The Privacy and Security Concerns Surrounding Age Verification Services

The Privacy and Security Concerns Surrounding Age Verification Services

We exist in a digital landscape where an ever-increasing chunk of the content available online is made for consumption by, and only by, adults. Conventional methods of online age verification involved very basic self-proclamation style prompts that were grossly ineffective and quite easy to circumvent.

The creation was thus required of modern age verification services that used concrete data collection and analyses using tools like artificial intelligence to detect and/or verify a person’s age accurately. But this has inadvertently yet unavoidably created privacy and security concerns for the average online content consumer.

The Ways Modern Age Verification Works

Conventional methods of online age checking, as stated, tended to involve very basic self-proclamation. The viewer had to check a box that stated they were indeed above the required minimum age for viewing a certain form of adult content. You just need to press the button, and you are allowed access.

This meant that more or less anyone was able to access adult content regardless of their age. An underage child quite simply had to press a button, with little to no consequence, and claim that they were of an age old enough to view a certain form of content.

Verification Mechanisms

Modern methods thus emerged of age verification to deal with this problem. These worked on one of a few kinds of mechanisms. The first and most common is the scanning of ID documents to confirm that the person is of a certain age, which allows them access to the content.

The second form, sometimes combined with the first, is facial recognition. In this mechanism, an image of the person’s face is used to either estimate their age using AI age detection or to compare against a set of identification documents or records.

The least common, yet what used to be considered to be most reliable once, is for the user to provide banking details to the website, to prove that they are old enough to hold such an account, and thus an adult.

Each of these methodologies, while solving the fundamental problem of age checking, does create some unique ethical, privacy, and security concerns for individuals to have to deal with.

The Concerns with Age Verification

The majority of the privacy concerns surrounding modern age verification tools come from the thought of what sort of, and amount of, data is being collected from the individual to perform the age check. In addition, what is the company going to do with this data once the check has been performed? and can the company be trusted with this data in the first place?

As an example, even something as simple as collecting what a person’s name is and what kind of website they are accessing could be highly problematic. As this could be used to establish a list of people who follow certain kinds of content, like people with certain ideological or political leanings, and then target those people.

But there are also individual concerns formed with each of the kinds of age verification systems mentioned above:

ID Scanning

As the most common form of modern online age verification is the scanning of provided ID documents, it is not surprising that they form both major privacy and security concerns. 

There are already many different cases and examples of people attempting and sometimes successfully hacking identity documents from websites. In addition, the level of reliability of this kind of system also varies. On some websites, the system is basic enough that it can be hacked with simple ID images found online.

Facial Recognition

The big problem with using facial recognition to prove your age on a website is obvious—your facial biometric data is being stored. Biometric data is extremely sensitive, even more so than conventional passwords, as it can be used directly to imitate another person and commit identity fraud and other illegal and highly damaging activities.

This also means that databases that hold biometric data are a highly alluring target for many hackers, as the potential for the illicit use of this information is massive. This can often mean that they are much bigger targets than one might think.

There is also the issue of bias. These systems are often not as good at estimating the age of people of color and women in general, which can cause issues.

Banking Information

The concern about providing your banking information is probably the most understandable. It is very possible that the website you are putting your banking information into during an age verification process is not that secure. So, your highly sensitive data will constantly be at risk. Plus, with many accounts available nowadays to under-18 individuals, the methods might not be that effective in the first place.

Closing Thoughts

The issues stated above show that the space of modern age verification still has a lot of research and development yet required. A more effective and secure mechanism is yet needed for a user to confidently provide their data online.

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