Is There a Better Way To Verify A Minors’ Age Online?

Screen Shot 2013-07-09 at 8.26.03 AMI wrote earlier this month about the concept of an internet license – a better way to verify a minor’s age online. The question posed was an open-ended one, as we’re not sure there’s a perfect answer, either conceptually or in how it could be implemented.

I posed a similar question at Quibly, the question and answer site for parents that is largely focused on kids’ technology use. One of the answers, offered by Chris Puttick, Co-founder and CEO of TwoTen, was very well thought out and thought provoking (thanks Chris!), so I wanted to dig deeper and offer some follow up thoughts here.

The question as I posed it:

Should the Government Be involved in Verifying Minors’ Age Online?

Chris’s answer follows. Our comments are below, and correspond to the numbers I’ve embedded in the answer

No. Unless you issue this to all children, from birth (1). Because age-appropriate is not just about arbitrary age limits of 13, or 16 or 18 or 21. Age appropriate is relative to your age, as well as to your stage of development, cultural norms etc. (2)

If a government issued something like that, it would only work for sites based in that country, not prevent someone from reaching similar content on international sites. It could be made to be mostly effective if governments had strong network security technologies in place at their countries network perimeters, which included (but could not be limited to) web filters that operated at a URL level and included HTTPS interception technology. (3)

Do you want websites to know how old your children are? Have effectively a method of tracking your activity from “my first browse” onwards? (4)

Ensuring a child only gets access to content that is appropriate to their age, development stage and cultural value set is something that needs to be managed by parents, teachers and other responsible adults, as they are the ones that know that in relation to a given child. (5) Some might need better tools for the job though – we’re working on it!

(1) Couldn’t this be done, in the same way that governments issue a social security number or equivalent?

(2) We agree that parents should decide when kids are mature enough to engage on any given site or platform.

(3) We agree that cross-border implementation would be a very cumbersome task. Not impossible for mainstream web users, though.

(4) We don’t, but think it could be implemented differently. Rather than having the site know how old you are, users whose digital certificate indicates an age below the site’s minimum would be prohibited from accessing the site.

(5) 100% agree that the parents should determine when kids are old enough, but if the website or government regulations dictate that the child is too young, preventing the child from accessing it at all seems like a good idea.

We’re probably oversimplifying things, but let’s say your child has a government issued digital ID that is used at login to a given browser. If a child is 14, and the age limit for a website is 21 (an alcohol company, for example), the child would not be permitted to access it. If that same child tried to access a site of which the age limit is 13 (Facebook, YouTube), he would not be blocked by his browser, but his parents could still forbid him from visiting the site. It wouldn’t be foolproof, but could be a useful first line of defense for parents.

We understand this would take a large coordinated effort. Let’s see where this goes.


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