Age Gate Complications

How the Public Interprets COPPA-Prompted Age Restrictions

Most parents and youth believe that the age requirements that they encounter when signing up to various websites are equivalent to a safety warning. They interpret this limitation as: “This site is not suitable for children under the age of 13.” While this might be true, that’s not actually what the age restriction is about. Not only does COPPA fail to inform parents about the appropriateness of a particular site, but parental misinterpretations of the age restrictions mean that few are aware that this stems from an attempt to protect privacy.

While many parents do not believe that social network sites like Facebook and MySpace are suitable for young children, they often want their children to have access to other services that have age restrictions (email, instant messaging, video services, etc.). Often, parents cite that these tools enable children to connect with extended family; Skype is especially important to immigrant parents who have extended family outside of the US. Grandparents were most frequently cited as the reason why parents created accounts for their young children. Many parents will create accounts for children even before they are literate because the value of connecting children to family outweighs the age restriction. When parents encourage their children to use these services, they send a conflicting message that their kids eventually learn: ignore some age limitations but not others.

danah boyd | apophenia » How COPPA Fails Parents, Educators, Youth

I really, truly encourage you to head over to the link above and read the beginning and end (I sectioned only a portion) of Danah’s post.  She’s right. 

Back when I was an early blogger, I used to get frustrated with the casual nonchalance of parents who let their kids watch Youtube, then create accounts, and then post videos (ack!)… teachers/parents who friended their U13 kids on myspace and facebook and twitter (blergh).  There are a lot of these conflicts-of-interest I see happening regarding the dynamic between parents & children accessing the social/entertainment world online.  As the years have gone by, I’ve stopped ranting so much about these other social media sites.  I just try to make sure that the wee corners of the interwebs that I touch have some sort of care, logic, appropriateness to them.

Having said that… I, fortunately & unfortunately, have the hands-on experience working with Age Gates from one stance NOT mentioned in Danah’s post…. youth-targeted sites.

Age gates = have been a battle for many a kids biz.  Frustration points I’ve encountered, or had others relay to me:

1. Most kids, teens, adults, parents don’t even bother putting in the right info – they just choose the easiest option (either the pre-populated date or January 1, 2011) from the scroll gate option.  > Now they’re caught in the filter.

2. The session cookies.  Yes, I think on many levels a session cookie is necessary (why would you have a gate if they can cheat the gate?).  However, as mentioned by Danah, and my point 1 above – parents / adults either put in the easiest information OR they put in their CHILD’S information… > Now they’re caught in the filter and frustrated (CS ticket if you’re lucky).

3. How do you determine a child from an adult when receiving a poorly spelled (btw, yes, many parents do not spend time editting and their emails often look like a child’s – identities have been tested and proven via phone conversations, arrrg!) CS ticket regarding the age gate?  Fun times. > Now they’re caught in the filter. Cookie sessioned. And possibly a poorly educated parent looking for a bit of help for their kid.

4. TIP OFF LANGUAGE – Due to the FTC & Safe Harbor Co’s attempts at trying to keep some sort of legitimate gate-action happening… This is frustrating to navigate.  I agree with the need for non-tip-off language, however, this can get really questionable fast when you really start to analyze the language you’re using to explain how to use the age gate without explaining how to defeat the age gate.  > Now they are caught in the age gate, cookie sessioned out, confused by why, with CS tickets submitted and no where to go…

5. Every biz wants kids to enter the lists for their closed Beta… but you can’t have a minor agree to the legal documents associated to a Closed Beta session.  Ruh roh, age gates doing what they’re supposed to do against the need for the site… > Rock, meet hard place.  Also, add in: Caught in the age gate, cookie sessioned out, confused by why, with CS tickets submitted, no where to go, and now questioning the legitimacy of a kids site that won’t let kids in…

Ruh Roh + Fail whale?  Or age gate success?  Tre sigh.

I’m not going to give you my solutions to these frustrations, but having pointed them out, hopefully you’ll understand some of the yellow flags out there regarding Age Gates.  Every little heads-up helps, yeah?  I hope so.

Now go read Danah Boyd.  She’s much more eloquent than I am today… 😉

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  1. Antonio King
    March 15, 2011 at 8:21 am

    Great write, Izzy. The closet one that hits home for me is #3. I find myself spending most of my time assisting our CS team decipher parents from children, to the point where I’ve developed a procedure on dealing with “immature” tickets (creative name, aye?). Nonetheless, it’s nice to know I’m not alone with this!

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