Alastair Graham, CEO of AgeChecked, explains how we all have a role to play when it comes to safeguarding our children online…
With most children having constant access to websites through their smartphones or games consoles, it’s become almost impossible to monitor our children’s online activity 24/7. This is becoming a growing concern for parents, with 71 per cent admitting they worry about what their children are doing online. Over half of all parents (57%) also believe that current age restrictions are not going far enough to prevent underage users from accessing inappropriate content or buying age-restricted products online, such as knives or alcohol.
So, how exactly can we keep our children safe in the digital age?
Clamping down on the sale of age-restricted goods to minors online is quickly becoming a key focus for the Government. Consultations are currently underway to prevent children from being able to purchase knives online, following an increase in teenage knife crime in recent years. The Government is also about to introduce its new Digital Economy Act in April, which will require everyone in the UK to prove their age before they can access adult-only content online. This tougher stance on age verification is putting a huge amount of pressure on site owners to find legally-compliant ways of verifying the age of their customers. Simply ticking a box to state they are 18 or above won’t do.
Fortunately, we’ve seen a rise in online age-verification tools being introduced to tighten online age checks to prevent children from being able to access and purchase age restricted goods and services. Online age verification technology does exactly what the name suggests. It is used by websites to authenticate the age of users to make sure that they are 18 or above.
Age verification works by requiring website users to create an account and set up a secure password in order to access age restricted products or services online. Once the user has chosen their password, the technology will ask them to choose from a series of verification methods. This could be anything from a credit card, mobile network or a driving licence to clearly establish the person’s age. Then they can simply use their password to sign into websites and access age restricted products or services in an instant. Unlike identity systems, these age verification tools never store information on users – instead they are provided with a completely anonymised account. Websites that use the service to verify their customers will only receive a ‘pass’ or ‘fail’ notification when customers attempt to access their site.
While age verification technology will put in place barriers and safeguarding measures to prevent underage users from accessing age restricted content, it’s not a quick-fix solution. Parents still have an important responsibility when it comes to monitoring their children’s Internet usage. Age-verification tools provide a much better method of protecting children online if parents work with the technology to ensure young people are not able to set up accounts using an adult’s details.
Parents need to ensure they are keeping their personal information safe, secure and out of reach from their children. Of course in the physical world, a shop assistant would be able to spot quite easily if a child was using someone else’s details to purchase restricted goods, such as alcohol, or cigarettes. However, verifying ages online is more challenging as there is no physical face-to-face encounter. Should a teenager get a hold of real personal information, then they can by-pass safeguards online by posing as an older relative. Therefore, the onus lies with parents and carers to keep their details secure to protect children from by-passing age verification technology.
For those parents who already have an age-verified account set up, it is up to them to keep their password secure and use common sense if they need to write it down or store it. Of course, placing a note on the fridge isn’t appropriate. But, should a copy be needed in order to remember it, there are safer ways to store it. One way could be to make a lockable document within a smartphone so that only they can access it. Making sure that both the password and all forms of personal information are secure will go a long way towards keeping children safe, as it will make it extremely difficult for them to access inappropriate goods or content that is protected.
For any parent, keeping their child safe is their top priority. But the growth of the Internet has made this more challenging and many parents constantly worry about what their children are doing online and who they’re communicating with. It’s extremely encouraging to see that the Government is cracking down on age restriction laws to protect children while using the Internet, but there is still much more work to be done to make sure they cannot access content they shouldn’t see. There needs to be a joint effort between the Government, businesses, website owners and parents to ensure that there are proper age filters in place.
AgeChecked is a provider of age verification technology for online businesses of age-restricted goods and service. For more information visit agechecked.org