The Most Useless Thing on the Internet
“Age gates,” or the most commonly employed age verification method to ensure a customer is of the appropriate age to view or purchase a product, are nothing new to the internet. They are intended to be a digital barrier to prevent under-aged individuals from gaining access to age-restricted commodities and services.
With the growing popularity of e-commerce, age gates are being implemented much more by websites selling vaping products, online betting platforms, pornography, and cannabis. However, their effectiveness has always been questionable at best.
Age gates most commonly take the form of a field that asks the prospective customer to enter their birth date or simply agreeing they are over the required age in order to proceed into the website proper. Having an age gate is an approach that websites can take to show that they are at least making an effort to keep their product away from those too young to legally purchase or access them. Moreover, age gates are a “low cost, low effort way to…cover one’s assets.” In fact, the ubiquity of age gates means their implementation often amounts to little more than drag and drop or copy and paste.
Unfortunately, age gates are not the impregnable fortresses the name might suggest. In fact, they almost universally operate on the honor system. Moreover, most people lie on age gates whether they actually need to or not. In most instances, it’s faster, and with no penalty or reward, to click the boxes of some random qualifying date of birth than it is to actually look for their actual one.
A Pew study confirmed that “39% of online teenagers in the US (admit) to lying about their age in order to access age-restricted services…”. Texas A&M University alcohol researcher Adam Barry notes that “Alcohol brand age gates are weak, at best, and likely an inconsequential barrier that someone with limited math abilities can easily overcome.” Moreover, few age gates have any functionality beyond blocking ages under 21 and allowing ages 21 and up. This means that despite the fact that someone born in the year 1900 is unlikely to even be alive to try to buy an e-cigarette, it raises no red flags on the e-commerce website.
The ineffectualness of age gating is starting to catch up to it. As Surly Brewing’s senior marketing manager Holly Manthei commented “The age gate is maybe the most useless thing on the internet.” So then, what’s the point of their existence at all if they can be bypassed with a simple deception? The unsatisfying answer is that they are often seen as better than nothing. With a need for stronger verification methods, age gates are reaching obsolescence.
Compliance Issues in the United States
While the Federal Trade Commission has encouraged the alcohol industry “to adopt and comply with self-regulatory standards to reduce the extent to which alcohol advertising targets teens, whether by placement or content,” the internet has brought a huge challenge to address this for not only alcohol, but other adult-targeted products.
The original purpose of age gating was to show legal and government authorities that a business was making efforts to age-restrict their products. Despite age gate’s ineffectualness, they placed the responsibility back on the consumer who would either need to be of age or lie about being of age to proceed.
The time of age gating providing effect cover for business is rapidly coming to an end. For instance, in California has determined that age gates do not constitute verification for the sale of tobacco and nicotine vaping materials. According to California’s Stop Tobacco Access to Kids Enforcement Act, the sale of tobacco and nicotine vaping products requires the seller to “match the name, address, and date of birth provided by the customer to information contained in records in a database of individuals whose age has been verified to be 21 years or older.” Additionally, California law requires sellers to “also verify that the billing address on the check or credit card offered for payment by the purchaser matches the address listed in the database.”
Similarly, in many states, the online sale of wine and liquor requires more stringent verification than what age gates can provide. The most common standard is that buyers must show a current and valid government-issued form of identification to prove their age, much the same way they would if they bought the product in a grocery store. And still, states such as Michigan, Georgia, and Ohio require the use of an identity verification service when the order is made as opposed to the presentation of a valid government-issued ID. A simple age gate would not meet this standard of verification.
For tobacco products in the United States, it is now illegal “to sell any tobacco product — including cigarettes, cigars, and e-cigarettes — to anyone under 21.” Adding further concern for the seller, it is the retailer who is responsible should any such sale take place. This reality eliminates any lingering illusions of perceived protection implementing an age-gate for these products might have provided.
Despite age restrictions, flavored e-cigarettes are products that are particularly popular with minors. For this reason, the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has made it clear that they will give priority to enforcement towards sellers that fail to employ “independent, third-party, age- and identity-verification services that compare customer information against third-party data sources.”
The problem is deeper than governments simply not allowing the use of age gates. Even if an age gate is allowed, it is still illegal to sell age-restricted products to minors, whether they lie or not. Hence, actually knowing your customer’s true identity is even more important. The point is: age gating is simply not a viable verification tool.
More Effective Age Verification Options
In most cases, the use of age verification software is done so because of a legal mandate. While companies for which they are required don’t have much choice in whether or not they use verification software, they do have a choice in what kind they use. The most common deciding factors come down to cost, ease of implementation, and customer user experience.
Applications like Konfirmi accommodate businesses in all of these factors.
Konfirmi is a very low-cost option. No monthly fees or minimum usage requirements means you only pay for what you use, and the usage fee is low as well. Konfirmi charges only $0.019 – only about 2 cents – per use.
Additionally, when it comes to age verifications with third-party data sources, Konfirmi suggests that its clients buy directly from several different data providers which will further reduce overall costs. For client convenience, Konfirmi makes it possible for you to easily verify your customer’s age by cross-referencing information with billions of online records maintained by reputable third-party data providers.
Lastly, and perhaps most noteworthy, Konfirmi is no more intrusive to your customers than an age gate. The app obtains information directly from your website’s purchase or age verification form and then gets the consents required under the various laws. That’s all there is to it!
The days of age gates are quickly coming to an end. Yet the need for reliable customer verification still remains. Moving forward, it will be intuitive and inexpensive applications like Konfirmi that pick up the slack, protecting both seller and customer.