Wikipedia Refuses to Comply with Age Checks Under Online Safety Bill: What is Happening?

Wikipedia Refuses to Comply with Age Checks
Wikipedia rejects age checks under Online Safety Bill, citing that it conflicts with their minimal data policy on users.

Wikipedia Refuses to Comply with Age Checks Under Online Safety Bill

What is Happening?

Wikipedia, the eighth most-visited website in the UK, has announced that it will not comply with any age checks required under the Online Safety Bill. The bill places duties on tech firms to protect users from harmful or illegal content and is expected to come fully into force sometime in 2024. However, Rebecca MacKinnon, of the Wikipedia Foundation, which supports the website, says that complying with age checks would violate their commitment to collect minimal data about readers and contributors.


Why is Wikipedia UK Worried?

Lucy Crompton-Reid, chief executive of Wikipedia UK, an independent charity affiliated with the foundation, warns that some material on the site could trigger age verification. For example, educational text and images about human anatomy could be misinterpreted as inappropriate. Wikipedia UK fears that the site could be blocked because of its stance. If a service does not comply with the bill, there can be serious consequences potentially including large fines, criminal sanctions for senior staff, or restricting access to a service in the UK.

What Does the Government Say?

The government says that only services posing the highest risk to children will need age verification. Neil Brown, a solicitor specializing in internet and telecoms law, says that under the bill, services likely to be accessed by children must have proportionate systems and processes designed to prevent them from encountering harmful content. That could include age verification. Communications watchdog Ofcom will enforce the bill and would focus on services where the risk of harm is highest. The government also believes it is unlikely Wikipedia would be classed as a category one service, those that would be subject to the bill's strictest rules.

What Does Wikipedia Want?

Wikipedia UK wants the law to follow the EU Digital Services Act, which differentiates between centralized content moderation carried out by employees and the Wikipedia-style model by community volunteers. On Tuesday, the House of Lords debated an amendment from Conservative peer Lord Moylan that would exempt services provided for the public benefit, such as encyclopedias, from the bill. Heritage Minister Lord Parkinson said he did not think this would be feasible, but added that Wikipedia was an example of how community moderation can be effective. Wikipedia UK would continue to urge that protections for community moderation were on the bill through measures such as an exception for public benefit websites like Wikipedia.

What Could Happen?

There are currently 6.6 million articles on Wikipedia, and it would be impossible to imagine how it would cope with checking content to comply with the bill. The foundation has previously said the bill would fundamentally change the way the site operated by forcing it to moderate articles rather than volunteers. Wikipedia UK worries that one of the most visited websites in the world - and a vital source of freely accessible knowledge and information for millions of people - won't be accessible to UK readers (let alone UK-based contributors).

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