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Protecting our children from the Wild West Web

Protecting our children from the Wild West Web

By Fergal Parkinson, Co-founder and Director, TMT Analysis

With 2.5 quintillion bytes of data created every day on the internet – the equivalent of 10 million Blu-ray discs piled as high as two Eiffel Towers combined — the World Wide Web can sometimes resemble the Wild West Web. This is particularly dangerous for the millions of children who operate online daily. In many countries around the world, the lack of regulation means there is little to prevent internet users accessing and consuming adult or inappropriate content regularly.

The adult entertainment sectors – including the porn and gaming industries – are particularly high risk. In the UK, a recent report from the Children’s Commissioner for England found that one in 10 children in England have viewed pornography by the age of nine, rising to half by age 13. And in the U.S., research has shown that filters to online porn are wholly inadequate. However, there have been recent strides made to address this. In the U.S., for example, the state of Louisiana recently made it illegal for porn sites to publish or distribute content deemed harmful to minors without having the appropriate age verification barriers in place.

Louisiana’s move is a step in the right direction and needs to be introduced not only across other U.S. states, but globally too. Whilst the privacy concerns of Louisiana’s new laws are understandable, the online protection of minors simply must be the priority. Age verification and improved security more generally are the first steps to regain control over the unsuitable and often dangerous content underage children are accessing on a daily basis.

As the US often leads the world in identity and security trends, policymakers will no doubt be paying close attention to Louisiana as they look to follow suit and introduce similar measures to help protect minors from adult content online. In the UK, it seems that the Online Safety Bill is already moving in that direction with a proposed requirement to force age verification measures on adult content websites currently being debated, while in Australia, the government in New South Wales is set to trial digital IDs which can be used for online alcohol sales.

The age of age verification

Organizations in the adult entertainment sectors should embrace this shift with open arms as not only will the introduction of age verification laws protect minors, but it will also protect companies against reputational risk from failing to prevent underage users from accessing explicit or unsuitable content. In extreme cases, improved security can also ensure that companies avoid fines for poor practice.

The significance of age verification – and identity verification more generally — for operating online in the modern world has carried over into the gaming industry. Our research late last year found that the authorities in Britain, America and Australia were becoming increasingly stringent over safety checks on gamblers, with fines totaling $127 million worldwide. For example, in 2022, the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement ordered DraftKings to pay $150,000 for allowing a Florida-based customer to make bets on its sports betting app via a proxy in New Jersey.

We’re also seeing the importance age verification transcend into more mainstream sectors that traditionally haven’t been as vulnerable to such age-sensitive issues, such as social media. Since November last year, anyone in the UK who tries to edit their date of birth on Instagram by changing it from under the age of 18 to over 18 will have to verify their age through ID or a video selfie, which will be examined by independent age estimation technology.

Implementing the right technology

Adapting with the times is key. But these new rules come at a price as confirming the identity and the age of individuals isn’t just a complex process, but expensive too. As such, it’s vital that companies in all industries utilize more cost-effective and agile solutions to improve security.

There’s technology available that organizations requiring age verification checks can use while being effective at verifying an individual’s identity, including their age. And it’s all done via a users’ mobile phone number.

Utilizing data gathered from over 80 countries every day — including trusted sources such as telecoms companies and mobile network operators, regulators and third parties – this technology can reduce impersonations and accurately verify a user’s identity, just from their mobile phone. This real-time data is fast, accurate, reliable, and ratifies whether that person is who they say they are.

There’s a new Sheriff in town

This type of technology is evolving. During 2023, we should expect to see the introduction of new approaches which reduce the barriers for identity verification, all whilst offering improved security.

This new era of identity verification – named ‘silent authentication’ – removes the need for a one-time-password (OTP), as organizations can do identity checks in the background without requiring users to wait or leave their website or app. Specifically, it uses direct carrier connections to verify possession of a phone number without requiring a users’ input – such as leaving the website or app to confirm who they say they are — which is a huge step forward in terms of user experience.

Ultimately, silent authentication will revolutionize the entire verification process – safeguarding minors, protecting organizational reputation and boosting user experience.

The age of age verification is here. And the quicker that businesses – across all industries, not just in the adult entertainment sectors — recognize this and implement the right technology to futureproof their operations, the better. By enhancing the protection of minors, they’re also protecting themselves from reputational damage and possible fines. This is clearly no longer just a corporate issue, but a moral one too.

About the author

Fergal Parkinson is Co-founder and Director of TMT Analysis, a mobile number intelligence company. Fergal previously worked as a correspondent for BBC News, covering many of the major world stories of the past two decades. Over the past fifteen years he has proactively helped many leading technology and financial global brands manage their media and reputational risk including Telefonica, BP, Mastercard, Bottomline, Barclaycard, HSBC and Vocalink.

DISCLAIMER: Biometric Update’s Industry Insights are submitted content. The views expressed in this post are that of the author, and don’t necessarily reflect the views of Biometric Update.

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