Age Verification in International E-Commerce
While age verification has been a global issue in the e-commerce space for many years, it is now gaining additional attention with the surge of online retailers selling e-cigarette products, online betting services, mature video games, pornography, and cannabis, and new government legislation.
A commonly used method for online age verification employed around the world is “age gates.” Age gates typically take the form of a field that asks the prospective customer to enter their birth date or simply agree they are over the required age in order to proceed into the website proper. Having an age gate is one tool websites can employ to show that they are making an effort to keep their products and services away from those deemed too young. Moreover, as a benefit to the website owner, age gates are typically considered a “low cost, low effort way to…cover one’s assets.”
Unfortunately, age gates are not the robust and reliable barriers the name suggests. In fact, some find age gates simply useless. Age gates almost universally operate on the honor system. With rarely penalty for lying or reward for honesty, most people lie on age gates whether they actually need to or not. In most instances, it’s simply just faster to click boxes of some random qualifying birth date than it is to look for the real one.
Regardless of the country in which they are used, age gates are meant to be a digital barrier to discourage access to age-restricted goods and services from under-aged individuals. Yet the effectiveness of age gates has always been questionable at best.
A Global Need
Around the globe, governments have proposed and are enacting legislation that requires some online retailers to restrict access to minors. Many of these laws require reliable age verification that age gates do not provide. For instance, in some European countries such as Great Britain, the Netherlands, and Germany, online gambling is age-restricted to those 18 and over. Yet age gates do not meet the qualifications necessary to confirm a user’s age. Another example is in pornography. In the countries in which pornography is legal, age verification is required for online viewing, yet non-reinforced age gates typically do not suffice as proper verification.
Furthermore, new strict international legislation requires fortified age verification processes in order to avoid substantial penalties. Examples of recent legislation include the following:
- In the UK, the Online Harms legislation proposal calls for “a new age of accountability” for social media to, among other things, keep children safe which would fine companies who fail to provide a safe environment with the higher of $24M or 10% of global turnover and criminal sanctions on senior management.
- In Germany, online gaming is facing tighter restrictions with new legislations coming into effect on July 1, 2021. Failure to provide a robust age and identity verification will result in new online gaming licenses being rejected or existing operators facing fines up to 500, 000 Euros and the revocation of their license.
- In mid-2020, the French Parliament introduced age verification requirements for online pornography viewing. Aiming to protect children from viewing this type of mature material, this legislation will penalize those companies who do not comply by imposing sanctions including having their websites blocked in France.
- In India, the proposed Personal Data Collection Bill, 2019 aims to protect a child’s personal data with use of age verification. According to this legislation, a child’s (anyone under the age of 18) “data cannot be processed without the consent of parents or a guardian and verification of the child’s age.” Additionally, the bill aims to protect those deemed children from goods and services meant for a more mature audience which would require strict parent/guardian and age verification methods.
- Canada’s Cannabis Act, which nationally legalized cannabis, advised retailers in 2019 that a “simple self-attestation of age” (the use of an age gate) does not comply with the Cannabis Act’s ruling to restrict the sale and/or marketing of cannabis to minors. Those retailers who do not comply could face license suspensions, loss of administrative fees, financial penalties up to $5,000,000 and imprisonment.
Undoubtedly, having a strong and reliable age verification system has become even more important to e-commerce companies around the globe. Furthermore, with the complexity of global identification including varying types of personal naming traditions, government IDs, and access to third-party information, the international e-commerce community needs a variety of strong methods to verify age and identification in general.
This begs the question: what tools can these websites use to meet legal requirements and provide a safe and friendly online experience for customers?
While companies legally required to age verify don’t have a choice in whether or not they use verification software, they may have a choice in what kind they use. These types of companies most commonly decide on said tools based on cost, ease of implementation, and customer user experience. Applications such as Konfirmi accommodate businesses in all of these factors. Companies like Konfirmi offer easy-to-use and cost-effective ways to verify the customer’s age along with identity.
As additional age verification legislation is sure to be passed around the world in the years to come, e-commerce companies must begin to consider how to improve their verification processes now.