Age and Identity verification

December 12, 2021


Identity verification use cases: Age verification

Age verification is a use case with a variety of verticals for online identity verification. There are many use cases within this single use case such that an entire article could be devoted to each. In fact, we have already touched on the topic in an earlier article on age verification and e-commerce. This article looked at the sale of controlled substances online and added some very interesting insight into just how easy it is to get around the online age verification protocols currently in place.
Online regulations with regards to online age verification are just beginning to take shape. Given that the internet dates back to the early 1980s, one can only wonder what is taking so long. One issue is that there was no readily available technology in place that could have been easily used to accurately identify individuals online. The open protocol (TCP/IP) of the internet created fertile grounds for a veritable free-for-all where everyone was invited – minors included. Regulators had been slow to implement regulations because they did not want to cause undue harm to the burgeoning industry online and there really was no way to easily enforce regulations anyway.
Many online industries that had services/products targeted at adults operated only under moral certitude to verify the age of their customers. This was primarily accomplished by having the visitor enter in their birthday to gain access, which never really worked because… well, that part is obvious. Minors who still wanted access to adulthood vices were able to do so by simply selecting the appropriate year from the dropdown birthdate menu.
With the advent of online identity verification (IDV) tools such as PXL Vision’s IDV platform, everything has changed! The underlying facial recognition technology that powers the solution solves the problem of minors falsifying information.

PXL Vision’s solution works by first capturing the information + photo of a government-issued ID. Next, the individual presenting the ID in question authenticates themself through a liveness check by scanning their face, usually with a smartphone camera. Some serious artificial intelligence software (in our case, 100% in-house designed and programmed) compares the face on the photo with the real-life face and returns the results as either a match or not.

Which online industries see the potential of this technology and are beginning to implement it?

  1. Tobacco, e-cigarettes & vaping + alcohol + cannabis
  2. Online dating websites + select social media platforms
  3. Adult content uploaders and downloaders

These industries account for the majority of potential use cases for online age verification. And as you can see the implications are vast. There is very little data available on the impact that age verification technologies will have on underaged shoppers because they are used minimally. In many cases, regulatory environments are not yet in place and have yet to be formed and/or enforced. The technology is already there.

A limited understanding can be achieved by looking at published numbers and other qualitative information and extrapolating an idea from there.

Tobacco, e-cigarettes & vaping + alcohol + cannabis

The global market is huge for tobacco products, which includes e-cigarettes & vaping. Statista reports that for 2022 worldwide revenues (both online and offline) will exceed $US 800 billion. While only 6.5% of this amount is to be generated through online revenue, that still amounts to a staggering US$ 52 billion. At roughly $10 a pack, that is around 5 billion packages of cigarettes that could wind up in the wrong hands, if online consumers are not properly verified. Cigarettes are small and easy to purchase offline, which probably accounts for their smaller online market penetration.

However, add to this, online alcohol sales, which already have an extremely high online market penetration in dollar amounts. This is perhaps due to the fact that alcohol is often sold in speciality stores that are not as plentiful as convenience stores and gas stations, where cigarettes are often sold. Also, alcohol bottles tend to be heavy, so it is nice to have them delivered to the door. IWSR, a drinks market analysis firm, expects the total value of alcohol ecommerce to exceed US$ 40 billion by 2024. This amount is made up of figures from only 20 select markets* that IWSR has examined in detail. So, on a global scale, this amount would be much higher.

The budding cannabis industry is another example of age-restricted goods being sold online. Of course, there are relatively few markets where the purchase of marijuana products is allowed. Canada is one of those places. In Canada, cannabis products are only allowed to be sold through retailers authorized by provincial and territorial governments, as well as federally in some special cases. Ontario, Canada’s most populous province, operates an online store which anyone with a credit card number can order from. Furthermore, an ID check is required upon pick-up or delivery of the desired cannabis products.

Sizing up the online cannabis market is more difficult, as data is not yet widely available. In Canada, for instance, cannabis has contributed $CAN 43.5 billion to the country’s GDP since it was legalized in October, 2018. What percentage of this amount is from physical vs. online retailers is not yet known. However, given the excellent UX and convenience of the Government of Ontario’s website for ordering recreational cannabis products, it can be assumed that a large percentage of ordering is online.

