media too?

Yes, if you read the fine print.

Until the government says more, the best clues we have about what the pilot will entail is the eSafety Commissioner’s Roadmap from March 2023, which is where everyone got the idea in the first place.

Avid readers of regulatory policy documents will notice a clear recommendation on page 28 that “the initial trial be conducted using dummy sites with different use cases … use cases could include establishing minimum age to use a social media service”.

Social media is very much in play, and is it any surprise?

The last time the national mood on the platforms was this dark, it was 2021 and Facebook was “accidentally” blocking emergency services updates.

We should probably keep an eye on the robots

I made a resolution to read more about how good robots are getting, but then I found out Google’s AI lab DeepMind had created the “Shadow Hand”, and I have some regrets.

It has three “fingers”, it’s oddly dextrous and very double-jointed, it’s learning to do things using AI, and it’s built to survive hammer attacks, for some reason.

In all seriousness, it’s quite exciting, but also in all seriousness, choose a less unsettling name, Google.

Apple apologises and we assume Hugh Grant does not easily forgive

ICYMI, Apple did a doozy.

I’ll always wish I was a fly on the wall at the marketing meeting where they decided using a hydraulic press to crush a plethora of cultural treasures was the best way to sell iPads, but seeing Apple get dragged on X by Hugh Grant and subsequently apologise will have to do for now.

And if it’s all too much…

Then you should probably make your way to Lower Duck Pond, a fictional town of 141,000 people who all pretend they know each other on a Subreddit called r/HaveWeMet.

Lower Duck Pond has its own characters and its own geography (outside Hydroelectric City and near the seaside village of Rosewater).

You can even start a local business, although a decent citizen would check the list of existing businesses first.

It’s part theatre sports, part regional newspaper classifieds, mostly wholesome and all deeply weird, in the best possible way.

Recommendations and tips are always welcome. You can reach me securely via Proton Mail.


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