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Younger gamblers in the UK could face a stake limit of £2 on online slot machines, under new government proposals.
The long-awaited whitepaper on gambling was published at the end of April and set out plans for how to reform the sector. The headline suggestion was to make it even harder for any under 18s to get anywhere near any form of betting at all – and then to have a second-tier age group of young adults, aged 18-24, who will be allowed to place wagers but with more restrictions on stakes and losses than those over 24.
This move, if ratified, would move the UK betting scene closer to the US, where the state-by-state, sport-by-sport system presents a complex scenario in which you can in some places gamble at 18, in others not until 21, but in some places and some contexts not at all.
And the UK proposal would put a similar strain on the gambling companies to ensure their systems were sufficiently robust to stand up to state scrutiny of user ages – something we’ve already seen across the USA.
Because if they fail, they will be hit with draconian fines: betting brand William Hill was fined a record £19.2 million as recently as March for breaches of customer protection rules. And as the rules get tougher, fines for breaking them will surely only rise.
This is just the latest in a series of developments globally increasing the proliferation of online age verification. These are unfolding faster than ever before – and in more fields.
In Arkansas, USA, for instance, just a week earlier, Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders pressed ahead with controversial plans to prohibit state residents under 18 from holding accounts on certain social media platforms without parental consent – despite it still being unclear how this would work.
But the company had come under fire – back in the UK – in March when the Information Commissioner fined them for having allowed British children under the age of 13 to use their platform without consent. And not just a handful of children – the suggestion was that 1.4 million had been on TikTok without parental consent. A £12.7 million fine ensued.
In France, moves are currently afoot to go hard on compulsory age verification to keep under-15s off social media platforms like TikTok, again, Instagram and others. This follows legal moves there three years ago to make age verification mandatory for porn sites – something that is now close to actually happening.
We are accelerating towards a point where what was once thought impossible – genuinely establishing the age of users beyond them self-certifying in a click as ‘over 18’ – is probably now to become the standard.
And while most of what I’ve described here is currently government-led, the global mood music means some platforms are taking the initiative themselves: games group Roblox for example recently announced it is introducing new features including contact sharing for users who are – and crucially who can demonstrate that they are over 13.
We are entering a new world where the demands on age verification are becoming not just tougher, but more complex. This new world will be more nuanced than the old standard of ‘are they or are they not 18’. Now there will be multiple age points, categories, and geographical zones – as my handful of examples above illustrate.
Well, a lot of people are currently scrambling to try to answer that – and to position themselves as part of the solution.
I suspect the first-tier protection will be the one that’s easiest: facial inspection. A live scan of a user’s face – akin to getting the once-over approval from the supermarket staff when using a self-service checkout that you appear old enough to buy booze. Simple and potentially effective – but not much use at distinguishing a 12 year-old from a 13 year-old, and so on.
The next is using ID to self-certify. For example, scanning a passport or driving license image to prove one’s age. Again, this can be effective – but using a variation on that drinking analogy again, anyone who has dealt with older teens knows how adept they can be at faking ID so this is by no means foolproof.
Parental certification could mean a parallel replication of this in a different form and supplementary approval clicks.
Then there’s an assessment of the authenticity of the device users are registering from. This is where we at TMT fit into the picture. And this is not only the simplest to execute but the most reliable metric. Because, by relying on live data from the telecoms that the phone is registered to, we can determine in a split second to a very, very high degree of accuracy whether the user is an adult or minor.
How this breaks down further into those sub-categories like ‘under 13’, ‘under 15’, ‘over 21’ and so on is something that is still being honed but we’re getting there. Using cross comparisons with other data sources like electoral registers we can further corroborate. This is easier in countries like France, again, for example, where there’s a national ID card scheme and these are typically used when phones are registered. But it’s generally improving all the time. It used to be that a parent might have four phones registered to their own name but only one was their actual phone, the others belonged to three children of different ages. Now the phone companies are becoming better at distinguishing these kinds of potential anomalies. This in turn means it’s consequently becoming less problematic to differentiate exact age in this way.
As we accelerate towards this new world, all the mechanics of how this will be done are still being grappled with around the world.
Our version of the most up-to-date protection systems is TMT Authenticate. It provides a seamless check – so seamless the user isn’t even aware it’s happening – with no verification codes or other hassles and no weak spots. And it’s more secure than anything that’s yet been devised.
It works by using up-to-the-minute data on users and the integrity of their mobile phone accounts from the telcos themselves so it’s a near-perfect insight.
We’re encouraging our clients to move towards offering this function. It’s proving extremely popular. And you don’t even need a Twitter account let alone a blue tick to subscribe.
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