Online Age Verification
Verify Age Online
Create a public, online tool housed at the Social Security Administration that allows any person to verify his age to an online platform without disclosing personal information to that platform.
Americans are beginning to reach a vital consensus that social media is harming children. Children who use social media are more likely to suffer from anxiety, depression, and self-harm, and are more vulnerable to exploitation and exposure to harmful material. Even concerned and involved parents find themselves unable to protect their children from a ubiquitous industry that designs its products for addiction and benefits from strong network effects. Laws are needed. But any reasonable rules to protect children online will require knowing who is and is not a child online.
Effective age verification can help protect digital spaces the way we already protect physical ones. Everyone takes for granted in the physical world the need for government-issued documents to verify age and access age-restricted spaces and services. But as both commercial and social interaction has migrated online, no comparable online capacity has emerged. Market forces create little incentive for social media platforms to establish reliable age-verification processes. Those tools that do exist tend to be highly intrusive of privacy, are often difficult to use, and typically rely on existing forms of identification like credit cards, public records, and physical government IDs. Reliable identification is a critical public utility and only the federal government has the basic information like Social Security numbers, visa records, and dates of birth to provide it consistently and securely.
The United States should create a public, online tool housed at the Social Security Administration that would allow any American to verify his age to an online platform without disclosing other personal information. For example, a person would input her Social Security number on the government website and receive via text or email an anonymized, temporary code to use with an online service. The service could in turn submit this code to the public database and receive back confirmation of whether the person is above the relevant age. This system would provide the age verification required for other safety provisions to be effective, while revealing nothing further about a user’s identity or activity to either online services or the government.