When it comes to protecting children on the Internet and keeping them safe from predators, law enforcement officials have vocally advocated one approach in particular. They want popular sites, like the social network MySpace, to confirm the identities and ages of minors and then allow the young Web surfers to talk only with other children, or with adults approved by parents.
Child-safety activists charge that some of the age-verification firms want to help Internet companies tailor ads for children. They say these firms are substituting one exaggerated threat — the menace of online sex predators — with a far more pervasive danger from online marketers like junk food and toy companies that will rush to advertise to children if they are told revealing details about the users.
“It’s particularly upsetting,” said Nancy Willard, an expert on Internet safety who has raised concerns about age verification on her Web site over the last month. “Age verification companies are selling parents on the premise that they can protect the safety of children online, and then they are using this information for market profiling and targeted advertising.”
And “verifying” kids identity has another risk – it will be possible (dare I say “fairly easy”?) for an predator-adult to be “verified” as a kid. As a result, lots of parents will “feel secure” because their kids are only talking to other kids. Or so they think… this false sense of security is probably more dangerous than not having an age verification system. In the end, a parent has to be careful either with or without a system… So all the system really does is facilitate marketing.