Guarding the digital generation: Enhancing online safety through age verification

With the influx of next-gen technologies like generative AI coupled with the rapid proliferation of interactive platforms and digital media, it’s becoming increasingly challenging to protect minors from harmful and explicit content. The sheer volume of information and digital functions today makes it extremely difficult to ensure children and young adults are only consuming age-appropriate content.

Regulating this colossal mass of internet content is a herculean task, which is often deemed impossible. Rather, the most effective and simple solution for creating a safe online landscape is age verification.

The process of effective age verification has its own set of unique challenges. The method itself is tied to the concerns of data privacy, consent, and digital regulations set forward by governments. Therefore, it’s critical for businesses to understand the different regulatory guidelines for age verification and the most effective mechanisms and technologies to implement this strategy.

Importance of age verification

Age verification is a process that validates an individual's age before granting access to age-specific goods, services, or content, something critical in the current digital landscape. The inability to adequately verify customer ages can result in businesses contravening age-restriction laws, legal ramifications, and significant reputational damage.

Age verification systems act as a barrier, preventing children from exposure to age-inappropriate content like violent and exploitative media and gambling platforms. However, age verification mechanisms alone don't ensure comprehensive protection. Regulatory measures must be in place to ensure consistent adoption of these systems across platforms. They provide legal prerequisites for age verification and content filtering, fostering a responsible environment, and holding stakeholders accountable for safeguarding children from potential harm.

Regulations for age verification

Whilst age verification regulations exist, it's essential to recognize that the current guidelines may not be universally explicit or uniformly defined. Nonetheless, it's imperative for businesses to implement robust age verification to prepare for future, more stringent regulatory standards and protect the vulnerable.

Current standards, including the U.S.-based Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) mandate online platforms to obtain parental consent before collecting data from those below 13. This act ensures the online safety of children and restricts them from unsuitable content or risky online engagements.

Similarly, the EU's Digital Services Act (DSA) and the UK's Online Safety Bill have highlighted the significance of age verification. The latter, set to receive royal assent in 2023, stands as a landmark move to bolster digital safety for UK's youth and broader populace. If ratified, it would pressurize social media companies to heighten their user safety protocols. Specifically, UK-based platforms showcasing user-created content could face hefty fines, up to 10 percent of their global earnings, if they fail to prevent minors from accessing harmful material.

This bill advocates for stringent standards on platforms that allow adult content, pushing them to utilize reliable age verification tools. Moreover, top tech leaders might face personal accountability for lapses in child safety.

Though age verification's finer details may vary across jurisdictions, the collective aim of regulations remains consistent: enhancing online safety for minors through rigorous age verification. With a clear understanding that age verification will surely be an inevitable aspect of modern-day digital experiences, companies are now tasked with choosing the best verification method to meet their needs.

Methods of age verification

Currently, one of the more popular methods of age verification is age gating. This requests users to declare their birth date or affirm their age via a checkbox. Although straightforward, the system is fallible, as users can easily misrepresent their age.

Organizations have also begun leveraging AI and advanced algorithms to use age estimation. This method analyses facial features, including wrinkles and contours, to deduce age brackets. However, variables like lighting or facial expressions can distort results, making this type of verification not ideal if solely relied upon.

A particular emergent method of age verification is biometrics. Biometrics enable individuals to authenticate their identity purely through their face with minimal risk. It's an unobtrusive and secure process which provide a seamless and quick alternative for identity authentication, and the technology is a good fit for age verification.

Best practices for age verification

There are numerous biometric verification methods that ensure the individual is accurately identified, and the risk of misidentification is reduced. For validating a user's age, a common approach involves ID verification. In this method the user's age is ascertained by examining the date of birth specified on their identification card, ensuring that the process focuses solely on the details present within the provided document.

Taking the verification process a step further is the integration of facial recognition and liveness detection with ID Verification. This method is a comparison made between the photograph on the identification card and a contemporaneous selfie taken by the user.

Integral to this process is the element of robust liveness detection, a technique ensuring that the ID card not only corresponds to the individual in question but also verifies their immediate presence during the validation. Through liveness detection, which comprises several anti-spoofing measures, the authenticity of the user is maintained, ensuring the person undergoing verification is genuinely present and not using deceptive tactics.

A more nuanced approach is age estimation coupled with liveness detection. This is particularly beneficial in regions with heightened privacy concerns, such as the US. In this method, the need for an ID card is eliminated. Instead, the user's age is deduced from a selfie, with liveness detection further cementing the user's genuine presence. This technique aligns with privacy considerations whilst still facilitating a rigorous verification process.

Overall, age verification is indispensable in fostering a safe digital environment, especially for minors. Regulatory measures like the Online Safety Bill underscore this need, urging platforms to implement effective strategies. By following these regulations and investing in age verification methods, we can ensure the safety of all children. 

Image credit: SergeyNivens/

Miguel Zarraluqui is Identity Lead at Veridas.

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