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Age assurance in the digital era: What is it and why do you need it?

Age assurance is essential in the digital era to protect users and businesses. Explore advanced age verification technology and best practices.

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Author
Chris Hooper
Director of Content at Veriff.com
July 26, 2023
Blog Post
Identity Verification
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Today, many young people live out their lives digitally. During the pandemic, more than 1.4bn young people across 190 countries were unable to attend school, so their learning was moved online. Non-school-related screen time amongst teenagers doubled from 3.8 hours to seven during the same period. According to SmartSocial, while the number of hours spent online has declined since then, 95% of US teens have daily access to a smartphone and 46% of teens report being online almost constantly. 

With so much time spent online, young people are at increased risk of being exposed to harmful content. Age assurance is often cited as a way of tackling this issue, but what exactly is it?

What is age assurance?

Age assurance is an umbrella term that covers different methods used to establish the age of users on online platforms. Often these techniques involve proof that a person is over a certain age. In the US, there are specific laws such as the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) that apply specific rules to people under 13, while in the UK and EU, certain types of content are restricted to adults over 18. 

Why is age assurance important?

Teenagers use digital technology daily to get information, stay in touch with friends and have fun. They also go online to get help with mental and physical problems. But they face certain risks because they are online so much without supervision. They may get exposed to upsetting or uncomfortable material. This might include real or simulated violence, harmful user-generated material, or pornography and sexually explicit content. Or they might run the risk of developing gambling or alcohol addictions by getting access to sites that are meant for adults.

So, from a purely ethical standpoint, age assurance matters. It is, after all, designed to protect children and minors. But it also matters for business. Governments are putting more pressure on companies to restrict access to their sites to age-appropriate adults to prevent minors from getting into addiction, debt, and dangerous situations. By taking online age verification seriously, you can ensure that your business is fully compliant.

Putting age restrictions on your site can also help your brand reputation – consumers increasingly want to shop and interact with socially responsible companies, and by taking a moral stance on this subject you can show that you take their concerns seriously. 

Find out more about our age estimation tools.

The challenges of age assurance

There are five principal challenges to implementing age authentication technology. 

  • Accuracy: Age verification is dependent upon personal information, such as a user’s name and date of birth. But that information can be stolen or imputed falsely. 
  • Accessibility: Users may not have the right documentation – whether it is a valid passport or driving licence – to prove their age. This can create a barrier for people who are old enough to access age-restricted content. 
  • Cost: Age authentication technology can be expensive and time-consuming to implement. Some companies – particularly small businesses and start-ups – do not have the resources to invest in the technology. 
  • Privacy: Sites that use age authentication technology require personal information to gain access. If this information falls into the wrong hands, it can be used for malicious purposes. 
  • Legal compliance: Age restriction technology is underpinned by regulatory requirements and failure to follow these regulations can result in significant legal and financial consequences. 

The benefits of age assurance

As we’ve just seen there are challenges that go with implementing age authentication technology. But that shouldn’t obscure the benefits. On a practical level, age verification protects both parties:

  • Seller protection: Age verification protects the online seller by ensuring that products and services aren’t sold to anyone who is underage. This is complicated by different jurisdictions having their own laws on the sale of certain products or services (for example, the minimum age of buying alcohol varies from state to state in the US), so it is vital that sellers protect themselves by using an age verification platform.
  • Buyer protection: Age verification also protects the customer by ensuring that children aren’t able to obtain goods and services that are intended for adults. 

How can you comply with age assurance? 

So how can a business know whether it is complying with age assurance regulations? In the first place, it’s important to realize that there are different standards around the world. The main law in the US is COPPA, which is designed to protect children under 13. The Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association also issues guidelines on how to restrict content that isn’t suitable for younger audiences. It outlines different content rating standards so that parents are aware of the content suitable for their children.

In the UK, interactiveAgeCheck (iAC) is responsible for minor protection. Access to age-restricted products and services in the European Union is managed by Article 8 of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). And in Australia, the Australian Communications and Media Authority (AMA) has a set of guidelines that prohibit minors’ access to age-restricted content. 

Businesses that want to sell age-restricted products or services should make sure that they are familiar with these regulations and have the right safeguards in place. 

Learn more about our age validation tools.

How Veriff can help with age assurance?

Veriff was founded to put transparency at the heart of every online interaction, so genuine people can prove who they are while malicious actors have nowhere to hide. Our state-of-the-art AI-based Age Estimation technology uses facial biometric analysis and advanced AI algorithms to estimate a user’s age. Users just need to take a quick selfie, which is analyzed via machine-learning technology to provide an estimated age in seconds. 

We also stop bad actors from exploiting children and teenagers. While young people can seem very tech-savvy, their limited life experience makes them far more vulnerable to fraudulent and criminal activity online. Veriff’s identity verification (IDV) solutions block access for bad actors through a combination of liveness detection, face blacklisting, device fingerprinting, and dynamic fraud checks, keeping them away from children and young people.

FAQ 

Why is age assurance important for businesses? 

With governments and regulators worldwide increasingly focused on protecting minors online, companies that fail to verify their users’ ages face serious legal and reputational consequences. 

On the plus side, age verification allows retailers to create a trustworthy reputation for themselves. If people see that you care about age verification, they’ll know that you care about your business, which is essential for companies that operate within a community.

Age verification technology also enhances security by ensuring that only authorized users can access age-restricted content or services, thereby reducing the risk of fraud.

Lastly, age assurance can help businesses understand their consumers better. By collecting age-related data, companies can gain insights into the preferences and behavior of different age groups. They can then tailor their products to appeal to those consumers. 

What types of age verification methods are used in age assurance?

There are various methods companies can use to carry out age verification. The simplest is to ask users to input their date of birth on a form. However, this method depends on the user answering honestly and is wide open for abuse. Some companies require users to provide credit card information. This is also an ineffective method because minors can easily obtain their parents’ credit cards and masquerade online as a senior. 

The most effective way of determining a person’s age is through facial recognition. Typically, a user will be asked to take a photo of their passport or driving license (or another type of recognized ID). The ID is then analyzed for authenticity. The user is then asked to provide a selfie or series of selfies, and these images are compared to the photo in the ID. A system then determines whether the person is of legal age to purchase the good or service. 

Sources:

Teen Social Media Statistics 2023 (What Students and Parents Need to Know)

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