The Future of Age-Restricted Products: Anonymous Age Checks

Opinion

Companies that sell age-restricted products inherently have a heavy weight on their shoulders. Whether you’re a corporation or a small business, age-restricted products introduce unique challenges. You’re responsible for marketing and selling a product that is restricted for some demographics to consume, or even view. Accordingly, these businesses have to meet federal and state laws and regulations, and many businesses take it upon themselves to promote responsible and safe use of their products to protect their reputation.

Many of these age-restricted products are now available online, which has introduced additional challenges. Businesses are required to verify that their customers are of legal age to view products online, and this is often met with inefficient authentication. For example, to view alcohol websites, browsers must be over 21. Yet, if a business requires a consumer to create an account to prove that they are over 21, there are two potential problems. First, they are collecting and storing more information than required. They don’t need a consumer’s name or address or ID number; they just need to ensure that the consumer is of legal age. Or, by creating an account and entering a birthdate, the company is just trusting the consumer’s assertion that they are over 21. It’s not hard to imagine someone that’s underage would enter a fake birthdate to view the restricted content. As a result, businesses with age-gated products default to simply relying on self-attestation using a ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ button to unlock that gated content.

This age verification challenge impacts companies’ abilities to sell their product in the fastest growing retail market available, the Internet. In 2015, a Forrester Research survey indicated that smartphone sales accounted for 15 percent of total annual retail sales. Since then, that number has grown to an astounding 53 percent—a $115 billion-dollar market. But the stats look very different for businesses that need to verify age. They need to adhere to stricter Know Your Customer (KYC) processes, which make online retail infinitely more complicated. For example, to gamble in an online casino, users scan a copy of a valid ID, passport, or driving license. If these forms of identification don’t provide an address, users are required to present a proof of address, like a recent bank statement or utility bill.

All in all, these processes are tiring and frustrating for customers, and some of these barriers are relatively easy to bypass. Yet, businesses are liable even if they’re working within loopholes. Online betting firm 888, for example, unintentionally left a hole in its security which allowed banned users to access the site. One user made 850,000 bets for over $1.7 million using money stolen from his boss. 888 received a record penalty of almost $10 million for overlooking the major flaw.

A more practical and reliable solution could ease some of the stress for businesses and make them fully compliant. Companies want to sell their products to customers of legal age and to protect underage consumers from any harm that might incur liability. As technology advances, there are more opportunities to address these challenges, and anonymous age verification is the perfect solution for age-gated websites.

Imagine if customers could prove that they meet a certain age limit without revealing unnecessary personal information. Imagine customers having a reusable digital identity that they control and no longer have to show an ID card or passport with their birthday when being prompted to prove their age. It’s all possible when mobile meets blockchain meets identity verification.