Warning Flags: Online Verification and Youth Social Networking

WHEN it comes to protecting children on the Internet and keeping them safe from predators, law enforcement officials have vocally advocated one approach in particular. They want popular sites, like the social network MySpace, to confirm the identities and ages of minors and then allow the young Web surfers to talk only with other children, or with adults approved by parents.

But performing so-called age verification for children is fraught with challenges. The kinds of publicly available data that Web companies use to confirm the identities of adults, like their credit card or Social Security numbers, are either not available for minors or are restricted by federal privacy laws.

Nevertheless, over the last year, at least two dozen companies have sprung up with systems they claim will solve the problem. Surprisingly, their work is proving controversial and even downright unpopular among the very people who spend their days worrying about the well-being of children on the Web.

Child-safety activists charge that some of the age-verification firms want to help Internet companies tailor ads for children. They say these firms are substituting one exaggerated threat — the menace of online sex predators — with a far more pervasive danger from online marketers like junk food and toy companies that will rush to advertise to children if they are told revealing details about the users.

Ping – Online Age Verification for Children Brings Privacy Worries – NYTimes.com

Wow. It’s funny how offline conversations quickly get picked up by SOMEONE in the media – right when we’re in the thick of it.

Age verification can be a nightmare… and by “can be” I mean “would be” and “Is”.

Here’s two problems (of, no doubt, many):

Work level problem = initially requiring parental sign-off for a child to participate through emails & credit card numbers

1. How do you know the email address submitted by a child BELONGS to the parent, and isn’t just the child jumping barriers with lies (ends to a means, ends to a means)?  And how do you know that the credit card number being submitted by an “adult” is actually an adult / the owner of the card / not the child rummaging through mom’s purse for her wallet?

Theory of some seeking solutions = making kids’ identity accountable by some sort of unifying service, like a social security number but online, that allows for companies & protective parents to track kids and make sure they “are supposed to be where they are supposed to be”.

2. What has happened to freedom of speech?  What is the accountability for youth?  Are we now expecting our youth to be prisoner’s of their own username, no matter where they try to go and start a’fresh?  What happened to exploration & social learning?  Do you really want gov, biz, ANYONE to have that many reigns on your child?

This stuff is swirling in the air right now, like winter’s biting edge on the back of fall’s wind.  It’s UBER important and such things can affect EV.ER.Y.ONE.  If you’re in the youth online industry… please research this stuff for yourself – do not depend on some company to figure this out for you.  And really, hiring a consultant is only the first steps to knowledge… if you have any responsibility to your product/online environment… then you need to be aware of all sides within issues of online safety, coppa, identity, etc, in a calm, honest way.

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