Here’s an interesting problem. How do you figure out just how old a person is online? This has many websites in a dilemma. Due to the recent bad press sites like MySpace (pictured right) have had with predators, people have gone to greater lengths to try to install age verification services on their registration sites.
I can remember the first such time I ran into an age verification system. I was a young child, and my dad brought home a game that he was not sure what it was at the time– just that it had a funny sequence he wanted to show us. When it started, it wanted to verify the age of the user, and it was done through asking questions that only people over 18 would know the answer to.
That, obiviously, wouldn’t work in an Internet age because Google would have all the keys. Another option that’s been highly used is a credit card number. The theory goes that if the person registering the account has a credit card, they are over 18. This doesn’t stop the 14 or 12 year old from borrowing mom’s or dad’s when they aren’t around, or from an old person pretending to be a young person.
There have been other verification methods that have been tested, but the problem with the most accurate is that they require much more information from the person than the person is generally willing to give– so the trade off is that there’s more personal information given to the site.
We all know that this kind of thing is happening. I can remember when AOL Instant Messanger was the only IM program out there and it would be easy to stumble upon someone instant messaging who was 12– under the age limit that AOL said that the users had to be. Many social sites that you could visit would list the person on the external page as 16, but when you clicked on the link the first thing the person said on the page was “I’m really 14” or “I’ll be 16 next year.”
Because there are predators that pretend to be younger and kids that pretend to be older, there is much abuse. People live fantasy out as reality and because you cannot truly see the other person, you are missing a key indication of whether you should run or not.
There has to be some kind of verification system that people could sign up with– some trusted site will come up with it or the government will come up with it– where a picture (like driver’s license photo) can be matched with the person’s user name. Surely, this could sound like an end times scenario– but at first it could be voluntary.
That’s the only way I see to be able to verify with any certainty how old a person really is.