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Articles

A Complete Guide to Online Age Verification

Fergal Parkinson

10 min read
Hand holding a playing card with online age verification concept art.

As almost all products and services are now delivered digitally, the need for online age verification becomes increasingly important. Online age verification plays a critical role in preventing users from accessing age restricted content or products and ensuring businesses remain compliant with legal requirements.

This article will explore the world of online age verification, its legal requirements, different processes, vulnerabilities, automation possibilities, and key technical terms.

What is age verification and why is it important?

Age verification involves confirming an individual’s age to determine if they meet the legal age requirement for accessing specific content, products, or services. It is particularly crucial in industries with age-specific restrictions, such as gaming, cannabis, gambling, and adult content.

Implementing effective age verification processes helps businesses:

  1. Comply with legal obligations: Age verification ensures that businesses adhere to applicable local and international laws concerning the protection of minors and age-restricted products or content. This can in turn help protect the business against expensive legal claims and litigation.
  2. Protect minors: Age verification prevents minors from accessing content or products that are not suitable for their age group, promoting a safer online environment.
  3. Safeguard reputation: By securing and verifying the age of their customers, businesses can build trust and maintain a positive reputation as responsible and compliant providers.
  4. Mitigate fraud risks & foster trust online: Age verification is just one measure which can be taken to protect against fraudulent online accounts. Widespread adoption of age verification checks can also help foster greater trust online through enhanced protection.
  5. Promote responsible marketing: Through age verification checks companies can ensure that they are only marketing their services towards adults. Regardless of the nature of the product or service, there are penalties in place when businesses directly target ads at minors.
  6. Protect brand image: Marketing to children or allowing minors to inappropriately access products or services can have a heavy impact on overall brand reputation. Being proactive with age verification checks can help businesses protect their brand image online.

Legal requirements for verifying a customer’s age

The legal requirements for age verification vary across jurisdictions and industries. Some countries and states have specific regulations in place, while others leave it to businesses to determine appropriate verification measures. Common legal considerations include:

  1. Age restrictions: Laws define the minimum age for accessing certain products or content, such as alcohol or adult material. Businesses must comply with these age restrictions and implement suitable age verification processes.
  2. Data protection and privacy: Age verification often involves collecting personal information. Businesses must comply with applicable data protection and privacy laws when managing and storing customer data.
  3. Consent and parental control: In some cases, obtaining consent from parents or legal guardians may be required for minors to access certain services or products.

Businesses need to understand the specific legal requirements in their industry and jurisdiction to ensure compliance with age verification regulations.

How does age verification work?

Age verification can be conducted through various methods, both offline and online. The choice of method depends on factors such as the nature of the business, the target audience, and the level of security desired. Here are a few commonly used age verification methods:

  1. Self-declaration: Customers provide their date of birth or age as part of the registration process, relying on their honesty. However, this method is relatively less secure and vulnerable to falsification.
  2. Mobile Number Check – A check to the Mobile Network Operator linked to the users mobile number. This will confirm either the users date of birth, or whether a user is over or under a specific age threshold (over or under 18 for example) and if anything which may indicate an age range is activated such as an ‘adult content lock’, possibly indicating a person is on a family account and under 18.
  3. Credit card verification: The age of a customer is verified through a credit card transaction, cross-referencing the cardholder’s age with the information provided. This method is commonly used in industries like online gambling.
  4. ID document verification: Customers submit scanned copies or photos of identification documents, such as driver’s licenses or passports. Businesses manually verify the age by checking the documents or using automated verification software.
  5. Third-party age verification services: Businesses integrate specialised third-party services into their systems. These services use methods such as database checks, mobile number identity verification, or biometric authentication to confirm the customer’s age.

The vulnerabilities of existing age verification processes

While age verification methods have evolved, vulnerabilities remain. Some challenges include:

  1. Identity theft: Criminals can use stolen or fake identities to bypass age verification checks.
  2. Lack of uniformity: Age verification laws and processes vary globally, making it challenging for businesses with an international presence to comply with different requirements.
  3. Technical limitations: Some verification processes may be limited by technological constraints, reducing their effectiveness.

Can online age verification checks be automated?

Yes, online age verification checks can be partially or fully automated. Advanced technologies, such as artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning, have streamlined some online age verification processes. Automated systems can analyse submitted documents, cross-reference with databases, and detect anomalies or signs of tampering.

Mobile phone data is the latest and most intuitive way in which businesses can carry out automated online age verification checks as part of their existing onboarding and sales processes. Mobile data is amongst the most consistent information associated with a customer, making it a useful tool in verifying a customer’s age. It is also much harder to manipulate or use to commit fraud when compared to more traditional age verification processes.

How TMT ID carry out online age verification checks

At TMT Analysis we undertake our age verification API checks in three main ways, focusing on trusted mobile data provided by organisations such as mobile network operators. These are:

Date of Birth Match – Using our data sources we can check for a user’s D.O.B match and in turn calculate their age or if they are within the required age threshold to use the service in question. This would return a ‘match’ or ‘no match’ to the associated data query.

