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Twitter adds age verification for following 'adult' brands

Buddy Media partners with the microblogging service to restrict some Twitter feeds -- i.e., booze-related accounts -- by age. The idea is to reduce liability, but users get to self-report their ages.

Donna Tam Staff Writer / News
Donna Tam covers Amazon and other fun stuff for CNET News. She is a San Francisco native who enjoys feasting, merrymaking, checking her Gmail and reading her Kindle.
Donna Tam
3 min read
Screenshot by Donna Tam/CNET
To give worried marketers peace of mind, Buddy Media has rolled out an age verification process for Twitter in partnership with the microblogging service.The idea is to reduce the liability of booze marketers and their ilk, though the process itself appears to be fairly porous.

Buddy started offering the free service to adult brands such as liquor companies, but said it could be used for other industries with age requirements.

The new service probably won't make parents feel any better, since it merely asks Twitter users to enter their birthdates -- which, of course, means users can take whatever liberties they like. There's also the minor fact that a brand's tweets remain public and viewable by anyone, regardless of age. The age verification only covers users who try to follow a 'grown-up' brand.

"The Twitter and Buddy Media solution solves a challenge many marketers have faced in confirming their followers are of age to follow their brand," Buddy Media CEO Michael Lazerow wrote in the company's blog. "Until now, companies have had to develop their own custom, one-off "age-screening" solutions. The result has been a patchwork of solutions with different approaches, processes and levels of success."

In the comments of the company's blog post Joe Ciarallo, VP of communications for Buddy Media, also notes that the process works globally and brands can set the appropriate age for each country.

The company has been beta-testing the screening with a few alcohol brands, including Brown Forman's Jack Daniels (@JackHoney), Jim Beam's Skinny Girl (@SkinnygirlCKTLS), and MillerCoors' Coors Light and Miller Lite (@CoorsLight and @MillerLite).

Jack Daniels seems to have been ahead of the game on this front, having what looks like its own screening process in place and making sure to put disclaimers on all their tweets, telling kids that their products are only for grown-ups.

The age-verification process is initiated when a user hits the follow button on a brand. After a few minutes the user gets a direct message from the brand with a link to the age screening process. If the user doesn't go through with the screening within 24 hours the follow is denied. (By the way, Buddy's official blog post says the service requires users to enter their age, not their birthdate. But I tried it myself and sure enough, a birthdate is what it asks for.)

Users should only have to go through the process once for a particular age restriction, Ciarallo told CNET. For example, if I verify my age for the Coors Light account, I shouldn't have to do it again for Skinny Girl since they both have an age restriction of 21, the legal drinking age.

When I tried out the system, there seemed to be a glitch. When I entered the birthdate of a 28-year-old's birthday for @CoorsLight, I was able to follow the @CoorsLight account. When I tired to follow the @SkinnygirlCKTLS account, I was asked for my birthdate again. I put the birthdate of a 19-year-old for @SkinnygirlCKTLS and was rejected from following the account. I went through yet another process with @JackHoney.

Ciarallo said he would look into why the age screening didn't automatically cover all the 21+ accounts, but maybe Twitter is doing me a favor with all the extra steps -- I probably need to be deterred from looking at booze advertisements this early in the day.

We'll update when we get more information.