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Why the delay to the Online Safety Bill should not halt organisations’ efforts in safeguarding minors on the web

Though many will be disappointed to see that the Online Safety Bill has been delayed until autumn, the very essence of it does not need to be lost until a new Prime Minister is appointed. One of the key directives of the legislation is to better protect minors by ensuring they are not exposed to inappropriate content online. It also emphasises the duty of care companies to ensure that they provide a safe environment for their users. As part of this, the Online Safety Bill seeks to regulate 25,000 tech companies across the UK and requires age-restricted sites to implement strict age verification processes.

This will mean it is no longer enough for organisations to rely on outdated and ineffective methods of age verification, whether that’s asking users to input their date of birth or confirming they are over 18 by simply ticking a checkbox. Once the Bill comes into effect, online platforms will need to implement robust age verification processes to ensure those engaging with their content are of an appropriate age — or risk facing a hefty penalty.

Regardless of differing opinions within the Government on the Online Safety Bill as a whole, strong age verification is an essential starting point when creating safe online ecosystems. And they don’t require a Bill to be implemented. It’s crucial for businesses to not view the delay of the Bill as a setback, but as an opportunity to implement robust age-verification in good time rather than scrambling to do so once the Bill is enforced by law.

Small boy uses tablet on sofa
© Djedzura

Dual demand

It’s not just the government calling for stronger age verification methods either — consumers are too. Our recent survey of UK adults found that more than half (59%) don’t believe social media sites, an example of age-restricted platforms, are taking age verification seriously to protect minors from harm. This tallies with our earlier research into the space that found that 54% of UK age-restricted websites have been unable to prevent minors from accessing their products or services.

But what’s also clear is that there is an appetite among consumers for organisations to take age verification seriously, compromising on giving up their time, for the greater good of a safer online world. Our research showed that 76% of UK adults would be willing to spend time proving their age on a social media site. Crucially, though, 65% say they’d only be willing to spend under a minute to do so. It’s therefore vital that organisations build on consumer willingness, but within the parameters, they have set, namely, time.

Introducing digital identities

Organisations can leverage digital identity technologies, a way of connecting real world and online identities, to subsequently capture age verification. This is whereby a user is asked to take a picture of their government-issued ID and then a selfie, so both can be compared to accurately verify their identity.

While it may seem like a drastic step, the reality is, that many businesses have already started implementing digital identity-based verification methods. Our research revealed that half of Brits (50%) constantly, or often, have to use their digital identity to access their online accounts and verify their identity following the pandemic. This shows that businesses more broadly are already implementing this method, and therefore, those who haven’t done so already can rest assured this has been tried and tested.

As such, digital identity verification solutions can be an effective yet convenient option for online platforms. Not only do they encompass the all-important need for accuracy of age verification, but when being powered by a provider harnessing AI, the process can take place in seconds, meaning that consumers of age won’t have their online experience impacted negatively.

Safeguarding efforts should not be paused

It is completely appropriate to hold any organisation that profits from selling age-restricted products and services accountable for the potential harms caused by their platform.

Naturally, over the next few years, we will see a rise in the adoption of robust age verification methods by age-restricted sites if, and when, the Online Safety Bill is enforced by law. But fundamentally, age-restricted sites needn’t wait for this – they can already be proactive in making their ecosystems safer, investing in robust age verification measures as a starting point.

It is crucial they take a risk-based approach to age verification, depending on the specific area they work in and the likely harm of onboarding a minor. That is, the greater the likelihood of social harm, the greater the need for more robust forms of non-anonymous methods of age verification.

This is not time for online providers to pause on their efforts – they must continue to, despite the slight setback.

Written by Philipp Pointner, Chief of Digital Identity at Jumio


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