August 24, 2023

Navigating Age Verification Challenges in the U.S.: Ensuring Compliance for Age-Restricted Products and Services

Developing a comprehensive age verification system is essential for preventing underage access to restricted content or products.

# Insights

Effective age verification methods are essential for protecting minors from accessing age-restricted products and services and remaining compliant with federal and state laws and regulations. With that said, age verification for online services in the United States is incredibly complex due to inconsistent federal laws and regulations, as well as various requirements across jurisdictions.

With no one-size-fits-all solution, online services, like websites and even mobile apps, are required to carefully balance age verification with protecting any personal information collected, particularly when it comes to a child's personal information. Operators that are caught in breach of federal and state legislation can face civil penalties and significant fines.

Understanding the Regulatory Landscape

When it comes to collecting personal information, websites and online services (including mobile apps) in the United States are required to comply with a number of federal laws and regulations, like the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). This act is intended to protect children's privacy by providing parents with control over the collection of their child's personal information.

In general, COPPA applies to your website or online service if you collect personal information from children under 13 years of age. More specifically, your website or online service must comply with COPPA if it meets any of the following criteria:

  • Your website or online service is directed to children under 13 and you collect personal information of theirs,

  • Your website or online service is directed to children under 13 and you let third parties collect personal information of theirs,

  • Your website or online service is directed to a general audience but you're aware that you collect information from children under 13 years of age, or

  • Your company runs an ad network or plugin and you're aware that you collect children's information from users under 13.

The Federal Trade Commission is responsible for enforcing COPPA. As part of its role, the Federal Trade Commission looks at a number of different factors to determine whether a website or online service is directed to children. Some of these factors include:

  • The subject matter of the site or service,

  • The use of animated characters or the presence of child celebrities that appeal to children,

  • Visual content, music or other audio content, and

  • Ads on the site or service that are directed to children.

Under COPPA, online services must develop a privacy policy that details how a child's personal information will be used. Websites and online services must also provide direct notice of your information practices to their parents and obtain verifiable parental consent before collecting personal information if they're collecting a child's personal information. Online services are required to set up procedures to protect personal information collected and securely dispose of a child's personal information if you no longer need it. Lastly, operators should avoid asking for unnecessary information.

In addition to federal-level regulations, companies must also operate in line with varying state requirements. With so many contending and often contradictory laws and regulations, companies often have to allocate significant resources to understand and adhere to the specific regulations of each jurisdiction in which they operate.

New Florida Legislation - House Bill 3 (HB 3)

Florida’s recently introduced House Bill 3 (HB 3), which will come into effect on January 1, 2025, requires social media platforms to implement age verification measures that prevent children under 14 from creating accounts and allows parents to request the deletion of existing accounts for children under 14. Additionally, children aged 14 and 15 must provide parental consent before creating an account.

The bill also mandates that adult content sites offer "anonymous age verification" for users over 18. This verification process requires a third party to confirm the user's age without retaining identifying information afterwards. Although this regulation applies to any site where more than one-third of the content is "material harmful to minors," adult content and gambling websites will be particularly scrutinized.

Penalties for violations can reach up to $50,000 for "knowing or reckless" breaches.

The Need for a Comprehensive Age Verification System

With so many conflicting laws and regulations around collecting children's personal information across the US, there's no one-size-fits-all solution to age verification. Any potential age verification approaches must carefully consider issues relating to privacy, accuracy and fairness. Balancing the need to verify age with the protection of an individual's personal information is a delicate task that's only made more difficult as a result of the patchwork compliance measures across the country.

Developing a comprehensive age verification system is essential for preventing underage access to restricted content or products. But with that said, any verification solution must also be fair and avoid age-based discrimination.

Privacy and Accuracy Concerns

The field of age verification doesn't come without its fair share of privacy and accuracy concerns, especially when children are involved. One of the main concerns when it comes to collecting personal information online is ensuring the accuracy of age verification methods. To be able to protect children online, you have to first know who is a child. Some age verification methods rely on users providing self-reported information, which can be easily falsified.

Depending on the age verification method, there's also the issue of data privacy and security. Many age verification processes typically require collecting personal information, like birthdate, government-issued ID, telephone number or physical address. Online services that collect personal information must take reasonable measures to safeguard the collected information from unauthorized access, misuse and data breaches.

Strategies and Tools for Age Verification

Adopting effective age verification systems effectively requires careful planning and consideration to ensure compliance and create a seamless user experience. Online services must employ age verification solutions that correctly verify the age of online consumers to ensure compliance with relevant regulations. But not only that, these verification solutions must be flexible enough that they can be easily customized to meet the requirements of different laws and regulations.

There are currently discussions underway with Big Tech companies to implement device-based age verification capabilities on their operating systems that would provide websites and online services requesting age verification with a yes-no answer on the owner's behalf. However, with this comes another set of complications. Device-based age verification would provide large tech companies with access to more sensitive personal information. Device-based age verification also assumes the owner has exclusive use of their device, which often isn't the case in family households.

Alternative age verification strategies involve using innovative technology and tools to verify identities and confirm the age of the target customers. But rather than investing time and resources into developing your own age verification solutions, it's often easier for online services to engage a reputable third-party provider. These companies specialize in age authentication and can offer advanced and reliable solutions that can be tailored to meet your needs.

Get in touch today to book a free demo with one of our experts to learn more about how Data Zoo can help ensure age verification compliance and create a seamless user experience.

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