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Protecting Minors Online Through Age Verification
It isn’t rare to see a child watching videos on a smartphone. Before they know how to write the alphabet, they know how to navigate smartphone controls. There have been multiple accounts of 5- and 6-year-old children ordering toys on Amazon.
It sounds amusing but giving children access to the digital world can also have more serious consequences. Over 1.25 million minors in the USA were victims of identity theft in 2021. Another study showed that 1 in 5 minors come across unwanted sexual material online. As children grow older, parents cannot be expected to monitor all their digital activities. Hence, the need for digital barriers to age-inappropriate content and activities.
What is age verification?
Age verification refers to measures taken to confirm an individual’s age before providing access to age-specific content or services. At its most basic level, it may begin with asking the user to submit proof of his/ her date of birth. This could take the form of scanned copies of their passport, driver’s licenses, government-issued ID cards, etc.
The process can be simplified by using an age-verification tool. These tools take the user’s name and address into consideration to find relevant matches from reference databases. This information can then be used to verify the user’s age. One of the main advantages of automating this check is its scalability. By providing almost instant results, the user’s experience remains positive while minors are protected from age-restricted content.
How do age verification solutions protect minors?
Online age verification is relevant to all industries ranging from online shopping to gambling platforms. Some of the ways this helps protect minors are:
- Preventing access to adult content
While the internet can be educative and entertaining for children, it puts them at risk of being exposed to violence, pornography, etc. 15% of respondents to a survey reported having first seen pornographic content online before the age of 11 years. By insisting on age verification for all users, minors can be protected from such content.
- Restricting minors from age-inappropriate activities
It can be difficult for a child to differentiate between regular online games and gambling. Such activities may also be illegal in many countries. Thereby children who knowingly or unknowingly place bets on gambling platforms are putting themselves at risk of legal action. Requiring users to verify their ages before participating in online gambling or other adult activities helps keep them from engaging in such things.
- Protection from online predators
According to the UNICEF, 80% of children in 25 surveyed countries reported feeling at risk of online exploitation and sexual abuse. Child sex offenders groom unsuspecting minors for exploitation or victimize them through the production and consumption of pornographic imagery. Children using social media and instant messaging platforms are also at risk of cyberbullying, exposure to hate speech and peer-to-peer violence. Implementing age verification solutions on social media, etc. keeps minors off such platforms. It protects them from online predators and significantly reduces the risk of cyberbullying.
- Protecting children’s identities
Minors accessing the internet also put their personal data at risk of being misused. For example, tech companies may collect and use this data for minor-targeted ads. Fraudsters can use children’s data to take out loans and apply for credit cards in their name. Given that children have no such need for such services, this type of fraud can go undetected for years. By the time it is discovered, the child has a poor credit score. Age verification limits the access children have to platforms where they may come in contact with such fraudsters and thus protects their well-being.
Is age verification a necessity?
In today’s world, keeping a child away from the internet may hold them back in comparison to their peers. Hence, governments and regulatory agencies around the world are working towards making the internet a safer place for minors. Anyone selling age-restricted goods or providing age-restricted services online is morally and legally responsible for restricting the access of their goods and services to minors. Here are a few things you should know.
- The absence of age verification can expose a business to high fines
In certain countries, the failure to do so can put the company at risk of legal penalties. Take the Digital Economy Act 2017 in the UK for example. This act empowers regulators to fine businesses up to £250,000 and 2-year jail time if they do not verify user ages before providing access to age-restricted content.
- The nonexistence of age verification measures can harm brand reputation
Businesses mentioned in media reports related to minors accessing age-inappropriate content and services also risk harming their reputation. This could get them negative attention from parents and advocacy groups. On the other hand, implementing stringent age verification measures helps businesses demonstrate their commitment to their audience’s well-being. In turn, this builds trust in the brand.
- Brands without age verification solutions risk financial losses
Lastly, there is the risk of financial losses to be considered. When children place orders on e-commerce platforms or make purchases on gaming apps, their parents may dispute the charges. They may initiate a chargeback which puts the company at the risk of loss. This type of family fraud can be prevented with the simple step of verifying user ages.
When schools were shut during the pandemic, education took the online route. Since then, children have become increasingly comfortable with handling smartphones, tablets and laptops to access the internet. As technology evolves, the internet is going to be even more integrated with our lives. Hence, online content and service providers need to take on the responsibility of limiting access to age-appropriate content. There are many age verification tools available online today that can be easily integrated with the customer onboarding process.
With quick results, adding this step does not interfere with onboarding adults to online platforms and thus maintains the customer experience expectations. Today, more than a legal requirement, this is an ethical duty for all digital businesses.