Hit enter after type your search item

    UK age verification is poor and regulators need a wake-up call for technology


    Age verification is not new: we see it every day, whether we check a box to say that we are above 13 when we sign up at social media platforms or present an ID when we buy alcohol or choose the gorier or more daring make choices in a cinema.

    Thanks to new regulations, it is a subject that gets attention. In May of this year, the Gambling Commission demanded that online bookmakers improve their identity and age verification checks, while at the same time shortening the time needed to examine each player. Also in May, new industry guidelines for online pharmacies make identity checks mandatory for the delivery of certain medicines, especially medicines that need to be checked or can be misused. The most attention, however, is AgeID – from July 15, the UK government is launching an age check scheme designed to prevent viewers under the age of 18 from visiting pornographic websites.

    Adult material is a difficult area to regulate. While most people are probably happy that others know they have placed the strange bet, and people are used to having their medical information accessed by a number of medical professionals, access to adult material is often something that people want to keep very private. If you do this wrong, it means that people want to get around instead of using the system.

    • UK porn block: everything you need to know
    • Starbucks plans to block adult content via WiFi in 2019
    • Tumblr announces prohibition of adult content

    The defects in AgeID

    AgeID has been the subject of criticism before the launch, in particular from privacy and advocates. The proposed purpose of the rules is to prevent minors from encountering content that they should not do, but there is already much skepticism as to whether this works.

    A good analogy is the trend in piracy in recent years. In 2013, 18% of UK consumers used illegal downloads to get their music. Thanks to streaming apps such as Spotify and Apple Music, this is now up to 10%. If you make it easier for consumers to take the right course, they will. Streaming is much easier than torrents or usenet groups, and much less risky, so people will of course choose the easier option.

    So how simple is AgeID? Consumers have two options: they can buy a card in a store or they can prove their identity online via a number of login details, such as a credit card or a passport.

    Buying a card has its advantages: the stores where the card will be available already have processes to ensure that its customers are old enough to buy alcohol, lottery tickets and other limited items. The problem here is that there is no social taboo associated with alcohol and lottery tickets. Are consumers likely to be embarrassed by asking staff about a card that has only one obvious use? Marketing standards have done a lot of work to ensure that age verification by retailers is taken more seriously than ever before, making a kind of document check more likely. Unfortunately people will bypass this system rather than work with it.

    Online verification has its own problems. One of the most infamous data breaches of all time was that of Ashley Madison, the dating site for people who want to cheat on their important other. The exposed data led to blackmail, divorces and even suicides. AgeID, regardless of the data that actually remains in the file, requires a lot of confidence in its users.

    Again, people try to undermine the system rather than work on it. A quick Google search reveals that even before the system goes live, a lot of advice is already available on how to bypass AgeID – even the BBC has explained that a VPN is a legal solution.

    Credit balance: Shutterstock

    How other industries such as online gambling have worked to get it right

    Identity verification is vital for online bookmakers, not only for age limits, but also because they can be used for money laundering. Therefore, they are required by law to ensure that their customers are who they say they are, in case a future money laundering investigation requires this information.

    So how do they do this? Many use the services of companies such as HooYu who already provide similar services for the financial sector. Banks must identify their customers for the same reasons as online bookmakers, so it makes sense to use similar processes for both sectors.

    A recent development was that regulators made these rules stricter – but to the benefit of consumers. Previously, consumers could be asked for additional documentation when recording a withdrawal and had to wait 72 hours before receiving their money. This has led to the creation of robust systems that bookmakers rely on to new new customers.

    In the short history of the Internet, mature industries have innovated and others follow. Adult sectors are credited with breakthrough elements of streaming video, payment tools and online credit card transactions. However, AgeID is an unusual retrograde step and is trying to create something new where trusted solutions already exist. To ensure that consumers use a system instead of avoiding it, it must be both familiar and simple. By looking at sectors that have already solved age verification, the mature industry has a much better chance of implementing a system that works.

    David Pope, Marketing Director at Hooyu

    • We have also marked the best VPN services from 2019
    This div height required for enabling the sticky sidebar