In order to comply with the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), many general audience websites that collect personal information from their users require that users they are at least 13 years old. This includes popular sites like Facebook and YouTube, all of whom ask users to confirm that they meet this age requirement when setting up an account. Other websites that contain adult-oriented material such as alcohol-related advertising or sexually explicit material may require the user to be at least 18 or 21 years of age.
However, close to half of online teens (44%) admit to lying about their age at one time or another so they could access a website or sign up for an online account. When we asked a similar question in 2000, two years after COPPA’s enactment, just 15% of online teens admitted to lying about their age to gain access to a website. Websites are not currently required to verify a user’s age, and there is an ongoing debate about whether or not such verification is technically and practically possible.
Boys and girls are equally likely to say they were older to gain access to a website or service. These incidents of “inaccurate” reporting could have occurred at any point in the child’s internet-using years, and as such, the variations by age are difficult to interpret. The youngest group of teens in our sample, those ages 12-13, are more likely than 17-year-olds to say they have lied about their age (49% vs. 30%).