Most websites even remotely related to alcohol will ask you to do some sort of age verification before you’re able to view their content. They generally do this by asking you for your birth month/year or simply ask you to check a box, click a button, or whatever to acknowledge whether you’re over the age of 21 or not. I find these ploys so easily defeated that I think they’re silly. However, they’re so pervasive that I had to wonder whether it was required by some sort of law… or was it simply alcohol vendors attempting to be responsible… or was it simply a convention most sites see their competitors employing and they assume they must also? I decided to do a little research and figure this out.
Firstly, I want to say that I believe our job as web designers is to make information accessible. I strongly believe we should limit the number of hurdles one has to jump over to get to that content. So, I vehemently oppose those pages which offer little more than an animated site logo and an “enter” link of some sort. These need to be vanquished from the web entirely since they offer zero value to the site visitor. I view the “are you 21” page as a similar barrier to the content.
Even if you think verifying the age of site visitors is a good idea, then we have to ask ourselves how we can do so effectively because anyone who can do simple math can add a false birth date/month to access the site’s content. Are we really being anymore responsible by creating this hurdle? Any sense that we are being more responsible is clearly an illusion.
So now the question, are we required by law to verify the age of the visitor prior to allowing access? The simple answer is thankfully “No!”. The FTC (Federal Trade Commission) issued a report in 2008 titled “Self-Regulation in the Alcohol Industry” which offers various suggestions. Here’s a quote…
It also recommended that sites featuring content likely to have strong appeal to minors, or that permit alcohol purchases online, consider use of age-verification technologies
So there it is. It’s up to the industry to self-regulate. It’s our choice. It is not law. And since it is not good design, I would love to see these pages removed unless we find a way of verifying age which is not so easily defeated.