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Keeping kids safe on the internet is a difficult problem... you're right. Age restriction requirements are easy to break.

Why does YouTube, or any free video site, age restrict some videos when a very smart 8-year-old little kid could just create an account and lie about his or her age?

In this excerpt from Answercast #35, I look at age restrictions on the internet and how poor of a job it does in preventing underage access.

Internet age restrictions

Yea, that is kind of frustrating isn't it?

It's very, very common. Facebook, for example, is not supposed to be used by people under 13. Most porn sites have some kind of birthday verification scenario that you need to enter before you can access the adult content. And as you said, YouTube even has some age restriction kind of technology in place.

Here's the problem:

  • It is completely and totally a waste of time in terms of keeping children away from that technology.

As you say, they can easily select a birth year that is the correct number of years away from today to make themselves look as if they are over 21, or over 13, or over whatever.

Legal issues

So why do sites do that? In a word, I blame the lawyers (I guess that's more than one word).

The issue is: by forcing that step, the site has placed the ultimate responsibility for who can and cannot access their site, not on themselves, but on the users.

  • They believe that this may hold up in court.

I'm not a lawyer, I really have no idea, but they believe that by having asked the user to present their age, they then are not responsible for doing anything more to verify it.

  • If somebody lies, well, it's that person-who-lied's fault that they were able to access the site

  • And not the site's fault.

So that's what I think is going on here. I really do think it is basically legal "behind covering," if you will, and nothing more.

Article C5590 - July 16, 2012 « »

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Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

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5 Comments
Bob
July 17, 2012 8:42 AM

A method some sites use (or at least used to as far as I am aware), is to ask for credit card details - because we know owning credit cards has a minimum age limit.
Two problems with this:
1) Some people, though old enough, simply don't have credit cards.
2) Handing out your credit card details to everyone who asks is simply begging to be scammed.

If I am given a choice between handing over a calendar date, and handing over a payment method - guess which I will choose?

Until users start getting messages like "Sorry, there is no birth record for that name on that date", I guess the problem will persist.

Cliff Sees
July 17, 2012 8:11 PM

Of course, the opposite is true: citing a valid credit card is no indicator of age - and it's not designed to be an identification card, any more than a Social Security number was ever intended to be. Older cards used to carry that notice.

Mary
July 17, 2012 8:23 PM

My home state says a person can apply for a learner's permit at 15, a *regular* driver's license at 16, be charged as an adult for criminal offenses at 17, but can't enter into a binding contract or vote, enlist, etc until 18, or have an alcoholic beverage until 21. So what is so magical about age 13? Does becoming a teenager mean the subscriber is more mature or more legally responsible than a 12 year old? Sheesh!

Glenn P.
July 18, 2012 7:30 AM

And that, Mary, is to say nothing  of the "age of consent" (e.g., the age at which a person can legally consent to sex, without the risk of getting your partner -- not you! -- charged with statutory rape), which also  varies greatly from one jurisdiction to the next!

Julian Adams
July 21, 2012 5:26 AM

Sure, it's mainly "behind covering." But what else can a website do?

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