Industry

From clicks to compliance: Mastering age verification online

Age verification is an important part of protecting online minors. Learn more about the how and why behind age verification for online platforms.

An icon of a legal document.
Read time:
Share this post
Copied
Table of contents
⚡ Key takeaways
  • Age verification refers to the steps online businesses take to confirm that a user is the minimum age required to make certain purchases or consume certain content.
  • Age verification can be required by law and leveraged as a means of fostering trust and safety on a platform. 
  • A flexible age verification solution will empower you to iterate on your processes and adapt to new challenges and regulations as they become a reality.

Today’s youth are increasingly online, using the internet for everything from social media and gaming to shopping, education, and general perusal. For better or worse, minors today are citizens of the web — and have been for some time. Unfortunately, many online businesses are still playing catch up in terms of ensuring that their platforms, products, and services don’t mistakenly fall into the hands of minors who aren’t old enough to use them. 

That’s where age verification comes into play

Below, we take a closer look at what age verification is, why it's so important for online businesses and platforms, and some of the key challenges involved in verifying users’ ages. We also offer a number of best practices you can consider as you begin thinking about deploying age verification for your business.

Prefer to listen along? Watch our on-demand webinar covering the topic, hosted by Jeff Sakasegawa, trust and safety architect at Persona, and Brittany Allen, trust and safety architect at Sift. 

What is age verification?

Age verification is the process of verifying a user’s age. It is primarily done to ensure an underage individual doesn’t access content, goods, or services that they are not legally allowed to purchase or access. In an online setting, age verification can take many forms, including age gating, government ID verification, video verification, and more. 

Why is age verification so important?

Many businesses implement age verification — and not just because they’re required to. Generally, organizations verify ages for one or more of the following reasons:

Compliance

Perhaps the most obvious reason to implement age verification is the need to comply with laws and regulations that your business or industry is subject to. Examples of industries where this is the case include:

  • Ecommerce platforms, including marketplaces and websites that sell age-restricted items such as alcohol, tobacco, and adult entertainment 
  • Social media platforms operating in jurisdictions where age verification is required to protect minors 
  • Online gambling services and gaming platforms that allow gambling  
  • Digital health platforms and telemedicine providers
  • Adult entertainment websites and platforms
  • Food and grocery delivery services that deliver alcohol, tobacco, or other age-restricted products

Each of these industries is subject to its own regulations about who can legally access and leverage the products and/or services. It’s important for businesses to understand what compliance looks like and keep a finger on the pulse of future developments. 

Trust and safety

Even when it isn’t required by law, age verification can be a powerful way of promoting trust and safety within your platform — ensuring your platform is a safe environment for all users, regardless of age. By implementing age verification through the lens of trust and safety, it’s possible to shield young or vulnerable users from content, messages, and interactions with other users that they may not yet be ready to handle. 

For Brittany, the idea of age verification being used for trust and safety brings to mind the concept of griefing in online video games, in which one player deliberately targets another player, potentially repeatedly, making it difficult for them to enjoy the game.

“If a parent didn’t go through the process of helping their child set up the game, they might not have seen those options or realized that they should have restricted their settings to servers that have protections in place — such as those that don’t allow griefing,” she says. 

Privacy and consent

Age verification requires collecting and storing potentially sensitive information about your users: e.g., names, birth dates, and government IDs. This inevitably raises questions around privacy and consent. How do you implement age verification in a way that still respects the privacy of minors and adults who might be using your platform?

While this doesn’t necessarily make the case for why age verification is important, it makes the case for why thoughtful age verification is important — and why businesses should look for flexible solutions that allow them to tailor the verification experience to different types of users. 

Challenges of age verification

Age verification, like other forms of identity verification, is not without its challenges. In order to build a robust age verification system for your platform, it’s important to have a handle on what these challenges are. 

Three crucial challenges to be aware of include:

  1. Difficulty identifying minors: If a minor knows that they will be denied access to a website or platform by reporting their accurate age, there’s a good chance they’ll find a way to get around it — for example, by lying to get through an age gate, stealing a parent’s ID, or stress testing the website to figure out a way in. Kids and teenagers can be surprisingly creative in getting around some of these protections. 
  2. Introducing friction: Every online platform wants to avoid introducing friction into its age verification process. Undue friction can encourage any user — minors and adults alike — to try and circumvent your rules and potentially cause other complications.
  3. Murky regulations: In some cases, the regulations dictating age verification are clear. But in others, there is less clarity — perhaps because of how the regulations were written, perhaps because regulations vary by jurisdiction. Whatever the case, a murky compliance environment brings the possibility of potentially large fines, penalties, and bad press that can all damage your platform.

