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Scan your fingerprint to access this content: why it’s time to bring biometric parental controls to the home

February 2020 by David Orme, Senior Vice President at IDEX Biometrics ASA

With nearly half of all five to 10-year-olds owning mobile phones, the internet now dominates children’s lives. Last year, the communication regulator Ofcom found that a large number of young children already have their own social media accounts, despite being under the minimum age limit of 13 years old.

This news is supported by new research from IDEX Biometrics ASA into the lives of Generation Z (born after 1995) which shows the average age of research respondents was just 11 years old when they first accessed social networks.

Even more troublingly, almost a third (30%) were less than 14 years old when they first viewed adult content online. Of these, 10% admitted to being traumatised by what they saw. And it’s not just adult content drawing children in; respondents also admitted to accessing age-restricted gaming apps and gambling sites underage.

While the internet may seem to many parents a helpful way for their children to communicate with friends and learn about the world, clearly it also presents a danger where unmoderated content is only a few clicks away.

Generation Z demand tougher parental controls

Interestingly, despite - or perhaps because of - easy access to the internet, Generation Z want to see tougher parental controls introduced to protect the next generation from potentially harmful content online. Seven-in-ten (70%) of Generation Z believe it is the responsibility of parents to prevent their children from accessing adult content or activities underage, rising to 85% of those aged 16-17 years old.

But with busy lives and growing numbers of connected devices entering the family home, parents don’t always have time to constantly check every site or app their child uses. In fact, only 19% of parents with children between five-15 years old use parental controls on internet-connected devices, according to an NSPCC study.

Most age-restricted websites and social networks only require a date of birth, so it can be easy for children to falsify their date of birth to get around this. This makes it harder for parents to trust the solutions created by online providers to safeguard children on their services.

Current age restrictions aren’t working

Paris is a 20-year-old from London who took part in an IDEX Biometrics focus group as part of the Generation Z research, and feels the current level of age restriction isn’t sufficient: “I know social media, like Instagram, has an age restriction, but it’s quite easy to make a page even if you’re underage. There should be stricter measures to protect kids from doing that.”

This opinion matches the majority of (53%) of Generation Z respondents who believe biometrics, such as fingerprints, should be used as a form authentication on web sites to protect under-age children from accessing 18+ gaming sites, or adult content.

Another focus group attendee, 19-year-old Charlotte, agrees that better technology solutions are needed to protect children from inappropriate content: “A lot of kids now are computer whizzes, so I think they would find a way to get around online age checks,” she said. “So, I think having to prove your age with a fingerprint is a good way to help parents monitor what their children are viewing online now.”

Biometric ID to protect children from online content

With children embracing online content at a rapid rate, it’s obvious the level of technical solutions to protect them from harmful content needs to advance rapidly.

A strong solution for this is biometric identification, which offers a secure and convenient way for consumers to verify their age online, giving parents peace of mind. Electronics and gaming company Sony has already considered biometrics as a solution for age-certified games. They are currently working on a way to include age authentication through their hand in their upcoming PlayStation 5 controllers as part of a parental control system.

A biometric proof of identity is an effective means to establish age-authentication for in-game payments, access to age-rated films, gambling sites and even social media, while protecting children from accessing harmful content online.

Incorporating this tech into mobile or IoT devices, such as an Alexa, or the new Apple TV remote which will include Touch ID is a secure way to making parental controls even easier. This will give parents peace of mind that their children are safe from harm while browsing the internet or playing video games.

As young people become more technologically capable than their parents, families are fighting a losing battle to protect their children. Adopting a biometric control system is the answer to prevent vulnerable children from accessing potentially harmful content – both in smart devices and online.

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