In the offline world, there are systems in place to prevent children from accessing things which may harm them. People wishing to buy alcohol, or enter a casino or nightclub, would have to show ID such as their passport or driver’s license. We do not usually ask for someone’s age and take it at face value.
Last year, the Children’s Commissioner was asked by the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, and the Secretary of State for Education to look at children’s safety online and how it can be improved. Since then, the Commissioner has convened charities, held tech firms to account, ran focus groups, conducted surveys, spoken to children and parents, and published findings on what needs to be included in the upcoming Online Safety Bill.
Most recently, the office has conducted a nationally representative survey of 2,005 children and their parents. It found that 70% of all children surveyed and 90% of all parents surveyed think that there should be a minimum age on social media platforms.
New analysis of this survey shows that when parents are asked to rank different methods of age assurance, the most popular methods are parental confirmation of the child’s age or the child having to confirm their identity to access sites.
Among parents who were in favour of having a minimum age for social media use, and ranked the six provided options of age assurance methods, 31% chose asking a parent to enter their child’s age as their preferred method, 23% chose ID checks of children, 17% chose asking the child to enter their own age at sign up, 14% chose estimating the child’s age based on their social media activity, 8% chose scanning their child’s face, and 6% chose asking their child to complete a puzzle.
Ofcom’s qualitative research into parents and children’s attitudes towards age assurance found that parents views on age assurance depended on the online activity. For traditionally age-restricted activities, such as gambling or pornography, an ID check was the preferred method. When discussing games and social media, parents preferred parental confirmation. In this qualitative research, parents expressed concerns around facial recognition and behavioural profiling.
Ultimately, much more needs to be done to protect children online. I will not stop until we see meaningful change and will continue to hold tech firms to account on their progress to keep children safe.
 Base size of 1,166 parents. Note the survey was carried out by CHILDWISE in March 2022. The results were weighted to be representative of children aged 8-17 in England by gender, age and region. Parents were asked a series of questions about online safety, followed by their child.