*The following is excerpted from an online article posted on EurekAlert!
Children of all ages can completely bypass age verification measures to sign-up to the world’s most popular social media apps including Snapchat, Instagram, TikTok, Facebook, WhatsApp, Messenger, Skype, and Discord by simply lying about their age, researchers at Lero, the Science Foundation Ireland Research Centre for Software have discovered.
And even potential age verification solutions identified by the research team can be easily sidestepped by children, according to the team’s most recent study: Digital Age of Consent and Age Verification: Can They Protect Children?
Lead researcher Lero’s Dr. Liliana Pasquale, assistant professor at University College Dublin’s School of Computer Science, said children could easily bypass the mechanisms adopted by apps to verify their age.
The study which examined Snapchat, Instagram, TikTok, HouseParty, Facebook, WhatsApp, Viber, Messenger, Skype, Discord apps scrutinized age verification procedures in April 2019 and repeated it in April 2020 and it found all ten apps permitted users, regardless of age, to set up accounts if they first gave their age as 16.
Dr. Pasquale said the widespread use of the age of 13 as the minimum age for accessing social media services derives from the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), effective in the USA since 2000. Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) requires children below the age of digital consent (13-16) to have verifiable parental consent for the processing of their data.
“Our study found that while some apps disabled registration if users input ages below 13, but if the age 16 is provided as input initially then none of the apps require a proof of age. Providing mechanisms that deter a user from installing an app on a device on which they have previously declared themselves to be underage is currently one of the most sensible solutions not to incentivize users to lie about their age,” Dr. Pasquale said.
The study was published in IEEE Software on 15 December 2020.