The Internet can already seem like a dangerous place for a child. There are the persistent concerns of cyber bullies and sexual predators, as well as a child's potential exposure to inappropriate content like pornography.
But now it seems that there's yet another hazard to add to the list: underage drinking.
ABC News' "20/20" reports that children could very easily obtain alcohol online from websites like eBay:
We asked Xander, 13, to head to [eBay] and try to buy liquor there. One vendor refused to sell his product when Xander and a "20/20" producer declined to send a copy of an ID showing that the buyer was of legal drinking age. But Xander was able to successfully place an order with two other vendors.
"All I had to do was type in vodka on the search bar, click one button and it can send it to my house," Xander told "20/20." (A "20/20" producer paid for the purchases.)
In an email, an eBay representative told The Huffington Post:
eBay will not allow our marketplace to be used as a way to circumvent laws regarding the sale of alcohol, particularly the illegal sale of alcohol to minors. We are beginning the process of removing listings of beer and spirits. We expect to allow these listings again after developing and implementing additional, reasonable requirements to support seller compliance with our policies and applicable laws. We will continue to allow listings by pre-approved, licensed wine sellers.
In May, a study conducted at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill found that underage individuals who attempted to buy alcoholic beverages online were successful in 45 percent of attempts.
“We were amazed at how easy it was,” said Rebecca Williams, the UNC researcher who led the study. “With just a few clicks on their computers or smartphones, kids can order alcohol and have it delivered to their homes.”
Eight under-21 youths participated in the study, placing orders at 100 Internet sites that sell alcohol. They successfully purchased alcohol on 45 out of 100 attempts.
The participants were allowed to lie about their age when making purchases, but they did not use fake IDs and had to provide their real IDs if asked. According to the study, "only 12 orders failed immediately when the participant placed the online order or shortly afterward."
Researchers found that the problem does not merely lie in the lack of protective barriers in place, but also in the sheer number of alcohol vendors that one can choose from:
In 2007, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, there were 225 internet vendors that primarily sold alcohol; they were responsible for $2.4 billion in annual sales. In 2009, when Williams and her team searched for alcohol vendors, they found more than 5,000. “We had to stop searching at 5,000 because of budgetary constraints,” Williams says.
So if one website denies a child access to alcohol, there are still thousands of other sites that he or she can turn to.
“The fact that there are literally thousands of online outlets selling alcohol and that purchase attempts by underage persons are successful almost half of the time tells us how insufficient the protections are for our youth,” David Jernigan, director of the Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth at Johns Hopkins School of Public Health in Baltimore, told Bloomberg in May. “The bottom line is that alcohol regulation and enforcement are simply not keeping up with new technologies.”
Update: This story has been updated with comment from eBay.