Estimation vs verification in the age space

Why age appropriate design code (AADC) is a critical factor for Edtech platforms

The age appropriate design code came into force at the beginning of the school term. At its core, the standard recognises that children of different ages have the right to participate in an age-appropriate online environment and that platforms, including Edtech ones, must exercise a duty of care towards them.

Much like amusement parks have height restrictions on roller coasters, the age-appropriate design code extends that duty of care to digital playgrounds. Critically, verifying users’ ages online would also limit adult strangers’ access to young children, which would significantly enhance safeguarding children online. Given the spike in child sexual abuse activity during Covid-19, this is a huge benefit.

There is the key – how does one know a child’s age?

Children are prone to lying about their age online, but they may not realise that they are putting themselves at greater risk by accessing non-age-appropriate spaces. So how do we as adults, product developers and platform providers protect young people?

There are a number of operators in the space, for example age estimation services that rely on processing children’s data, in some instances biometric data, in the absence of parental consent. This opens a whole new can of worms, particularly as these services can often estimate an age that is inaccurate by six years. This is a huge difference if a child is just ten years old, for example.

Facebook have just thrown out all face recognition software in light of this ethical debate.

Age verification is the only way to ensure compliance with regulations, including Data Protection Regulation, US Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, Payment Services Directive and Anti-Money Laundering Directive. This serves the right content to users and protects children online. Headteachers and eSafeguarding professionals need to ensure their Edtech platforms adhere to the ICOs AADC too.

A series of technical trials were recently run involving BT and TrustElevate, which indicated that it is possible to reliably verify all ages, including under-16s, and for under-13s to verify an assertion of parental responsibility so that a parent can grant, deny or revoke consent to data processing, purchasing and access.

And this isn’t just a matter of protecting young people today. It’s commonplace for universities, insurance companies and other organisations to use the data collated from an individuals’ online activity without their own or their parent’s permission and affect acceptance decisions for courses, car insurance, or apprenticeships and jobs. Why should their online activities, some of which they may regret and some which may be created by fake profiles, be a noose around their future-selves neck?

Knowing the age of your users is key. Why rely on an estimation of age when you can, in a privacy-preserving manner, reliably and securely verify age and protect children?

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