How would age verification in online retail actually work?

A blog by Richard Law, CEO at GBG.

If you read my last blog on the subject, you’ll know that we believe the ability to reliably verify someone’s age is vital in our increasingly digital world. The time is now to ensure the correct safeguards are put in place to prevent things like knives and alcohol ending up in the hands of children and young people – the technology is already available, and the costs of implementing it are not prohibitive.

As we recently demonstrated to the BBC for their consumer affairs programme Rip Off Britain, we can verify the identity of over four billion people – more than half of the world’s population – and our software processes tens of millions of checks per year.

So, how does it actually work?

Today there is a huge volume of data about people, and our software brings this together so that governments, businesses, and organisations can make the right decisions. We’re able to reference the broadest range of publicly available data on the planet to prove somebody really is who they say they are.

Let’s use an example where someone is having their age verified – if they’re not present on the UK Electoral Roll, and they don’t have other common proofs of identity (utility bills, financial statements, and so on), then we’re able to provide intelligence to our clients that they can’t be verified as 18 or over. This enables our clients to decide instantly whether or not they want to do business with the individual.

Importantly the system maps onto the client’s own risk management process – not everyone who fails will be under 18 so alerts for further investigation can help ensure there are no ‘false positives'.

Where does this data come from?

We use data that is publicly available and freely shared, such as the Electoral Roll, credit data, and even the good old telephone directory. When you overlay that with the billions of other pieces of data that are shared around the world, you get a pretty powerful set of reference material – giving us the ability to check what you’ve been told, globally, in real-time.

Is it foolproof?

The best way to think about how the system works is to imagine a set of traffic lights. When we check an individual, the software returns a result of ‘pass’ (green), ‘fail’ (red), or ‘refer’ (amber). If a customer’s details meet the requirements a retailer has set and also match our reference data, then they’ll pass straight through.

If the data doesn’t match however, they’ll either fail or be referred (again depending on a retailer’s own criteria). For those that are referred, they can be manually investigated by customer services – who can then easily discover whether the problem was simply a human error when the customer was entering their details, for example.

Would this process cause issues for customers?

Not at all! The checks are carried out in a matter of seconds, meaning customers won’t notice any difference to normal page load times. Nor is it expensive; as we’ve said before, the costs of checks are a matter of pence rather than pounds and can be easily absorbed at the point of sale.

If you’re in the UK and you want to see the technology in action, you can watch the episode of Rip Off Britain on BBC iPlayer until 6.30pm on the 23rd October using the link below. For any questions, or if you’d simply like to learn more, get in touch at


.red { fill: #b0013a; }