Online age verification: How to stay compliant while preserving user experienceJanuary 30, 2023
As the digital world continues to evolve, age verification has witnessed a proliferation in several areas of online activity. Many companies with an online presence perform identity verification with some form of age assurance, which has become increasingly common with social media platforms like Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube.
The checks are performed for multiple reasons at different respective age tiers, varying from one locality to another. For example, following the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) of 1998, websites were prohibited from tracking data of children under 13. Companies like Google and TikTok have felt the brunt of violating COPPA to the tune of millions in settlement fees.
Sites and apps are also required to perform age verification when it applies to the sale of age-restricted items, whether its tobacco, alcohol, or legal controlled substances (i.e., prescription drugs). This is an area of age verification that has emerged rapidly in the past decade, with the growth of home delivery services for alcohol (e.g., Drizly), medical marijuana, and other prescribed drugs from big box and local pharmacies.
In addition to the sale of age-restricted items, there are several other industries where online age verification is required by law on some level, including online gaming/gambling and adult entertainment. While the laws vary from region to region, businesses that do not utilize proper age verification systems could face non-compliance penalties, which can negatively affect their business in several ways.
Online age verification methods
There are a few different methods for online age verification. The most common, with regard to age-restricted access, is a date of birth prompt or the user being asked to confirm if they are of a certain age (commonly referred to as age gates). These processes are the industry standard across the majority of popular social media platforms, where the age to join is typically 16.
Of course, these age-gated approaches are reliant on an honor system that any minor can easily lie about. This has led many adults to impose parental controls (or locks) on electronic devices, restricting access to certain websites and apps, whether it’s a social media network or something otherwise unsuitable.
While access policies and security measures vary across the board, companies that provide transactions for age-restricted products and services are typically held to stricter standards. In these instances, users will have to present a form of ID to confirm their age, which is commonly executed by uploading an image of their identity document through the desired platform. Depending on the service provider, either a manual or automated check (or both) will be performed to confirm the user’s age and authenticity of the document.
An even more rigid process involves a biometric scan, in which the user will be asked to provide a photo or video of their face, which the service provider will then use to compare against the ID. This can also be conducted manually or through automation, with the latter typically incorporating some type of machine learning model for more accurate results, especially if the provider is performing age verification on a wide scale.
How users evade age verification
While it’s harder for users (i.e., minors) to circumvent or deceive stricter age verification protocols than it is to break the age gate honor code, it’s still possible through multiple means. Businesses are primarily focused on identity fraud when it has a financial motive (e.g., fraudsters attempting to perpetrate identity theft or a criminal scheme), but as stated above, the monetary penalties for providing age-restricted services or products to minors are severe in their own right.
Whether they’re trying to order alcohol or enter a gambling site, a minor’s first move may be to use their parent’s ID to falsify the age verification process (in some instances, they can also use a credit card as an acceptable form of access-granting authentication). Minors can also use fake or synthetic IDs, in instances where they can’t obtain genuine documents or if their parents already possess an account with the service provider.
Of course, the more advanced the guardrails are, the harder it is for minors to skirt the system. Sites and apps that deploy AI-powered technology involving facial biometrics (or even voice recognition) are much harder to bypass, although the emergence of deep fakes and voice altering devices provide avenues for even the most sophisticated age verification methods becoming compromised.
Real-time, accurate age verification
For an age verification solution to truly stand out from the pack, it needs to be able to handle all potential scenarios involving deception, whether it’s a minor attempting to use their parent’s ID, a fake ID, or a synthetic ID. Social media sites are already embracing AI to better thwart the issue of underage users, as Instagram has developed a process of scanning birthday messages from posts to see if a user was being disingenuous at sign-up.
When it comes to ID scanning and verification, it’s important that an element of facial recognition is layered into the document check in order to confirm the user is who they admit to be and also of the appropriate age. The ID scanner itself must be skilled in identifying specific discrepancies in the document’s design and composition to assure its validity, eliminating forgeries and fakes, which requires a sophisticated solution trained in diverse identity document types.
Lastly, while privacy and protection come foremost, it’s important to note that user experience doesn’t need to be sacrificed in the process. For legitimate customers, being bogged down with unnecessary steps, long wait times, or errors involving verification can cause friction, potentially leading them to abandon a company altogether for a competitor. By incorporating an AI-powered ID scanning solution capable of delivering real-time, accurate results, a business can weed out fraudsters while welcoming in genuine users in mere seconds.
While many of the world’s top (and most trusted) online organizations have already begun to address gaps in their age verification process, there are still companies across a number of diverse industries that would benefit from a new, more sophisticated approach. That’s where emerging tech like AI comes in, protecting businesses from age-based fraud while still providing the seamless experience for the customers they value most.