Voice of the Industry

Emma Lindley, Director, Innovate Identity: Age-verification within the internet infrastructure

Friday 6 December 2013 09:29 CET | Editor: Melisande Mual | Voice of the industry

Emma Lindley has over 14 years’ experience working with technology led identity, compliance and fraud systems. She works with merchants, regulators and governments globally helping them build best practice for identity and risk. Emma has an MBA from Manchester Business School.Innovate Identity is an independent consultancy providing advisory services focused on digital trust, data and technology innovation within the global online community.

This autumn saw the UK’s Prime Minister David Cameron bring public attention back to the perils of the internet’s unregulated frameworks and the dangers this poses to our children. The UK Prime Minister identified our lack of action as a collective as the reason for arising challenges. If past endeavours are anything to go by implementing effective systems is highly controversial. But age verification and protecting our kids isn’t just a UK problem. How do we address this issue? How do we convert our current offline age-verification systems to the online community also ensuring they are effective? Which sectors are winning the battle and which are not? And how can we learn from what is being done in other countries?

Recently we published a report on age verification within the internet infrastructure that sought to answer these very questions. We looked at various approaches to age verification and how they have been applied in two different sectors: online gambling and adult content websites. Some commonly used methods include self-affirmation, content filtering, delivery point validation, credit/debit card and electronic checks of databases and ID documents. Some of these methods are outdated, not always the most reliable and can be easily sidestepped by those under 18. What was clear from our research is that there is no consistency between the two sectors. Online gambling has administered systems following regulation but with a few exceptions who have decided to self regulate, adult content websites still remain quite untouched by the regulators in many markets.

The survey was carried out by Innovate identity in June and July 2013.

Eight questions were asked:
1. Is the company you work for currently using an independent age verification system or other system?
2. If you do not use an independent age verification system please confirm how you confirm customer’s age.
3. Describe the sector you operate in.
4. Rate your confidence in using an independent age verification system.
5. In relation to the previous question, explain your reasons for your rating.
6. Pick the words that come to mind when thinking of independent age verification systems.
7. Do you think there could be any improvements in age verification in your sector? If so, what?
8. Please provide any further information on your views about age verification systems.


 What are the barriers?

Maybe online safety was more than the passing of a bill? Perhaps national culture plays its part too? We took a look at Germany’s regulation frameworks to further explore verification initiatives. What we found was that between the UK and Germany, there are differences and similarities in how access to age-related content is handled. Germany is perhaps more advanced in terms of legislation controlling access to media and content with much of the onus placed on the state to introduce regulations. There is also a cultural shift that encourages parental responsibility and involvement reducing the need for independent age-verification. Compare this to the UK where the responsibility lies with the content provider and action or regulation is often a result only after negative media attention.

So if implementing age-verification systems yields such positive results like those experienced in Germany, why there isn’t more of a proactive approach here in the UK and other markets? Is it too costly or merely perceived as expensive? Do systems place a barrier between a company and its customers and therefore potential profits? We tested this question by gaining people’s understanding of independent age verification systems from those who used them, versus those that do not.

Interestingly, those who did not use such systems held much more negative perceptions versus those who are familiar or use age-verification systems and held much more positive views. Since bringing in UK regulation back in 2005, it seems that age verification systems for the gambling industry has largely been a good experience. What was also of interest, was that those adult content websites which have decided to self-regulate and use independent age verification systems, also shared this positive view.

Group 1 - This group did not use independent age verification systems

Group 2 This group did use independent age verification systems

Physical vs Virtual

Surprising to many, online verification systems can be more effective than our ‘real world’ systems used on a daily basis. This is because they allow more control, not less. Consider the offline example of some retailers and their age-checking systems for alcohol delivered in groceries. It going to be unlikely for the delivery driver to check if the person at the point of delivery is over the legal age when the recipient’s home is five floors up and the delivery truck is illegally parked. Time is money.

Contrast this with a real-time electronic check. Validating the presented information about whether the person is real or not can be completed at the start of the transaction rather than right at the end when the goods or service are almost in a child’s hands.

We have seen Google and Microsoft coming together to provide some protection for adult content. The two giants have developed new technology, made changes to search engine keyword availability (100,000 keywords are blocked) and placing warnings on searches containing illegal content. But I don’t believe the responsibility just lies with the internet providers.

What is clear is that we need to find a way to make age verification ubiquitous and not just in the UK. This is a global problem.

It is possible that federated identity programmes such as the UK Identity Assurance Programme and NSTIC (US) hold the key. Other innovations using open data such as Social Profile Information may also hold some answers.

The future path of online age-verification certainly poses some challenges and serious change. For now there are certainly some sectors which can learn from best practice in others.

By looking at what other initiatives exist (like those in Germany), changing the status quo of ‘who’s responsibility is it anyway?’ and implementing more advanced technologies, the UK and other similar markets can establish trust and build a safer online community that benefits everyone.

Download the report at http://iffor.org/news/age-verification

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Keywords: Innovate Identity, age verification, online fraud, internet, UK, Germany
Countries: World

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