What Is Age Verification?

An age verification system helps control access to digital content, ensuring those not appropriately aged cannot access restricted content. Here are the primary use cases for age verification systems:

  • Restrict access to certain products or services—age verification systems restrict access to products or services classified by local laws or other parties as inappropriate for users under a certain age. Typical age-restricted content includes alcohol, Internet pornography, and tobacco products.
  • Comply with age-related privacy regulations—age verification systems help achieve and remain compliant with privacy laws that regulate the collection of information from minors.

In this article:

eCommerce Growth and the Need for Age Verification

eCommerce websites sell a variety of products and services to a broad audience. Some of these products can be harmful and may only be sold to adults—for example, alcohol and tobacco. When purchasing these products in a brick-and-mortar store, the buyer must be an adult or be accompanied by one. The same restrictions apply online, creating the need for age verification.

Merchants providing age-restricted services have a social and ethical responsibility to prevent children from consuming age-restricted products and exercise caution when selling to online customers. Beyond this moral responsibility, most countries have laws restricting the sale of specific products to minors. eCommerce companies must implement appropriate age verification measures to keep within legal requirements and avoid fines and other legal penalties.

Related content: Read our guide to age verification for websites

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Age Verification Laws in eCommerce

Many countries have enacted legislation requiring online retailers who sell specific products to restrict access to minors. Many of these laws require reliable age verification: it is not necessary to ask a web visitor about their age; the online merchant must verify that they are of the appropriate age.

For example, some European countries, such as the UK, the Netherlands, and Germany, limit the online gambling age to 18+. Similarly, in many countries where pornography is legal, age verification is required by law when granting access to adult content.

Here are a few examples of legislation that requires eCommerce websites to implement reliable age verification:

  • United Kingdom—the proposed Online Safety Bill (OSB) will make social media channels accountable for keeping children safe and avoiding the publication of materials related to terrorism and child exploitation. The bill will impose fines of up to 10% of annual global turnover and up to two years in prison for senior management. Learn more in our guide to the Online Safety Bill (OSB) (coming soon).
  • Germany—a new law enacted in July 2021 places more severe restrictions on online gaming. Failure to reliably check age and identity will result in denial of licenses for new online games, revocation of existing licenses, and fines of up to €500,000.
  • France—In 2020, France introduced age verification requirements for viewing pornography online. The law includes sanctions such as blocking a website that serves adult material without proper age verification. 
  • India—in 2019, the Personal Data Privacy Bill (PDPB) was introduced, which aims to protect children's privacy through age verification. According to the law, companies may not process data of an individual under 18 years of age without parental or guardian consent and confirmation of the child's age. This legislation also aims to protect children from products and services only appropriate for adults.
  • Canada—the Cannabis Act of 2018 legalized the sale and use of marijuana in Canada. In 2019 the government required reliable age verification for online marijuana sales or marketing. Penalties for failure to verify the age of online buyers can lead to license suspension, fines of up to $5 million, and imprisonment. Learn more in our guide to cannabis age restrictions (coming soon).

Age Verification Challenges for eCommerce

Age Gates Are No Longer Sufficient

In the past, organizations implemented age restrictions on websites using an "age gate"—a pop-up that asked visitors to provide their date of birth and confirm they are over the required age. 

 

Another measure that is still common is the use of captchas or online puzzles as an age verification measure. Minors can quickly solve these puzzles and gain access to age-restricted products. 

 

Age gates and captcha mechanisms are not reliable measures because they rely on the visitor's honesty. In addition, they do not verify that the age information provided is correct and therefore do not meet legal requirements for many age-restricted products.

Minors Using Their Parents' ID Documents 

Even when eCommerce websites introduce age verification methods, they face another challenge. Many minors use the identity documents of their parents or others to access age-restricted products and services, making it necessary not just to verify age but also to verify identity and confirm that the provided ID document belongs to the individual accessing the website.

Complying with Data Protection & Privacy Regulations

Most eCommerce companies must comply with regulations and industry standards. Digital technology is vital in providing customer-friendly services but raises data security and compliance concerns. Therefore, it is essential to ensure that your technology complies with the relevant regulations and industry standards.

 

Compliance is especially critical in industries like online gaming, dating and gambling sites, and selling age-restricted products like tobacco and alcohol. These businesses must use digital identification and age verification solutions to protect minors from illegally purchasing these products and services. Still, they must ensure the answer is compliant with regulations in their jurisdiction.

Online Age Verifications Methods

Electronic Identity Verification

Electronic Identity Verification (eIDV) verifies a buyer's data, such as their name, date of birth, and address, to verify that the buyer is legitimate. Two-factor authentication can help improve eIDV by, for example, requiring users to provide both phone number and email data and matching this with open data sources.

Document Verification

Document review includes a comparison of customer photos and ID cards. These reviews may be an additional step in the eIDV process, an essential layer of information for sellers of age-restricted items by specific regulations.

 

Merchants of age-restricted products may also request credit card information from customers. However, this method is unreliable because minors can use cards owned by their parents and others to pretend to be adults.

Optical Character Recognition (OCR)

OCR technology scans customer documents and recognizes alphanumeric data in scanned images to ensure legitimacy. In addition, it makes it possible to collect information from customer devices, such as scanners, smartphones, and digital cameras, giving customers several convenient ways to verify their identity.

Biometric-Based Verification

Face-based biometrics provides a solid deterrent to underage customers and potential scammers using fake IDs to access age-restricted products. It offers greater accuracy, security, and convenience for legitimate users. Facial recognition and verification are reliable, protect your business from the risk of privacy fraud, and prevent minors from accessing restricted services. 

eCommerce Age Verification with BlueCheck

BlueCheck achieves this balance by combining a sleek, field-tested user interface with a robust verification engine that connects to a network of authoritative databases and credit bureaus. In addition, we partner with companies in various industries and growth stages to provide affordable, reliable online age verification. Learn more about how BlueCheck can help you solve your age verification challenges!

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