Age Verification and the Law

We live in a digital-everything-everywhere world, where today, it’s more important than ever for online businesses to ensure they comply with age verification regulations. With the surge in the number and complexity of e-commerce websites, enterprises are focusing on age verification solutions to ensure that adult content, products, and services are off-limits to minors.  

But age verification is fundamentally more than the proverbial ‘out of sight, out of mind.’ Governments and regulators worldwide have banned together for the common good – to protect minors online. This is achieved by mandating stringent regulations, whereby businesses that fail to verify their users’ ages correctly risk serious legal consequences. Failing to protect minors from inappropriate content can make or break a business, damaging a company’s brand and reputation.  

Complying with age verification regulations is no easy feat. For many online businesses, navigating the complex regulatory landscape is a never-ending challenge. Fortunately, online companies, whether eSports, online gambling, or marketing alcohol or cigarettes, do not have to walk this path alone. By implementing a viable age verification solution, businesses can help protect themselves from non-compliance risks and, in turn, enhance the customer experience. Let’s see why age verification is so important, how regulations have a stronghold over ecommerce websites, and some examples of age verification methods.  

What is age verification? 

As its name implies, age verification is ‘identity authentication’ for age-restricted products and services. Age verification requires customers to prove their age before giving them access to products or services, such as alcohol or lottery tickets, in person or electronically. Its fundamental goal is to protect underage users from consuming digital content and services deemed inappropriate, such as casinos and dating apps. While the definition may sound straightforward, on the flip side, vendors of age-restricted products have a legal and moral responsibility to sell their goods and services to legally aged customers only. And if they do not, and if they are ‘found out,’ the future of their business is rather grim.  

Age verification systems can help businesses build customer trust and prevent identity theft and online fraud. Moreover, it helps ensure a safe online environment for minors to access age-appropriate content and perform online activities, such as content, image downloads, and purchasing goods and services. It also helps business keep their regulatory compliance not only intact but up to date and helps limit underage access to non-consenting transactions 

Online age verification  

There are over 12 million online stores worldwide, with some 2.14 billion online shoppers. If you do the math right, it means that ~27% of the global population shops online! While e-commerce platforms serve up ‘innovation’ at every meal, the online vendor must ensure they adhere to the ‘ways and means of verifying a consumer’s age or be subject to penalties and fines. 

Age verification is just as necessary online as in a brick-and-mortar store. When face-to-face, a shop owner can request an ID to prove the legal age to purchase a product. But the process is more complex online, albeit the same minor protection regulations apply. When done online, the process helps prevent multiple chargebacks, fraudulent account takeovers, and those same minors from abusing mom or dad’s credit cards to make unauthorized (aka, illegal) transactions. While there are countless reasons why age verification is crucial for every online business, we’ve made it easier by sharing the top three reasons below. 

  1. Screening. By implementing an age verification system in an online store, shop owners can screen and filter out potential buyers for their products and services. This means that when visitors are requested to validate or confirm their age, the message is crystal clear – what they’re attempting to view or purchase is age-restricted.  
  2. Compliance. If an online store promotes products or services unsuitable for underage consumers, shop owners must have an age verification system under the law. And not just any off-the-shelf software, one that complies with government regulations. Failing to do so can result in fines or, worse, prison.   
  3. Keeping the kids at bay. When an e-commerce platform sells adult-only content, e-merchants are obligated to keep minors away from their online store. Inappropriate content not intended for children can damage their thought processes and perception of the world.  

It’s the law  

By law, businesses are required to implement age verification measures to meet regulatory obligations and protect vulnerable individuals. This not only helps companies to meet regulatory requirements but also builds trust among users, boosts brand reputation, and mitigates risks associated with non-compliance. 

In the U.S., for example, the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) requires online platforms to obtain verifiable parental consent before collecting personal information from children under 13. Similarly, the UK’s Online Safety Bill is in place to protect children from harmful online content, mandating that e-commerce platforms have age verification processes in place to prevent minors from accessing adult content. While regulations vary from country to country, the goal is to encourage outlets to prioritize the safety and protection of minors via age verification processes. 

Behind the scenes 

Today’s advanced age verification systems offer an eclectic mix of identity document authentication, biometrics, database checks, and more to enable online businesses to block access to underage users. Combined, these automated, often AI-powered processes help to ensure that the ID presented is, in fact, real and that it’s always the same person trying to access a given website’s products or services. Here are the three most prevalent verification methods currently in use: 

  • Identity Document Verification. Checks the authenticity of a document, such as a driver’s license, ID card, or passport, to capture, extract, and analyze ID data to authenticate government-issued identity documents and verify a person’s age. 
  • Biometrics. Identifies individuals based on distinguishable physical characteristics that are unique to them, such as facial patterns, fingerprints, or voice, to confirm their identity 
  • Database Checks. Verifies if an individual has been involved in criminal activities by checking global and country-specific databases to assess legal, compliance, or reputational risk.  

Age verification is necessary for every online business offering age-restricted goods or services to implement and update regularly to maintain regulatory compliance. Companies that don’t fully comply run the risk of penalties and reputational damage. For smart online business owners, adding an automated age verification tool to their identity verification solution means enhanced security, increased customer trust, and keeping age-appropriate websites out of reach and out of sight from underaged users. 

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