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How old are you? Asking for a service provider

How old are you? Asking for a service provider

People are sensitive about revealing their age to people they know in conversation, let alone to faceless service providers online, but as a Liminal report indicates, increased awareness of online harms is leading to increased adoption of digital age checks.

‘Fixing the Age Assurance Conundrum’ is based on the premise that age verification technologies provide two of privacy, proof of age or a positive user experience, but not all three.

The 40-page report begins by setting out the difference between age verification and age estimation, and goes on to review the motivation behind age assurance technology adoption, the build-up of age-related regulations and non-regulatory rules, and the methods and technologies used. These can range from the weak assurance of self-declaration, to “hard identifiers” like ID documents, which many children do not posses and come with privacy challenges, and biometrics.

Concerns associated with biometrics include reluctance, with a quarter of U.S. respondents to a Liminal poll saying they never use the biometric capabilities of their smartphones due to privacy concerns, and the need for stored data in traditional uses of the technology. Profiling, capacity testing, digital identities and self-sovereign identities could also potentially be used for age checks.

No single solution today meets the needs of communities and online service providers, Liminal concludes.

Despite this, age checks for online purchases and services continue to proliferate, with the New York Times reporting that the anonymity common to much of the web may be getting rolled back.

Facebook is looking to provide “a menu of options” for individuals to prove their age, but Daly Barnett of the Electronic Frontier Foundation says giving up sensitive information or using a third party is unacceptable, because, “either way, that’s still a treasure trove of data that’s exploitable.”

Experts weigh in

Veratad CEO John E. Ahrens and UK Age Check Certification Scheme CEO Tony Allen joined Liminal’s Director of Research Nick Holland for a webinar on the topic, suggesting that while progress towards effective age checks is being made, there is no clear best future practice in the market yet.

Allen says that the advance made over the past couple of years is decoupling age verification from its roots in know your customer (KYC) processes, which involve gathering large amounts of personal information from individuals, towards more targeted, limited and therefore privacy-supporting techniques.

They discussed the various regulations in different markets, and the use of common standards to attempt to reduce the differences between them.

The “Age Appropriate Design Code” being developed in Britain could set a new “high-water mark,” Holland suggested, though Allen clarified that the code specifies how existing rules will be interpreted by the ICO, rather than setting new ones.

Ahrens made the point that age verification service providers can only work with one of two methods, one based on identity, which is far more likely to run into regulatory problems related to protecting children’s data, and the other based on technologies “that maybe just are not there yet.”

Along with face and behavioral biometrics advancing towards accurate age verification, Allen noted that hand size can be a way to determine the age of young people without collecting any information which is typically considered sensitive.

Convenience stores go their own way

Age verification system TruAge, developed by the National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS) and Conexxus, is now supported by Anheuser-Busch, Molson Coors, Altria, Juul Labs and more than a hundred other retail companies, Convenience Store News reports.

TruAge is a free digital identity-based solution which provides a QR code to provide proof of age at the point of sale, online, or when accepting a delivery. It is currently being piloted by convenience stores in Texas.

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