Age verification best practices

If you’re considering adding age verification to your platform and processes, there are some best practices that can help you be successful. These include:

Benchmarking against your peers

If you’re unsure of what age verification should look like for your platform, seeing how your peers are approaching it can be a good start. Walk through the sign-up process as a new user, and take note of the methods they’ve deployed. Does this mean you have to copy their strategy? Of course not. But it can give you a jumping-off point as you consider what your own flow should look like. 

“Ask yourself: How are we verifying age?” says Jeff. “How are they doing it differently? We wouldn't know why exactly, but maybe we can make some educated guesses around why a company is electing to deploy this way or why they're messaging in a certain way. It can lead you to either confirm what you already have in place or identify areas of improvement.”

Consider multiple types of verification

When it comes to verification of any type, it can be dangerous to rely solely on one specific method. In many cases, it likely makes sense to deploy multiple types of verification that are complementary to one another to ensure any vulnerabilities are harder to exploit. 

If you require a government ID for age verification, for example, there’s always the possibility of a minor using their parent’s driver’s license to make a purchase they shouldn’t make. In a case like that, also requiring the user to upload a selfie to confirm that the ID belongs to them can be a powerful way of preventing abuse. Likewise, database verification through an issuing database can help identify fakes or forgeries. 

Free white paper
See how experts evaluate verification solutions

Try to predict where regulations might go

It’s impossible to know for certain how the regulations impacting your industry might evolve. But it’s still important to try and anticipate these regulations and have a plan in place for getting your business compliant. 

The good news is, there are places to turn for information that can help inform this process. You might look to other industries where age verification is already the norm, for example, and consider how you’d implement those same requirements on your own platform. Or, you might look to other jurisdictions where regulations around age verification already exist, and consider that a starting point.

The importance of staying flexible

As you begin thinking about age verification for your platform and which solutions providers you might turn to, Jeff recommends looking for a platform that allows you to take an iterative approach

“Start by putting in place something that you can tweak over time,” he says. “Where we start isn't where we have to finish.”

With this in mind, consider looking for a solution that offers building blocks you can pick and choose from and swap out as necessary, instead of a stodgy, bloated system full of features and functions that you may never use. 

Interested in learning more? Watch our on-demand webinar where we take a deeper dive into the importance, challenges, and best practices of age verification for online platforms — and offer real-world examples of age verification in action. Or, if you’re ready to take the next step, try Persona for free or get a demo today. 

Frequently asked questions

What is age gating?

Age gating is the practice of putting a website, webpage, picture, video, or other age-restricted online content behind a gate or form. The user must complete this form (usually by entering their date of birth or by clicking “yes” when asked whether they are over the age of 18 or 21) in order to access the content.

Age gating is similar to age verification, but it does not in and of itself count as verification. Users can easily lie to get around age gates online, accessing content that they legally are not allowed to access. In many countries and jurisdictions, age gating is no longer an acceptable way of confirming a user’s age.

How does electronic age verification work?

In most cases, online age verification requires the collection and verification of a user’s government ID, also called government ID verification. This is accomplished by prompting the user to take a photo of their driver’s license, passport, or other accepted ID, which is then analyzed for authenticity. 

Of course, government ID verification cannot detect whether an ID was stolen or forged. For that reason, it is usually paired with another form of verification like:

  • Selfie verification, which requires the user to upload one or multiple selfies which are then analyzed and compared against the photo in the ID
  • Database verification, which can be used to query an issuing database to determine whether or not the information contained within an ID matches official records

Continue reading

Continue reading

Identity challenges in the travel industry: How hospitality businesses can fight fraud
Identity challenges in the travel industry: How hospitality businesses can fight fraud
Industry

Identity challenges in the travel industry: How hospitality businesses can fight fraud

Identity fraud in the travel industry has become increasingly common. Here are some common identity challenges and potential solutions businesses need to know about.

How digital health apps can overcome four barriers to converting users
How digital health apps can overcome four barriers to converting users
Industry

How digital health apps can overcome four barriers to converting users

New patients might abandon onboarding if they’re confused, frustrated, or overwhelmed. Here are four ways digital health apps can improve conversion.

How to create scalable and compliant international KYB processes
How to create scalable and compliant international KYB processes
Industry

How to create scalable and compliant international KYB processes

Industry experts discuss international KYB and debunk common myths while sharing how to build a scalable global KYB process.

Age verification system: How to add it into your business
Industry

Age verification system: How to add it into your business

Any business that sells age-restricted products, provides access to age-gated activities, or delivers services that require adult consent must verify ages. Learn more.

How age verification systems can help you prepare for CA AADC
Industry

How age verification systems can help you prepare for CA AADC

There are several steps you can take to prepare for CA AADC before 2024, including internal research, DPIAs, and implementing age verification tools.

Trust and safety: How it helps create a better online marketplace
Industry

Trust and safety: How it helps create a better online marketplace

Learn about the different risks marketplaces may face— and how to mitigate risk on your platform.

Ready to get started?

Get in touch or start exploring Persona today.