Wikipedia will not conduct age checks under the Online Safety Bill

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Wikipedia. Image source: GETTY IMAGES

The Wikimedia Foundation that host Wikipedia has stated that it will not comply with any age checks mandated by the Online Safety Bill.

Rebecca MacKinnon, the Vice President for Global Advocacy at the Wikimedia Foundation, says it “violates our commitment to collect minimal data about readers and contributors”.

A senior Wikimedia UK member worries that age verification may negatively impact Wikipedia.

However, the government has said that only high-risk services will require age verification.

Similar Web ranks Wikipedia as the tenth most-visited website in the UK, with millions of entries in different languages generated and edited by volunteers worldwide.

The Online Safety Bill, which is now being debated in Parliament, requires technology companies to protect consumers from harmful or illegal content and is expected to go into force in 2024.

Neil Brown, a lawyer who specializes in internet and telecommunications law, claims that the Online Safety Bill mandates that services that kids may use have suitable policies and mechanisms in place to guard against them being exposed to dangerous material.

Implementing age verification procedures may be part of this.

The CEO of Wikimedia UK, an independent charity affiliated to the Wikimedia Foundation, Lucy Crompton-Reid, cautions that certain content on Wikipedia might be mistakenly flagged for age verification, including educational materials and sexuality-related images that could be mistaken for pornography.

However, according to Rebecca MacKinnon, the Wikimedia Foundation has no plans to check the age of UK viewers or contributors.

In addition to the potential breach of privacy posed by the collection of user data, adopting age verification methods on Wikipedia would necessitate considerable adjustments to the site’s technological infrastructure.

Failure to comply with the Online Safety Bill might result in severe penalties, such as hefty fines, criminal charges for senior workers, or access to a service in the UK being restricted.

Wikimedia UK is concerned that the website will be blocked as a result of its stance on age verification.

According to Lucy Crompton-Reid, CEO of Wikimedia UK, UK readers (and contributors) may lose access to one of the world’s most visited websites, which is a significant source of freely available knowledge and information for millions of people.

Lucy Crompton-Reid also mentioned that Wikipedia currently has over 6.6 million entries, and it is difficult to imagine how they would examine such a large volume of content to ensure compliance with the Online Safety Bill.

Furthermore, there are two edits each second throughout the 300+ languages on Wikipedia worldwide, making real-time monitoring difficult.

The Wikimedia Foundation has previously stated that the Online Safety Bill will drastically alter the functioning of the website by requiring it to censor articles rather than relying on volunteers.

Exemption for encyclopedias

The Wikimedia Foundation is urging the UK government to adopt the EU Digital Services Act approach, which distinguishes between centralized content moderation done by employees and the Wikipedia-style model facilitated by community volunteers.

In a House of Lords debate on Tuesday, Conservative peer Lord Moylan proposed an amendment that would exempt “public benefit” services such as encyclopedias from the Online Safety Bill. However, Heritage Minister Lord Parkinson expressed doubts about the feasibility of this proposal.

He emphasized that not all services require age verification, and only those posing the highest risks to children would require age verification technologies.

While Lucy Crompton-Reid found Lord Parkinson’s remarks reassuring, she clarified that the Wikimedia UK charity did not want to rely on future goodwill and the interpretation of legislation.

Wikimedia UK would continue to support measures that protect community moderation in the bill, including an exception for public benefit websites like Wikipedia, according to Lucy Crompton-Reid.

In response, a government spokeswoman emphasized that the Online Safety Bill had been created to strike a balance between preventing harm and avoiding placing an excessive burden on low-risk tech companies.

The UK’s communications regulator, Ofcom, will carry out the provisions of the law and would give priority to services that pose the greatest danger of harm.

Wikipedia is unlikely to be categorized as a category one service subject to the bill’s harshest regulations, according to the government.

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