In a non-digital world, checking someone’s age has its challenges. People can do a poor job of validating a high-quality fake ID. And online, the process is even more complex. In a world increasingly reliant on digital interactions and transactions, age verification has become a critical component for various industries. Whether it’s ensuring compliance with legal regulations or protecting minors from age-restricted content, implementing robust age verification software is essential. There is a current lack of stringent age-verification measures online, with a growing movement by legislators around the world to tackle this issue. When minors are not protected online, the implications could be serious, including minor access to adult content and goods, as well as easier access to potential victims for human traffickers.
In this article, we’ll delve into essential information that industries need to know about age verification. We will also provide insights for companies on how to comply with legal requirements and ensure the safety and security of their users, especially minors.
Age Verification Is Critical in Many Industries
Digitization has exploded in the past several years: more consumers than ever are online, and a number of industries have seen surges in online activity, including from minors. It’s more than simply adults-only services; age verification touches on many industries. In fact, data security and age verification as well as growing instances of identity theft and cybercrime are top concerns, as well as what access children should have to online apps and services.
Here are the top industries where age verification processes are a necessary part of identity verification processes in the customer journey:
1. Ecommerce: Identifying the age of users is critical for any ecommerce platform. Age verification ensures proper use of age-exclusive ecommerce, approved use of payment cards, as well as diminished rates of chargeback fraud and account takeover.
2. Alcohol, Tobacco, and Cannabis Sales: The sale and consumption of alcohol, tobacco, and cannabis are strictly regulated worldwide. But continued changes in cannabis regulation and a growing global vape market have made age and identity verification critical to ensure minors are protected and cannot purchase these products. This technology prevents unauthorized purchases and mitigates unlawful selling of these products to minors, and can also be utilized to verify age upon delivery or pick up of goods.
3. Gaming and Gambling: Minors comprise a huge segment of the gaming market. In gaming and gambling, operators must comply with KYC and AML regulations to verify user identity, age, location, and funding source. Age verification processes can ensure minors do not access age-restricted games or gambling sites and safeguard youth from offensive or adult content. In addition, these processes can prevent chargebacks from unauthorized purchases and/or bets.
4. Social Media: The pandemic accelerated an already growing trend of social media use among tweens and teens. There is no shortage of risky content on social media, in addition to concerns over minors’ usage and consumption habits. Creating a secure environment and appropriate user base is important. In fact, X (formerly Twitter) recently enacted enhanced age verification for its paid users to prevent impersonation, with the potential for age-gating some content at a later date.
5. Online Dating: In online dating, confirming users are who they say they are, whether younger or older, can protect users from inappropriate access to content, catfishing (also known as romance scams), or fraud.
6. Streaming/Adult Content: There is no shortage of adult content online. Streaming services, especially those offering mature content, must implement age verification processes to confirm the age of users and restrict access to content that may not be suitable for them. In several countries, as we’ll see below, legislation has been enacted to ensure responsible content consumption.
In each of these industries and use cases, age verification is necessary to screen users, whether at account opening or purchase points, keep kids safe from inappropriate or adult content, and comply with any relevant regulations.
Regulations Continue to Change – Compliance Matters
As digitization has increased, including the number of minors online, so have the legal regulations that ensure the safety and security of users. There are troubling trends online, in addition to simply the growing number of young users. In a shocking statistic, nearly 60% of parents reported that they don’t monitor the content their kids view online.
The regulatory landscape is constantly evolving. Globally, governments and private businesses alike are taking a strong look at how to not only protect minors online but also ensure data privacy is maintained, as well as create a strong user experience. Below is a list of current regulations that may necessitate age verification software to be implemented, enhanced, or changed.
- The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) (United States): COPPA, enacted in the United States, outlines rules regarding collecting and using personal information of children under 13 years of age. Before any personal data can be collected, any website or online app aimed at children must obtain verifiable parental consent. To comply with COPPA, businesses must ensure children under 13 years of age are not exposed to any mature content.
- Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) (United States): The TTB oversees all US regulations related to alcoholic beverages, from production to distribution to sales. These regulations can include age verification processes to prevent access by minors.
- European General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) (European Union): The GDPR applies to the European Union and enacts data protection and privacy mandates for EU citizens, whether at home or abroad. Age verification processes must comply with GDPR and therefore be transparent and gain explicit consent from individuals.
- The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) (US): This US law is designed to protect student education records and requires educational institutions and online education platforms to ensure age verification processes are in place.
- Know Your Customer (KYC) (US): Designed to reduce fraud and identity theft, KYC regulations hold companies accountable that their customer is who they say they are, and this includes age, which can create a gap in companies’ KYC compliance.
- The Children’s Code (UK): The Children’s Code includes 15 standards that online services frequented by minors must follow in order to protect children’s data. While companies can choose the best way to meet the standards, they can be fined for not meeting the standards.
- Article 23 (France): France was one of the first European countries to tackle the issue of age verification online and has passed this legislation requiring the adult industry to block minor access to its content, as well as delisting sites. In addition, France has recently passed new legislation that will explicitly require sites to obtain the approval of a minor’s parent or guardian to access social media, if the user is under 15 years of age.
Keep in mind this list may change in the very near future. Lawmakers across the world have called for more stringent verification methods. To that end, legislation like the Protecting Kids on Social Media Act (which takes COPPA a step further), among other examples, is in various states of legislative action. Age verification is quickly becoming an accepted practice for businesses that serve minors solely or in addition to adults.
In addition, legislation has been met with voices of concern for privacy, and more stringent regulations that are currently in process are also being met with opposition. Staying ahead of any changes is necessary to ensure full compliance.
How Does Age Verification Software Work?
Many apps and websites make age verification simple– perhaps too simple. Often age verification takes the form of a simple checkbox indicating that you are above a certain age. In the digital world, other methods can be used for more accuracy and safety of users.
Age verification solutions can ensure full compliance with regulations and prevent hefty fines. In addition to regulatory compliance, age verification processes have the added bonus of streamlining onboarding and purchasing workflows. Companies also can protect their bottom line by reducing a number of fraud types, including friendly fraud and synthetic fraud.
Companies can verify age via several methods. Companies must balance a user’s online experience, from the number of steps verification takes to the speed of a decision, with the ability to scale a software process, as well as the solution’s accuracy. Age verification can be part of a company’s KYC processes at onboarding, and can be part of ongoing MFA (multi-factor authentication) to prevent age-restrictive purchases or access to content. Current age verification methods include:
- Biometric Analysis: With biometric authentication and verification, companies can verify age via a selfie, with or without a government document. Advanced biometric methods can identify a user’s age in real time, match it to an identity document, and guard against advanced spoofing techniques with liveness detection.
- Document Verification: Via a scan of a government-issued identity document, age verification solutions can extract a user’s date of birth, as well as all Personally Identifiable Information (PII) and other information from the ID, including its validity, in seconds.
- Databases: In conjunction with the above methods, businesses can check a number of databases, like credit bureaus, utility providers, and more, to ascertain a user’s risk level, or to assess any legal or compliance risk.
- Self-declaration: As mentioned, many companies currently use this method, which requires a checkbox indicating a user’s age. However, this process is too simple and does not take any additional steps to ensure a user’s age and regulatory compliance.
Make Age Verification a Part of Your Identity Verification Solution
Age verification not only maintains regulatory compliance but also keeps users safe online and creates an atmosphere of trust. From fines to damages to brand reputation and more, companies can’t take the risk of anything less than full compliance with age-related regulations.