Age Threshold Checks – To confirm whether a user is over a specified age based on the datasets we cross-reference via our powerful age-checking API. This can be performed during onboarding if users are trying to access adult content or purchase restricted products.

Content Lock Service Restriction – In the UK it is also possible to perform checks which confirm whether a user has the adult content lock or family account setting activated on their account. If so, this is a strong indicator the user account belongs to someone who is under 18. It is worth considering that this should be viewed as an additional layer of security checking rather than a stand-alone check, as in some instances it can also include users who are over 18.

Regardless of which check is performed, we follow a tried and tested process when authenticating user accounts for clients. This includes:

Step 1: The user opens your site or application and inputs their mobile number upon sign-up, along with any other information you require.

Step 2: Verify matches the details provided by the user to those attached to the mobile number, this includes date of birth, whether sensitive content has been enabled and whether the user is above the specific age threshold.Step 3: The data is then returned to you in it’s raw format, so you are able to grant or deny the new online account and attempted purchases based on your chosen parameters.

Step 4: Your online age verification process is easy and friction-free, providing a lower drop-off rate, and giving you a competitive edge.

Ongoing Authentication: After an online account has been approved, the mobile number can be used to authenticate the device attached to the number by matching session data with mobile network data. This can ensure that content or products stay in the possession of verified users.

Restricted purchases online

Online age verification checks are important for restricted purchases online for several reasons. Firstly, they help to ensure compliance with legal requirements. Many jurisdictions have specific laws and regulations regarding the sale of age-restricted products such as alcohol, tobacco/cannabis, firearms, or adult content. By implementing age verification checks, online businesses can verify the age of customers and prevent the sale of restricted products to minors, avoiding potential legal consequences for non-compliance.

Age verification helps to create a safer online environment by preventing underage individuals from accessing age-restricted content or purchasing products that are not suitable for their age group.

Age verification checks also enable responsible business practices. By verifying the age of customers, online businesses demonstrate their commitment to preventing the sale of restricted products to ineligible individuals. This helps to build trust with customers and showcases the business’s dedication to ethical standards and responsible operations.

Adult content

Online age verification checks are important to manage how users access adult content for several reasons:

Legal compliance: Many countries have laws and regulations regarding the access and distribution of adult content, which often require age verification to ensure compliance. Age verification helps online platforms meet legal requirements and avoid potential penalties or legal issues associated with providing adult content to children.

Protecting minors: Adult content is explicitly intended for adult consumption due to its mature nature. Age verification checks help to prevent underage individuals from accessing explicit or inappropriate content, promoting a safe online environment.

Industry standards: Age verification is often a requirement set forth by industry standards and best practices. Online platforms that adhere to these standards prioritise user safety and responsible content distribution.

Age verification checks are crucial in stopping online users, especially minors, from accessing adult content for legal, ethical, and safety reasons. They contribute to a safer online environment and ensure legal compliance.

Online gaming & gambling

Age verification checks are essential to prevent vulnerable online users from accessing online gaming and gambling platforms for several reasons.

Legal compliance: The online gaming and gambling industry is heavily regulated, with strict age restrictions in place. Age verification checks help ensure that only individuals of legal gambling age can access these platforms, complying with legal obligations and avoiding potential legal consequences for non-compliance.

Protecting minors: Online gaming and gambling can expose individuals to potential risks such as addiction, financial loss, and exploitation. Age verification checks help prevent minors from accessing these platforms, as they may lack the necessary maturity and understanding to make informed decisions regarding gambling activities.

Responsible gambling practices: Age verification plays a crucial role in promoting responsible gambling practices. By verifying the age of users, gaming and gambling platforms can prevent underage individuals from engaging in gambling activities.

Preventing fraud and identity theft: Age verification checks also help protect against fraud and identity theft. Verifying the age and identity of users can help ensure that accounts are created and used by legitimate individuals, reducing the risk of fraudulent activities.

Industry standards and regulations: Age verification is often required by industry standards and regulations in the gaming and gambling sector. Implementing effective age verification mechanisms demonstrates a commitment to complying with these standards and safeguarding users.

Social media age checks

Online age verification checks are crucial to preventing underage users from accessing social media platforms for several reasons. Firstly, online platforms are more accessible than ever before, with more and more young people spending a large portion of their day online. Age verification checks can help ensure that underage individuals are not exposed to inappropriate content or potentially dangerous interactions with strangers. Social media platforms are subject to legal age restrictions, and age verification checks help ensure compliance with these restrictions.

Additionally, age verification checks can help prevent identity fraud and improve the overall safety and security of online communities. By implementing appropriate age verification measures, social media companies can enhance their reputation, build user trust and confidence and ultimately contribute to creating safer online spaces.

Purchasing cannabis & tobacco products online

Online age verification checks are important for preventing minors from purchasing cannabis and tobacco products online due to various reasons. Firstly, online retailers of these products are required to ensure that they are only selling to individuals of legal age. Age verification checks help these retailers to comply with legal regulations concerning age restrictions, and reduce the risk of violations, penalties, and reputational damage.

