Google Korea to Log National IDs for some searches

This has the potential to set a disturbing precedent.

InfoWorld reports that Google Korea plans to introduce an age-verification system later this year that will restrict adult-themed searches to those 19 years of age and older. Working from a 700-word list provided by the South Korean government, users searching for these terms will be required to verify their age by providing their name and national resident registration number, which will be checked against a database to verify they are old enough to view the results.

Search Engine Land asked Google for more details on the “feature.” When asked “Will it be stored somehow so people don’t have to reenter?” Google replied that “Once a user has been verified as an adult, the user does not have to go through the verification process again.” Presumably, then, Google maintains some kind of record associated a Google Account login or cookie ID with the fact that they have “passed” the age verification.

What remains unclear, however, is whether individual searches and accounts continue to be associated with a particular name and national ID number, or is it just a simple flag saying “this user is old enough.” The latter would be the best solution to protect user privacy and autonomy. The former would be a troubling scenario: having all your searches – especially your “sensitive” ones – tied to your national ID number.

While I appreciate the goal of protecting minors from certain online content, having one’s searches so directly and easily identifiable with one’s national ID would certainly have a chilling effect. With the US considering implementing a similar national ID system, I fear similar systems might be suggested here, threatening a fundamental value of freedom of inquiry.

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