Last Updated on 26th September 2023

Header Image ©yoti.com

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With the recent announcements that both Yubo and Instagram will be partnering with Yoti as part of their new strategy to verify users’ ages, our online safety experts took a closer look at what Yoti is, and whether photo age verification can help keep young people stay safer online.

What is the Yoti App?

Yoti is a digital ID app that enables users to prove their identity to businesses and digital services. It’s been around since 2014 but has been hitting the headlines recently due to their partnerships with social media platforms Instagram and Yubo.  

Yoti works both as an independent app which anyone can download and create an account on, and as an integrated software on other apps (like Instagram).  

Although Yoti provides several other services, such as the Yoti CitizenCard, we’re going to be focusing on the photo age verification aspect they provide.  

YOTI logo

Other Yoti Services

The Yoti App and Citizen Card has been endorsed by the Home Office as an acceptable form of age and identity verification and can be used to buy lottery tickets, cigarettes and collect parcels from Post Offices across the UK.
Yoti Citizen Card©Citizencard

In May 2022, the UK Cinema Association announced their partnership with Yoti and their digital ID system. This includes branches of Cineworld, Odeon, Showcase Cinemas and Vue.

How does Yoti work – and is it safe?

Apps, platforms and websites that require age verification will all use different methods. Some will simply ask a user to input their date of birth or tick a checkbox to confirm they are over or under a certain age. These types of age verification methods are easily bypassed for those that wish to do so, and are rarely effective.    

Yoti uses facial analysis technology to verify age by asking the user to take a photo ‘in real-time’ and uses algorithms to verify that it is a photo of a real person. The algorithms read the pixels of the image for age identifiers (such as wrinkles, grey hair), but does not ‘recognise’ the image as a face.  

Some users may have privacy concerns over Yoti, especially if using the app as a central method of ID and wonder if Yoti is safe to use. Yoti’s facial age estimation is built in accordance with the ‘privacy by design’ principle in the UK (GDPR) and the photo is deleted from the system once analysed.  

Mockup of YOTI's age verification checking a photo of a young girl for wrinkles and grey hair to determine her age

Fast Facts about Yoti’s Age Verification Software

  • Every image is made of pixels. Yoti’s artificial intelligence reads each pixel and analyses for individual facial features that indicate age, such as wrinkles, sunspots, grey hair etc.
  • Individuals cannot be identified or recognised by the model.
  • All images of users are immediately deleted.
  • According to Yoti, their age estimation system correctly estimates 13–17-year-olds as aged under 23, 99.65% of the time.

What’s the Difference Between Facial Analysis vs Facial Recognition?

Whilst often used interchangeably, facial analysis and facial recognition are two different software types with different purposes, with Yoti being the former. Yoti has previously emphasised that their technology is facial analysis software, not facial recognition.   

Essentially this means that their software is looking for a face within an image and then analysing it for whatever information it needs (in this case that’s the age of the subject), rather than trying to identify and collect information on the person within the photo. 

Currently it seems Yoti is the leading company when it comes to age verification software. However, with the introduction of the Online Safety Bill, there may be more companies joining the competition to create age verification software, as the heightened level of scrutiny increases.

If and when the Online Safety Bill comes into force, age verification on websites that publish pornography will be mandatory. Adult websites will be required to ask their users for proof of age – though exactly what that will entail is of yet to be determined. It could include using a third-party service to confirm a user’s age against government data or using technology to confirm they have a credit card. This currently only applies to commercial porn sites but, as the Bill is still under review in Parliament, this could change to include other sites, such as sites that allow user-generated content such as TikTok and Instagram.
We normally associate age verification with things like buying alcohol or viewing adult websites. The age verification that a platform like Yubo requires is almost the opposite – it’s about young people verifying that they are a young person, rather than an adult posing as someone underage.
Yubo is a social media platform designed specifically for livestreaming and to ‘meet new people’, on which users can chat, swipe on each other’s profiles and either join or host livestreams with friends. It’s primary userbase is young people and it has separate communities for those aged 13-18-years-old and for adults.

