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Age Verification in the Digital Age

LYNETTE-OWENSHow Old Must One Be to Swipe Left or Right?

By Lynette Owens

The original article appeared in the Huffington Post on August 10.

When Tinder announced it was shutting down all accounts of users younger than 18, many parents were surprised to find out that their 13 year old had access to the dating app in the first place. One of a parent’s worst nightmares is for their child to go out into the real world and meet a stranger that they had met online, which is exactly what Tinder is designed to do as efficiently as possible.

In today’s Digital Age, children are exposed to an unending stream of social networks, apps, and games –some are designed for all ages, but many are not. Age verification is supposed to act as the doorway between these worlds. But as most parents find out, children know how to [and will] get around it.

 Many apps and sites with age restrictions simply ask for a month, day and year of birth to sign up.  There is nothing to prevent kids and young teens from picking a year that allows them to access things and people that nobody intended for them to access, and yet the hurdles to get there are so low.

 Today we have self-driving cars. Precision gene editing. Reusable rockets. A rover cruising around Mars sending us selfies. Yet, age verification remains elusive. Why can’t we figure out whether someone online is a 12 year-old girl or 50 year-old man? How will Tinder ensure that no one under the age of 18 will be able to sign up now that they’ve implemented their ban?

There are many partial solutions in place that have attempted to solve this, from age-ratings for apps to stricter terms of use, and laws like COPPA which require additional parental approval before a child under 13 can use an online service. Each is imperfect, difficult to enforce, or both. Most age-restricted apps haven’t gone as far as implementing biometric security gates, such as retina or finger-print scans; this would likely stifle innovation and prevent any apps from existing because of the sheer cost and security requirements of implementing them. And, who wants all of this information about us hosted by a small start-up running the latest popular app?

The truth is there is no easy answer. But, by working together, technology developers, parents, educators, communities and the internet industry as a whole can take some steps towards further ensuring kids are sticking to the content and services that are really best for them.  Here are a few ways we can do this:

Read the full article on Huffington Post here.

Lynette Owens is the Founder and Global Director of Trend Micro’s Internet Safety for Kids and Families program.  With 20+ years in the tech industry, Lynette speaks and blogs regularly on how to help kids become great digital citizens.  She works with communities and 1:1 school districts across the U.S. and around the world to support digital literacy and citizenship education.  She is a board member of the National Association of Media Literacy Education and SPARK Kindness, and serves on the advisory boards of INHOPE and U.S. Safer Internet Day.

Follow her on Twitter @lynettetowens

Tags :cell phonesCOPPAdigital citizenshipdigital literacyeducationInstagraminternet safetykidsmedia literacyonline safetyparental controlsparentssecuritysnapchatsocial mediasocial networkingTinderwebsite filters

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