Wikipedia will not comply with age verification mandated under the Online Safety Act, the Wikipedia Foundation said.
Rebecca McKinnon of the Wikimedia Foundation, which supports the site, said it “violates our promise to collect minimal data about our readers and contributors.”
Wikimedia UK executives fear the site will be banned as a result. However, the government says only services that pose the highest risk to children will require age verification.
Wikipedia contains millions of articles in hundreds of languages, entirely written and edited by thousands of volunteers around the world.
It is the eighth most visited website in the UK, according to data from analytics firm SimilarWeb and one of the most visited sites in the world. The Online Safety Bill, currently before Congress, requires technology companies to protect users from harmful or illegal content and is expected to be fully enforced in 2024.
Neil Brown, an attorney who specializes in internet and telecommunications law, said the bill would impose “appropriate legal controls” on services children can access designed to prevent children from encountering harmful content. Systems and processes” are required. This may include age verification.
Lucy Crompton Reid, chief executive of Wikimedia UK, an independent charity affiliated with the Foundation, warned that some material on the site may trigger age verification.
“For example, educational texts and images about sexuality can be mistaken for pornography,” she said. However, McKinnon writes, “The Wikimedia Foundation does not verify the age of UK readers or contributors.”
Aside from Wikipedia’s need to collect user data, age verification will also require a “fundamental overhaul” of its technical systems.
If services do not comply with the law, there can be serious consequences, such as safety fines, criminal sanctions against senior staff, or restricted access to services within the UK. Wikimedia UK is concerned that the site may be blocked because of its stance.
“Despite being one of the most visited websites in the world and an important source of freely accessible knowledge and information for millions of people,” wrote Ms Crompton-Reid.
Wikipedia now has 6.6 million articles, and it is “unimaginable” how it will deal with content reviews to comply with the bill, she said. She added, “Worldwide, there are two edits per second in Wikipedia’s 300+ languages.”
The foundation has previously said the bill would fundamentally change how the site works by forcing article moderation rather than volunteers.
It wants the law to follow the EU Digital Services Act.The EU Digital Services Act distinguishes between centralized content moderation by employees and a Wikipedia-like model of community volunteers.
On Tuesday, the Senate debated an amendment by Conservative Lord Moylan to exclude services “provided in the public interest” such as encyclopedias from the bill.
Heritage Minister Lord Parkinson said he didn’t think it was feasible, but added that Wikipedia is an example of how community moderation can work.
He said the bill would not require age verification for all services, and that “only those services that pose the highest risk to children are expected to use age verification technology.”
Crompton-Reid told the BBC that Parkinson’s comments “reassured her” but that the charity did not want to rely on her future goodwill or interpretation of the law. She said she will continue to promote protections for community moderation through measures such as exceptions for non-profit sites like Wikipedia.
A government spokesperson told the BBC that the bill was “designed to strike a balance between mitigating harm without imposing an unnecessary burden on low-risk technology companies.”
Telecommunications watchdog Ofcom does this “with a focus on services with the highest risk of harm.”
The government has also determined that Wikipedia is unlikely to be classified as a Category 1 service, provided it follows the bill’s strictest rules.