UK retailer Bestway has join a British government-backed trial of AI age verification in partnership with identity tech firm Innovative Technology.
Bestway joins other retailers including the Co-op, Tesco, Aldi, Asda and Morrisons, and nightclubs, which are already taking part in the the government ‘Sandbox’ pilot scheme that was launched last month.
Trials of the ‘challenge 25’ ICU system have been installed in three of its stores in Leeds, Bargain Booze store in Otley, Wine Rack in Roundhay and its new upmarket off-licence format Tippl in Garforth.
The ICU verification technology is installed alongside the point of sale, with consumers who consent can take part having their photo taken by a camera embedded in the trial stores’ checkout. The software then uses an algorithm to determine their age – once a customer is scanned, the screen will flash green if they are above 25 or red if 25 or under, alerting staff that further age verification is required, before automatically deleting the photo. During the trial, humans are still required to check customers ages, in accordance with the law, but it says technology has exciting potential use cases in retail, particularly when it comes to protecting staff from abuse.
Mike Hollis, retail director at Bestway Wholesale told trade press the company were proud to be pioneering the use of age verification technology in its drinks led specialist stores.
“Staff abuse is rife in the convenience channel, with the Association of Convenience Stores’ 2021 Crime Report highlighting that there were over a million incidents of verbal abuse and about 40,000 incidents of violence against people working in convenience stores in the past year alone,” he said.
“We surveyed staff in our three participating stores and the responses received showed that staff abuse, particularly when it comes to the refusal to sell alcohol, is a significant issue. All participants agreed that using technology could reduce staff abuse and we believe that using the ICU screen will act as a deterrent when it comes to staff abuse.”
“It will also give retailers peace of mind and ensure that they avoid prosecutions, fines, or losing their license for the miss-sale of alcohol or tobacco products,” he added.
UK authorities have said porn sites will be legally required to verify the age of their users under new internet safety laws.
Announcing the age verification plans, Digital Economy Minister Chris Philp said: “Parents deserve peace of mind that their children are protected online from seeing things no child should see.”
Philp said the Online Safety Bill will be significantly strengthened with a new legal duty requiring all sites that publish pornography to put robust checks in place to ensure their users are 18 years old or over.
This could include adults using secure age verification technology to verify that they possess a credit card and are over 18 or having a third-party service confirm their age against government data.
If sites fail to act, the independent regulator Ofcom will be able fine them up to 10 per cent of their annual worldwide turnover or can block them from being accessible in the UK. Bosses of these websites could also be held criminally liable if they fail to cooperate with Ofcom.
A large amount of pornography is available online with little or no protections to ensure that those accessing it are old enough to do so. There are widespread concerns this is impacting the way young people understand healthy relationships, sex and consent. Half of parents worry that online pornography is giving their kids an unrealistic view of sex and more than half of mums fear it gives their kids a poor portrayal of women.
Age verification controls are one of the technologies websites may use to prove to Ofcom that they can fulfil their duty of care and prevent children accessing pornography.
Digital Minister Chris Philp said:
It is too easy for children to access pornography online. Parents deserve peace of mind that their children are protected online from seeing things no child should see.
We are now strengthening the Online Safety Bill so it applies to all porn sites to ensure we achieve our aim of making the internet a safer place for children.
Many sites where children are likely to be exposed to pornography are already in scope of the draft Online Safety Bill, including the most popular pornography sites as well as social media, video-sharing platforms and search engines. But as drafted, only commercial porn sites that allow user-generated content – such as videos uploaded by users – are in scope of the bill.
The new standalone provision ministers are adding to the proposed legislation will require providers who publish or place pornographic content on their services to prevent children from accessing that content. This will capture commercial providers of pornography as well as the sites that allow user-generated content. Any companies which run such a pornography site which is accessible to people in the UK will be subject to the same strict enforcement measures as other in-scope services.
The Online Safety Bill will deliver more comprehensive protections for children online than the Digital Economy Act by going further and protecting children from a broader range of harmful content on a wider range of services. The Digital Economy Act did not cover social media companies, where a considerable quantity of pornographic material is accessible, and which research suggests children use to access pornography.
The government is working closely with Ofcom to ensure that online services’ new duties come into force as soon as possible following the short implementation period that will be necessary after the bill’s passage.
The onus will be on the companies themselves to decide how to comply with their new legal duty. Ofcom may recommend the use of a growing range of age verification technologies available for companies to use that minimise the handling of users’ data. The bill does not mandate the use of specific solutions as it is vital that it is flexible to allow for innovation and the development and use of more effective technology in the future.
Age verification technologies do not require a full identity check. Users may need to verify their age using identity documents but the measures companies put in place should not process or store data that is irrelevant to the purpose of checking age. Solutions that are currently available include checking a user’s age against details that their mobile provider holds, verifying via a credit card check, and other database checks including government held data such as passport data.
Any age verification technologies used must be secure, effective and privacy-preserving. All companies that use or build this technology will be required to adhere to the UK’s strong data protection regulations or face enforcement action from the Information Commissioner’s Office.
Online age verification is increasingly common practice in other online sectors, including online gambling and age-restricted sales. In addition, the government is working with industry to develop robust standards for companies to follow when using age assurance tech, which it expects Ofcom to use to oversee the online safety regime.