A new study from the UK Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has revealed what everybody else already knew. Internet age verification checks do not work and children are thus registering on social media websites under false ages. Shock.
The research found that advertisers were acting in “good faith” by taking account of the registered age of social media account holders when delivering their ads but, as a result of registering under a false age, many children were being presented with adverts for age-restricted products including for gambling, alcohol and “overtly sexual” dating services.
Summary of the Key Findings
• All but four of the 24 children aged between 11 and 15 who participated registered on a social media site using a false age.
• Ten participants (42% of children) were falsely registered as aged 18 or over.
• Of the 218 ads served to those registered as over 18, 24 (11%) were for products that “must not be directed at people under 18 through the selection of media or the context in which they appear”.
• Nine participants were aged below the permitted age of registration on at least one social media site.
• Of the 427 ads the children saw in total, 420, or 98.4%, stuck to the rules.
Naturally the ASA’s focus here is to explore whether they need to take a tougher line on age-restricted ads in social media or if further research is needed. But it also has relevance to the government’s recent work to clamp down on adult internet content and shows the difficulty of trying to restrict online content by age.
Guy Parker, ASA CEO, said:
“On the face of it, our survey suggests that advertisers are sticking to the rules but children aren’t. But before we all lay the blame with parents and guardians, we need to be honest: if advertisers and social media companies know that children say they’re older than they are, don’t they have a crucial part to play too? We’ll be talking to them about self-declared age-gating and considering whether we need to take a tougher line. But we all need to be part of this conversation about how best to set the boundaries within which our children explore the world around them.”
The simple and inescapable fact is most websites (both big and small alike) have no easy, cost effective, safe or secure way of being able to confirm a members identify. Generally speaking only governments have the ability to do that and as a website owner there’s practically nothing you can do to be sure that somebody is who they say they are; everything is largely taken on faith.
The ASA would like to see improvements to age-verification but realistically there’s not a lot they can do that would be viable and the vast majority of websites are not setup to handle credit card style verification, which has its own unique faults, not to mention big requirements and security concerns. In any case most of the parents we know don’t seem to have a problem with their kids having a Facebook etc. account.