Parliament moves to prevent teenage kicks online

The Online Purchasing of Goods and Services (Age Verification) Bill is receiving its second reading in Parliament today, with the potential to force online merchants to adopt age verification technology.

Introduced by Margaret Moran, Labour MP for Luton South, it is the first time a politician in Europe has called for online age and identity verification to be put on the statute books.

The Bill aims to ensure that anyone selling age-restricted goods and services over the internet has to take steps to verify if customers are old enough.

The problem has been highlighted by results of a new survey that has found young people are using the internet to buy inappropriate material, such as explicit video games, adult DVDs, alcohol and even weapons, because it's easier than buying it on the High Street.

The nationwide survey among 1,000 male and female teenagers aged 13-17 found nearly half (48 per cent) of teenage boys have tried to buy adult DVDs or violent video games online in the past year and over three quarters were successful.

One in 20 14-year-olds said they had successfully purchased alcohol online, while a similar number of 15-year-olds have been able to buy dangerous objects online such as knives.

In addition, age verification technology could be used as a fraud too, given 25 per cent of teenage boys and over a third (38 per cent) of teenage girls under 18 have managed to buy items online using someone else's credit card.

GB Group, the UK identity management company behind the research, said other e-commerce markets could learn from the work of online gambling sites, who have already agreed to perform age verification processes, according to gambling laws.

Its clients use its databases to cross reference existing independent ID and age data sources, including the electoral roles, address, register of birth and death as well as financial data against customer registration or payment information.

"The research shows there is an urgent need for online retailers to take a more responsible approach to protecting youngsters from buying inappropriate goods online." said Richard Law, GB Group chief executive.

Fran Howarth, principal analyst with Quocirca, said the different means of age verification technology were not foolproof but that biometrics was the most reliable means of identification available. "It could also be tied into the banks," she said.

"Given half of all laptops shipped now have fingerprint verification, it could be the way things go in future. But getting people enrolled in such schemes in the first place may prove a problem."

Miya Knights

A 25-year veteran enterprise technology expert, Miya Knights applies her deep understanding of technology gained through her journalism career to both her role as a consultant and as director at Retail Technology Magazine, which she helped shape over the past 17 years. Miya was educated at Oxford University, earning a master’s degree in English.

Her role as a journalist has seen her write for many of the leading technology publishers in the UK such as ITPro, TechWeekEurope, CIO UK, Computer Weekly, and also a number of national newspapers including The Times, Independent, and Financial Times.