Solving Age Verification

Table of Contents

How mobile data can keep content in the right hands

Age verification issues have been pored over by countless businesses since the inception of the world wide web. In the physical realm, age verification has had many years to establish best practice – you likely wouldn’t bat an eye at having to provide a form of ID to purchase alcohol in a supermarket, for example. You can feel confident that there is little chance of your information leaving the room. But online, the requirements for a successful age verification process are different, both regarding the information that is considered appropriate, and the processes the user is usually willing to adhere to.

In late 2021 these concerns became a business priority when France moved to completely block access to five major distributors of adult content, unless they were able to implement proper age verification systems. Businesses began to suspect that similar online safety measures could take root in other countries, which has been confirmed in the past week, as the UK government moves to implement the ‘Online Safety Bill‘.

The bill – projected to roll out in the next few months – requires robust measures to ensure that there is no underage access to adult material. These measures are likely to see users required to confirm credit card information, or use a third-party identity verification service, in order to access age-restricted content. Any sites which fail to implement these measures could be fined up to 10% of their turnover, have their access blocked by Ofcom or even have their owners held criminally liable.

The search for the ‘Holy Grail’…

While other sectors – such as gambling – had found workable solutions to the age verification problem, consumer concerns about privacy still linger; with the Online Safety Bill looming, it’s these very concerns that providers of age restricted content find themselves scrambling to address.

Use of precedent can only get businesses so far – this medium has different challenges. Using the supermarket example given earlier, if an online storefront asks for age verification in order to purchase a bottle of wine, you may feel less comfortable uploading a scan of your passport or driver’s licence. You may wonder how well secured that information will be, and the possible repercussions should it become compromised. You will also have to go through the inconvenience of locating and scanning the proof to begin with – and if you don’t own a suitable form of proof in the first place, you will find yourself at an impasse.

Providing credit card information to access adult content will be a bridge too far for many users on that merit alone. However, taking into account the sensitive nature of the content, the situation becomes even more complicated.

For users who are willing to trust a site with storing their personal information, how many will feel comfortable associating their identity with the consumption of adult content? As far as the user is concerned, the more anonymity the better!

Yet even if users obliged to having their data stored, there are issues regarding the sensitivity of that data. Digital freedoms campaigners have responded to the Online Safety Bill with accusations that a database of such personal information would be a target for hackers, which could lead to the tracking and profiling – and potentially blackmail – of those who consume adult content.

So, while requiring credit card information would be effective at preventing underage access, it may not be the ideal experience for the user. What about third-party solutions then? There are a few options, but there is one that combines secure age verification and convenient customer experience with ease.

Enter: mobile phone numbers and their data

The information that the Mobile Network Operator (MNO) has associated with a mobile number can build a rich profile of the user, including verifying name, address and – crucially for this purpose – if they are over 18. Mobile data has an edge over other age verification mechanisms because the majority of the checks fall to the organisation to verify behind the scenes, rather than burdening the user.

Consumers already recognise the ease of using their phone number to identify and verify themselves. In fact, it is the preferred method of proving identity by 70% of users.

The preference for mobile data is largely due to convenience: a process which only requires the customer provide a mobile number has a much lower abandonment rate than more complex alternatives, ensuring a larger user intake for the business.

This is in addition to the comfort of providing a less personally identifiable piece of information. While this may not be as anonymous as a burner email address, it is the least amount of information needed for truly a secure experience. Unlike a credit card, should the information leak, only one point of data will be exposed – the phone number. Since communication with the MNO is required to access further data, this makes the information that can be harnessed for verification purposes very trustworthy.

In short, mobile data allows those looking to operate in compliance with the Online Safety Bill to do so in a way that minimises the potential loss of users, whilst being confident that age is being accurately verified.

For organisations wanting to incorporate MNO data into existing workflows, simply connect to our API or contact us to discuss more bespoke integrations. Let us help you to comply with the Online Safety Bill.


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