Online dating apps + social media platforms

There is a lot of cross-over between these two platform types as both are, at times, used for the purpose of the other. Most online dating apps have a chat function akin to social media, and many people use social media platforms as dating apps. For most dating apps, a function that is or was often lacking is a way in which to ensure someone is who they say they are. And for social media platforms, the same is true, as well as the added need to prevent minors from viewing mature content. Of course, age verification also applies to dating apps in much the same way ensuring that underage minors are protected.

By now, many of the top online dating apps have implemented some form of voluntary age verification method. For example, Tinder, which has had an identity verification process in place in Japan since 2019, has recently announced that they will make it globally available. Rory Kozoll, the Head of Trust and Safety at Tinder said about the decision that: “We know one of the most valuable things Tinder can do to make members feel safe is to give them more confidence that their matches are authentic and more control over who they interact with.”

In the case of online dating apps, consumer demand has mostly driven this functionality, as people that are interested in meeting one another in real life (after meeting through a dating app) are wisely looking out for their safety. Once verified, you are usually rewarded with a verification checkmark next to your profile name, such that other users will know that you are verified. WikiHow, hosts a guide on how to get verified by the top dating apps, if you are interested in learning more about how the different online dating apps have implemented this.

However, as much of this age verification is voluntary, it does not yet go far enough to protect minors from potential predators that still lurk on these platforms. This is why the UK has decided to up the ante and has started looking at ways to make these companies carry out accurate age verification processes for all its users.

A Sunday Times investigation revealed some harrowing details on sexual abuse and child rape perpetrated through dating apps, which led UK culture secretary, Jeremy Wright, to proclaim that the onus of responsibility is on the dating app companies. Wright said he will “be writing to these companies asking what measures they have in place to keep children safe from harm, including verifying their age” and if he is not satisfied with their response, he will take further action.

Much of what was written above about online dating apps can be attributed to social media platforms as well.

Examples abound of underage children using social media platforms. Most of these platforms: Facebook, YouTube, WhatsApp, Instagram and Tiktok have an age requirement in most jurisdictions of 13 to signup. In practice, this age requirement is met by having the new user enter in their own birthday and is not generally enforced.

And this issue continues into new platforms. The Washington Post recently published an article looking at Horizon Worlds by Meta and how kids, some as young as 9 are flocking to it.

Adult content uploaders and downloaders

One age verification use case that is now receiving a lot of attention, at least in the anglophone countries of Australia, Canada and the UK is with regards to online access to online pornography sites. Much like the controlled substances and access to dating apps/social media platforms described above, online pornography is a Wild West free for all. This is, however, about to change.

The UK is once again making inroads into controlling online access to porn sites. This had been attempted before but was scrapped due to technical and regulatory challenges. Now, age checks are back as part of the UK’s Online Safety Bill. The Bill is to be finalised and introduced to Parliament in the coming months. It will then need a majority vote by MPs to be made law. Canada and Australia have penned similar bills that will make it mandatory for users to pass through a facial biometric age verification process before users will be able to access adult content.

Changes are also coming for users who want to upload adult content to the web. Pornhub, a Montreal, Canada based company, made a big move a couple of years ago by implementing identity verification for uploaders of videos; this change was largely in response to an opinion article published in the New York Times. The article titled “The Children of Pornhub” was, however, somewhat controversial given that it sourced anti-sex-work conservative and religious groups.

Finally, another front to the battle of restricting access to adult content is with regards to payment processors. Mastercard, for instance, has new regulations on explicit websites that requires identity verification and approvals by host sites.

As can be imagined, throughout these pressing regulations for the online adult content sector, issues of privacy are aplenty. The clearest path forward would be some sort of age verification software that does not store or transmit any identifiable information. This sort of functionality is easily programmable into most identity verification platforms and should thus be on the radar of all adult content platforms that are concerned about business losses.

PXL Vision’s identity verification solution for age verification

PXL Vision’s identity verification platform is a tailormade identity verification / age verification solution that can be flexibly integrated into whichever workflow is required for the use case at hand. Our competent product team and identity verification experts are available to meet at your convenience to discuss YOUR problem and present OUR solution. Book a meeting today with one of our experts via our contact page.

*Australia, Brazil, China, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Spain, UK, the US, Mexico, Colombia, Argentina, Netherlands, Israel, Nigeria, Kenya, South Africa, Singapore, and the Philippines

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