Age-Limited Digital Playgrounds Proposed By Microsoft

Dennis Faas's picture

As part of its Trustworthy Computing Initiative, based on building the concept of "End to End Trust" proposed by Microsoft in April at the RSA Security Conference, Microsoft reportedly wants to create "digital playgrounds", sites where visitors have to prove their age using digital identity credentials.

Microsoft is hoping its measures will make the Internet safer for children and adults wanting to conduct business, make transactions, and communicate confidently with people who are who they say they are. Part of the challenge concerns how to add more identity authentication without compromising the privacy of the people involved.

To help create digital credentials people might use online, Microsoft is proposing the use of existing identity verification systems, like the way schools register children for classes, post offices verify identities for passports, and motor vehicle agencies issue drivers' license.

With parental permission, digital identity "cards" or credentials could be based on national identity documents created at birth or on identification documents used to determine age and identity for school registration. Data could be limited to age and proof of authenticity. The credentials should be encrypted and require the use of PIN numbers.

Microsoft's paper, titled "Digital Playgrounds: Creating Safer Online Environments for Children" acknowledges that the attempts at creating child-only online environments haven't taken off yet, but notes that there are reasons to believe that age-limited online services have appeal.

Interactive Web sites could be categorized into three categories: a) General Audience (for all ages), b) Children only and c) Adults only, both of which could require proof of age. The paper does not provide specifics on how adult-only sites would authenticate, though it's likely they would use the same digital credential system envisioned for children's sites.

Microsoft has submitted its digital-identity approach to the Internet Safety Technical Task Force and to the European Commission. Digital information card infrastructure such as Windows CardSpace could be used in conjunction with the in-person proof. Microsoft acknowledges that improving user authentication on the Internet is something that will take time and planning is in the early stages.

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