There are several potential reasons why this type of age verification is important:

  • To cut down on fake accounts.
  • To ensure young people are communicating with people in the same age range.
  • To prevent adults posing as someone underage.
  • To protect young people from age inappropriate and harmful content.

On Instagram, the platform will be using Yoti to “provide appropriate experiences to different age groups, specifically teens.”

Screenshots of YOTI's age verification services on Instagram

What are Yoti’s Risks?

Users By-Passing the System

An adult/abuser could ask or demand that a young person in their control poses for the photograph, with or without them knowing why, and then continue on to use the app themselves.

Likewise, a child who is under an app or platform’s age limit could ask someone older to take the photo, like a sibling or older friend.

A False Sense of Security

Even if an age verification system like Yoti works with almost perfect accuracy, we strongly recommend to never leave the responsibility of safeguarding to technology.    

There are always people seeking workarounds to ‘beat’ the system and there is always room for error when it comes to AI or technology.    

 Young people may be misled into thinking that because another user is on the app, they have been verified as to their identity. However, they haven’t been verified via ID – only facially analysed to verify their age – and, as discussed, there is potential for users to by-pass or abuse the system.  

Racial Biases and Facial Differences

Our online safety researchers were unable to find information by Yoti at this time on whether they included faces of people with disabilities/ conditions that may cause facial differences or cranio-facial disorders, such as Treacher-Collin syndrome, Down Syndrome etc.

Whilst racial bias is apparently limited, there is no further information on this, such as on the adultification of Black children.

Adultification bias occurs when black children and young people are seen as more ‘adultlike’, more ‘culpable’ and ‘less innocent’ than their white counterparts. According to the ‘Girl Interrupted: The Erasure of Black Girls’ Childhood’ report, adultification is ‘a form of dehumanization’ that robs black children ‘of the very essence of what makes childhood distinct from all other developmental periods: innocence.’

Top Tips

  • Talk about where your young person is spending their time online. Just as you talk about what they’re up to offline, get into the habit of discussing the online world they exist in too. You don’t have to mention the app’s name, but you can ask about social media and friend-finding apps in general. Try to keep the conversation casual and not a ‘fact finding mission!’. Talk about what social media you use and what you like and dislike about it/them – keep it an equal conversation in which you’re both sharing.
  • Discuss modern day tech and developments. Ask the young person in your care how they feel about things like AI facial recognition and verification. This will also be a good opportunity to talk about the difference between the two and what it means when someone on an app or platform that has gone through age recognition, rather than identity verification.
  • Ask about how they make friends online. Almost all of us, no matter our age, will have made friends, or at least acquaintances online. For the older generations, this might be through shared hobbies or local Facebook groups. For young people, building friendships with people online is extremely common. You may know their ‘offline’ friends well but have no idea who their online friends are. However, it’s important not to get panicked or strict when it comes to online friendships – again, this is a perfectly normal part of the life of young people in today’s digital world. Instead, create an environment in which the young people in your life feel unjudged, free, and safe to talk about the people they talk to online.
  • Learn about safety settings together. Using our Online Safety Centre and our Safety Cards, spend some time making sure you both/all know how to get the best out of safety features that already exist! Many of us know that privacy and safety settings are available but sometimes don’t ‘get round’ to enabling them due to busy lives or concerns about not understanding. Our Online Safety Centre makes it easy to understand and use existing features that will help keep children and young people safer online.

Pause, Think and Plan

Use this video to help facilitate conversations around different topics, and if any children in your care stumble across age-inappropriate content on a social media platform.

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Our Safety Centre

Use our Online Safety Centre to guide you through the privacy and safety tools on Yubo.

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Our Safety Centre Instagram

Use our Online Safety Centre to guide you through the privacy and safety tools on Instagram.

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