Press Release: It Is Time To Get Serious About Age Verification

PRESS RELEASE

Thursday 2nd April 2015

IT IS TIME TO GET SERIOUS ABOUT AGE VERIFICATION

"The NSPCC Childline campaign announced on Tuesday should serve as a wake-up call to those who are serious about ensuring that parents can allow their children to explore the internet in safety, with confidence that they can be protected by effective age verification processes", said Independent Crossbench Peer Lord Erroll, announcing the agreement of the Age Verification working group of the all-party Digital Policy Alliance to work towards effective, technology-neutral, national and international standards.

He added, "Education is, of course, most of the answer, but internet service providers also need to take age verification much more seriously. Most of the industries subject to penalties if they do not check the ages of their customers have come together to try to do just that. The working group already brings together representatives of the online gambling, adult entertainment, tobacco, online dating and vaping (e-cigarettes) industries and aims to engage with the alcohol industry and educational network operators, as well as with those concerned with child protection, silver surfers, social inclusion and, of course, crime prevention!"

Background

Robust age verification for both children and young people wishing to access a range of products and services online, including via mobile devices, is regarded by many as essential to improving children's safety online. Most children now spend more time online, unsupervised, using smart phones and tablets than in the playground or park. Child protection is the main driver for social networks and content providers to check the ages of those with whom they are dealing online. It is not the only one. The requirements in the "real" world for age checks, including on travel passes and other concessions for young and old, can be achieved simply by the presentation of a photocard from a reputable organisation, such as a Citizencard (for the adolescent) or a Freedom Pass (for the mature). Why should an online equivalent be so difficult?

Five years ago robust age verification was not practical. Today it is.

The UK is on the cusp of defining standards to underpin the roll-out of scalable, viable, cost-effective, age verification solutions, built on the principles of ‘verify once, use many times’. The next step is to turn these into internationally-recognised interoperable standards, supported by certification programmes that define liability models. It is time for social networking platforms, data aggregators and advertisers to re-visit their approaches to age verification, not just to ensure that they comply with legislation designed to protect children online, but also to facilitate the confident use of online services by all age groups.

Who is working to find realistic ways forward?

  • Those providing online gambling services: UK law requires providers to verify age (and identity). As many 18-24 year olds are not on the electoral register and do not have a credit history gambling operators have had to develop innovative solutions to ensure all their customers are over 18.
  • Those providing access to adult entertainment: UK operators are required by ATVOD (Authority for Television on Demand) to check the age (but not necessarily identity) of those seeking access.
  • Those running online sales operations and payment services: who may be liable for not undertaking checks before selling age-restricted products (e.g. alcohol, knives, tobacco, vaping products, etc.).
  • Those running educational services and linked social networks for children: they need user-friendly but robust age verification checks to facilitate social inclusion while protecting against abuse.

Solutions here can also be applied in other situations, e.g., to prove eligibility for education grants or crowd-source business start-ups.

The Digital Policy Alliance has therefore brought together a range of industry players who need effective solutions for marketing and moral, as well as regulatory, reasons to work towards national and internationally-recognised standards that reflect common needs. These should enable information already on file across central and local government (including DWP and The NHS) and/or the private sector to enable service providers to reliably check the age of almost any online user, including those who wish to remain anonymous, providing the relevant regulations permit this.

Details of the C-Plan for “consent-based, confidential, online age verification” can be found on the Digital Policy Alliance website

Notes to Editors:

The Digital Policy Alliance (EURIM) is the politically neutral, cross-party policy voice of the internet and technology sector. The DPA alerts EU and UK Parliamentarians and policy makers to the potential impacts, implications, and unintended consequences of policies which interact with and leverage online and digital technologies.

Chairman: Lord Erroll, Independent Crossbench Peer
Secretary General: Carolyn Kimber
Administration / Press Enquiries: Verity Vigars - vvigars@dpalliance.org.uk

For comment on age verification from a child safety perspective – contact: Dr Rachel O’Connell - rachel@technologist.com who is helping with advice on the issues

For comment from the industry chairman of the working group on why adult content providers are working with others to produce a common standard for age verification: Chris Ratcliff - chris.ratcliff@portlandtv.co.uk

For comment on Age Verification in the online gambling industry: Clive Hawkswood - chawkswood@rga.eu.com