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Age Gates Are Better Than Nothing, But Are They Good Enough?

Raise your hand if you’ve been personally victimized by an age gate. As pesky as they are, age gates cover the bases for age-restricted brands should they ever be held liable for underage consumption; plus, they’re low cost, easy to set up, and don’t cause too much of a disruption to the consumer. As the vaping, online sports betting, igaming, firearms, and cannabis industries grow, the need for proper age verification grows in parallel. While it’s better than nothing, age gates can, unfortunately, be very flimsy.  

Whether it’s a simple checkbox confirming a user is above a certain age or a month/day/year drop down, a determined underage user will most likely lie. According to a study by Texas A&M University’s professor Adam Barry about digital age gates in top alcohol brands’ websites, underage users could gain access even after continuously entering dates of birth until finding one that indicates that they are over 21. Furthermore, only one out of five sites blocked users from accessing the website after an underage birthday was indicated. Barry states that these age gates “feel more like [the] industry is concerned about their liability, as opposed to the welfare of users.”  

The Current State of Things  

According to October Beer Co., the first age gate popped up on Budweiser’s website in 1998. Yuengling didn’t offer an age gate until 2002, Sierra Nevada quickly followed suit in 2005, and Sam Adams implemented one in 2013.  

Since the start of the digital age, the FTC has set some strongly suggestive guidelines around strengthening age gates and alcohol marketing that could also be applied in other age-restricted sectors.  

  1. The industry’s advertising standard requires that at least 70% of the audience for advertising consists of adults 21 and older. 
  2. Supplier sites should use neutral age-entry screens with tracking tools to prevent a minor from reloading or back-clicking onto the website after entering a birthdate indicating that they are a minor. 
  3. Suppliers must adhere to the 70% rule when advertising on independent sites.  

Even social media sites like Twitter are including an age-gate at sign up to be sure that age-restricted goods and services are only shown to those that are above the legal age.  

According to the 2014 FTC report, over 99% of alcohol companies have complied with the 70% standard. The three major alcohol supplier trade associations, Beer Institute (BI), the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States (DISCUS), and the Wine Institute (WI) have created voluntary codes for digital advertising and marketing that have become industry standards.  

Who’s Doin’ It Right?  

Age gates don’t just go for alcohol. California requires nicotine and tobacco vaping suppliers to match 1.) the name, address, and date of birth provided by the customer to database records of individuals verified to be 21 years or older and 2.) the billing address on the form of payment to the address listed in the database.  

In 2019, the Kansspelautoriteit (KSA), an independent government body of igaming supervision and regulation in The Netherlands, warned that operators must use an “objective means of proof” to “visibly verify the age of participants before the registration process is completed.” Otherwise, they could pay a hefty fine, or worse, lose their license.  

Major players in the cannabis industry are also following in the footsteps of the DISCUS, BI, and WI codes by refraining from advertising when 30% of the audience is under 21. Pop up ads and location-based marketing is also prohibited unless the marketing is an app installed by an individual between 18-21 years of age.    

Stay Ahead of The Game

There will most likely come a time where age verification must go beyond age gates. As the digital world continues to innovate on itself, regulatory bodies will respond with a need for stringency and transparency. Developing a strong age verification process for your age-restricted business will establish trust on behalf of regulatory bodies as well as your consumers.  

GDC’s in-depth vetting process works to find the highest quality, in-country data providers with expertise in local regulation and data privacy laws. Our single API platform accesses these real-time data sources to instantly verify users and provide a frictionless onboarding experience that keeps legal users engaged while turning underage users away.