An old children's counting rhyme asks for your age to decide whether you are allowed to join the game or not. The same procedure applies to various websites. But mostly the user has to prove that he is old enough to join the closed user group. While for social community platforms it would make more sense the other way round to ensure that only younger children are allowed to join the community, so they can be sure that they are among themselves.
Up to now only the Belgian Kids card provides a functionality to prove that the user in question is as young as he pretends to be. The card was presented at the Safer Internet Forum in Luxembourg in September 2008 in a panel dealing with age verification systems. While most participants welcomed age verification systems as an improvement of children's protection from harmful content, also concerns were raised that the identification process could affect the users' privacy.
A differentiation between identification and age verification could help to avoid infringement of privacy and to ensure that personal data are requested only when they are needed for the transaction. With a process of age verification, where not even the date of birth but only the actual age is transferred to the service provider, it could be ensured that people can make use of services or purchase whatever they like without revealing their personal identity.
With the new German identity card that shall be issued from the year 2010 on, a tool will be available to technically enable such a process. The Stiftung Digitale Chancen has therefore pleaded for providing the card for children from the age of 12 years on, to ensure that also this age group can share such a technical improvement to be better protected from grooming attacks on age appropriate social community platforms, see here for further information.
Within the development of the YPRT Guidelines, the Youth Protection Roundtable has dealt with this issue. Age verification systems are one of the main technologies the YPRT members have assessed with regards to their effectiveness against risks of the digital world. Even if the effectiveness of age verification systems depends on the circumstances of its use and the different legal regulations in European countries, it certainly can support the efforts to restrict access of children to age inappropriate content and furthermore also help to ensure that in special areas of the web children are only communicating to their peers and not being molested or cheated by adult grooming attacks. But it is also undeniable that age verification as a supportive technology has its limits and should not be taken as an all round shelter. Up-to-date technologies are able to minimise the exposure of children to online risks, but they cannot be a stand-alone solution. The YPRT Guidelines will therefore not only recommend to apply age verification systems where adequate, but also recommend to teach children how to be aware of grooming attacks and how to behave when stumbling across adult content unintentionally. The importance of children’s resilience in the digital world was also emphasised by Dr Tanya Byron in her speech at 4th YPRT meeting.
The YPRT Guidelines will address different stakeholders, developers and providers of Internet appliances but also children's welfare organisations counselling parents, pedagogues in their guidance to children. The Guidelines will help technicians to take into account the possible effects of their newly developed technologies on the safe use by children and young people. They will also inform responsible adults about the effectiveness of supportive technologies for youth protection and how these shall be accompanied by teaching digital literacy and other pedagogical measures to improve online safety.
At the Final Conference of the project on April 3, 2009 in Berlin, the YPRT Guidelines will be presented to the public and examples for implementation will be introduced. Please be kindly invited to take part in this outstanding event and register free of charge at www.yprt.eu/registration.