Online age verification checks also help prevent underage access to nicotine and cannabis products, protecting minors from the potential harms associated with their use, such as addiction, lung damage, reduced cognitive ability, cardiovascular disease, and cancer. Online age verification can improve the safety and security of online transactions for these products, preventing identity theft and fraud.

Despite the importance of age verification checks for online cannabis and tobacco sales, studies have shown that some online marijuana shops lack adequate age verification systems to prevent minors from making purchases. Therefore, there is a greater need for strict measures to ensure that cannabis and tobacco online retailers comply with age verification standards and prevent minors from accessing these products.

Banking legislation & age checking requirements

Online age verification is crucial in the finance industry due to several reasons. It plays a significant role in enhancing security and compliance. As more financial services are accessed online, age verification becomes essential to ensure that only eligible individuals have access to banking services. By verifying the age of customers, banks can prevent unauthorised individuals from accessing sensitive financial information and carrying out fraudulent activities.

Online age verification is also important for risk mitigation. Banks are required to comply with various regulations and laws related to anti-money laundering (AML) and Know Your Customer (KYC) processes. Age verification helps prevent identity theft and fraud by confirming the customer’s age and ensuring that they are who they claim to be.

Age verification is essential for upholding compliance standards. Financial institutions have a legal obligation to ensure that they are not providing financial services to individuals who are underage or ineligible for certain transactions. By implementing robust age verification processes, banks can demonstrate their commitment to meeting regulatory requirements and avoiding potential penalties or legal issues.

In conclusion, online age verification checks play an important role in protecting children online in several ways. With this in mind, it’s also important to remember that they only form part of the wider online checks an organisation should be doing, in order to protect customers from fraud. If you’re looking to understand the ways in which mobile data can help verify and protect your customers, please contact a member of our expert team today.

 

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the potential legal repercussions for businesses if they neglect to implement age verification protocols?

The repercussions for businesses failing to enact age verification measures can differ based on their location and the type of business. Some areas may enforce fines or penalties for failing to comply with age verification laws, while others may subject businesses to legal action or damage to their reputation.

 

Are there specific industries or sectors where the importance of online age verification is particularly pronounced?

Yes, there are specific industries or sectors where online age verification is particularly crucial. These encompass online gambling and gaming, alcohol and tobacco sales, adult content websites, and platforms vending age-restricted products or services. Guaranteeing that minors are unable to access these platforms is vital for adhering to regulations and protecting underage users.

 

How do technological advancements influence the efficacy of age verification mechanisms on the internet?

Technological advancements consistently influence the efficiency of online age verification procedures. Emerging technologies like biometric authentication, artificial intelligence, and mobile number intelligence are progressively incorporated into age verification systems to boost precision and security. Nevertheless, it’s imperative to regularly assess and enhance these procedures to outpace the evolving tactics employed by minors to bypass online age restrictions.

 

Glossary of technical terms

  1. Age Verification: The process of confirming the age of an individual to determine if they meet the legal age requirement for accessing specific content, products, or services online.
  2. Age Content Lock: A service which blocks content rated as 18, or suitable only for adults.
  3. Biometric Authentication: Using unique physical or behavioural characteristics, such as fingerprint or facial recognition, to verify an individual’s identity and confirm their age.
  4. Consent: Obtaining permission from a parent or legal guardian for a minor to access certain services, products, or content that have age restrictions.
  5. Data Protection: The practice of safeguarding personal data and complying with relevant privacy laws to protect the confidentiality and privacy of individuals’ information during the age verification process.
  6. Database Checks: Verifying customer information against databases, such as identification records or age-related databases, to confirm the accuracy of the provided information.
  7. Identity Document: Official documents that can be used for age verification, including driver’s licenses, passports, or identity cards.
  8. Identity Verification: The process of confirming that an individual’s identity matches the information provided, often involving verifying their age.
  9. KYC (Know Your Customer): The process through which businesses verify and authenticate the identity of their customers, including age verification, to ensure compliance with regulatory requirements.
  10. OCR (Optical Character Recognition): Technology that extracts text from images, often used in document scanning and verification processes to extract information from identity documents.
  11. Parental Control: Tools or features that allow parents or legal guardians to control and limit their children’s access to age-restricted content or services on the internet.
  12. Privacy: The protection of individuals’ personal information by limiting access, maintaining confidentiality, and securely handling data during the age verification process.
  13. Regulatory Compliance: Adhering to applicable laws, regulations, and standards related to age verification, ensuring that businesses meet legal requirements for protecting minors and managing age-restricted content or services.
  14. Self-declaration: Customers provide their date of birth or age as part of the registration process, relying on their honesty; however, this method may be less secure and vulnerable to falsification.
  15. Third-Party Age Verification Services: External services or providers that specialise in age verification, integrated by businesses to verify customers’ age through various methods like database checks, identity verification, or biometric authentication.

Last updated on May 23, 2024

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