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Innovative Technology is rolling out its MyCheckr age estimation devices to shops and pubs to reduce the risk of selling alcohol to underage customers, following participation in UK government trials.
Throughout 2022, the Home Office and the Office for Product Safety and Standards (OPSS) led nine trials of age estimation and verification technologies for the sale of alcohol in nightlife venues and supermarkets, as part of its plans to expand the use of digital identities in the UK economy.
Run as a regulatory sandbox – test environments that allow software to be trialled in real-life situations under the close supervision of regulators or other oversight bodies – Innovative Technology deployed its MyCheckr devices in three Bestway Retail premises across Leeds.
The devices – standalone hardware units that use facial recognition algorithms to estimate a person’s age – perform their functions completely offline. According to Innovative Technology, this means no biometric data is stored after the check is complete.
All of this is done in real time, with the screen turning green if the customer is of age, or red if they are too young or a follow-up manual ID check is needed.
Innovative Technology said 70% of staff who used its devices during the trials found it was effective, and 75% believed the presence of the units deterred under-18s from even attempting to purchase alcohol in the first place.
Bestway Retail has since adopted MyCheckr on a permanent basis in a number of its stores across the UK. A number of pubs that were not part of the initial trial are also adopting the technology for their own age checks.
According to the owner of Liberty’s Gin Bar, one of the pubs adopting the technology, younger staff in particular can feel uncomfortable asking customers for ID, but the technology gives them the confidence to verify a person’s age and decline a sale.
“The feedback from both the trial and the new installations this year has been incredibly positive,” said Andrew O’Brien, product manager at Innovative Technology. “MyCheckr is having an important impact in ensuring safer purchasing and enforcing age restriction regulations, and we are looking forward to scaling up with more businesses as the year progresses.”
O’Brien also told Biometric Update that the tech provided a number of benefits to till operators: “What we found was 1) operators felt the tech certainly helped in estimating age, 2) gave them more confidence in challenging for ID (since the device is prompting the ID check), 3) acted as a deterrent to underage customers, 4) helped to reduce confrontation.”
Other organisations involved in the Home Office-OPSS trials included 1account, which trialled a digital identity app on mobile phones in Camberley nightclub Tru; Fujitsu, which partnered with Nottingham Trent University to trial a mobile app for students using passport and biometric data; and MBJ Technology, which deployed a digital identity app in 13 night economy venues across Liverpool.
Four of the trials used age estimation tech developed by Yoti, which uses an artificial intelligence (AI) algorithm to estimate a customer’s age from facial scans taken at self-checkouts or click-and-collect points.
In a document detailing “key learning from the trial”, the government said: “The work was an important step to further understanding what needs to be in place to successfully embed age verification technologies into an existing robust monitoring and enforcement licensing regime.
“The trials generated a number of outcomes that provide important learning points for alcohol retailers and for those responsible for monitoring and enforcement.”
The government summary added that although the trials did not assess the accuracy of the estimation and verification technologies used, it did demonstrate the systems were sensitive to a number of environmental factors that could affect their reliability, including, the positioning of equipment relative to bright lights.
“Licence holders will need to consider carefully if age verification technologies can work in their premises to realise the benefits consistently,” it said.
While the government has already committed to bringing in digital ID-related legislation, including a digital trust framework to ensure greater trust in digital identity providers, it said current licensing laws (which require the presentation of identification bearing a holographic mark or ultraviolet feature for alcohol purchases) were a potential challenge to using these technologies for the sale of alcohol.
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