A story about under age account removal by Facebook made its way around tech sites earlier this week and really got me thinking about this.
The story stated that Facebook removes approximately 20,000 accounts each day due to various violations of the social websites user and privacy policies. Amongst these removed accounts each day are those registered by under age users.
Now how does Facebook, as well as most any other website out there, make sure that a user signing up is of the proper age?
Well, they ask for their birthday on the sign up form of course.
So why ask for the birthday? To verify someone’s age to make sure they are at least the required age to be a member of the site. Most sites require a child to be at least 13 years old to create a user account. Seems pretty straight forward doesn’t it?
Well if Facebook is having to remove accounts every day that are registered by under age users then the system is not working and like I said earlier – Facebook is not the only website facing this issue.
The problem is the fact someone can put whatever date they want in that form and be provided an account on their favorite website. Beyond checking that date when it is entered there is no fool proof standard method for identifying and verifying a users age when they sign up.
How long will it take a young person who gets rejected by their first attempt to sign up for an account with their proper birthday to adjust that year far enough back to be at least 13 years old? Not very long at all and most likely they are savvy enough to know that will happen anyway and so they start off by inserting a false birth year to skip the issue.
So what is the solution? Well it needs to be two fold.
First – parents have to be actively involved with their children’s use of the Internet. Bring the computers out of the rooms and into the open. Look over their shoulder and see what they are doing online. You’re a parent and I am a parent – that is our #1 job. If necessary use some type of monitoring software to keep an eye on what sites your child’s visit. No matter the method – do something.
Secondly – and this will take some real smart folks from within the tech industry to make happen – develop a method to verify someone’s identity remotely using multiple sources to help against fraud. This is also the most daunting of the steps because it means trusting our data with others and with the continued issues over data security this will keep the majority of Internet users very cautious about who gets their info and for what reasons. Maybe it is a token of some kind that is obtained offline over the phone or via a secure website that is then entered in to the site to verify the identity of an individual. Make that process an industry standard for all companies to use. I am sure there can be a tech solution for this.
Just asking someone to type in their birthdate to verify their age is not currently nor will it ever be a secure means of knowing how old someone is. We have to come up with some system to get this right so we can protect ourselves and our children.
Any ideas on this? What would you suggest in order to bring this under some level of control? I look forward to seeing what you have to say.