Wikipedia rejects Online Safety Bill age checks

The Wikimedia Foundation has stated that Wikipedia will not adhere to any age verification requirements mandated by the Online Safety Bill, as it would contradict the organization’s principles of collecting minimal user data.

A Wikimedia UK senior member is concerned that the site may face a blockage due to non-compliance. However, the government clarifies that only services with the greatest potential danger to children will require age verification.

Wikipedia, which has articles written and edited by volunteers from around the world in hundreds of languages, is the eighth most-visited website in the UK, according to SimilarWeb.

Expected to come fully into force in 2024, the Online Safety Bill before Parliament imposes obligations on tech companies to safeguard users from illegal or harmful content.

According to Neil Brown, a solicitor who specializes in internet and telecoms law, the Online Safety Bill mandates that services that are likely to be accessed by children must have appropriate measures to prevent them from being exposed to harmful content, which may include age verification.

Lucy Crompton-Reid, CEO of Wikimedia UK, cautions that some content on Wikipedia may require age verification under the Online Safety Bill.

“While educational content related to sexuality could be misconstrued as pornography,” warns Lucy Crompton-Reid, CEO of Wikimedia UK, an independent charity affiliated with the foundation, Rebecca MacKinnon, of the Wikimedia Foundation, which supports the site, says they won’t be conducting age checks on UK readers or contributors.

Not only would gathering data about users on Wikipedia be necessary, but verifying their ages would also necessitate a “radical revamp” of technical infrastructure. Failure to comply with the legislation could result in severe penalties, such as hefty fines, criminal charges against top executives, or blocking access to the service in the UK.

Ms. Crompton-Reid expressed concerns that the Bill might mandate age verification checks, which could result in the blocking of the Wikimedia site. She stated that it was a distinct possibility that millions of people, including UK-based contributors, might not be able to access one of the world’s most popular websites, which provides valuable information and knowledge free of charge.

According to her, with 6.6 million articles currently on Wikipedia, complying with the Bill by verifying content would be a daunting task. She further mentioned that Wikipedia receives two edits per second in over 300 languages worldwide, making it practically impossible to keep track of every change.

The foundation has stated earlier that the Bill would drastically alter the way the site functions by necessitating article moderation by professionals rather than volunteers.

The organization desires that the legislation adopt the EU Digital Services Act approach, which distinguishes between employee-led centralized content moderation and the community volunteer-driven Wikipedia model. The exemption for encyclopedias would allow Wikipedia to continue its current operations without the need for significant changes.

During Tuesday’s House of Lords session, Conservative peer Lord Moylan proposed an amendment that would exempt services intended for the public benefit, such as encyclopedias, from the bill. However, Heritage Minister Lord Parkinson expressed doubts about the feasibility of this suggestion. He noted that Wikipedia is a prime example of how community-led moderation can be successful.

The Heritage Minister stated that the bill does not mandate age verification for all services and that it is anticipated that only services presenting the greatest danger to children will employ age verification technologies.

While Ms. Crompton-Reid found Lord Parkinson’s comments reassuring, she informed the BBC that the charity did not want to rely solely on the good faith and interpretation of the legislation in the future.

She affirmed that the organization would persist in its efforts to ensure that the bill incorporated safeguards for community-led moderation, such as a provision for public benefit websites like Wikipedia.

In response, a government spokesperson informed the BBC that the bill had been created to strike a balance between addressing harmful content and not imposing undue burdens on low-risk technology firms.

Ofcom, the communications regulator, would be responsible for implementing the legislation and would prioritize services with the greatest potential for harm.

Furthermore, the government believes that Wikipedia is unlikely to be considered a category one service, which would be subject to the most stringent rules under the legislation.


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By Ryan

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