UK soon able to boast of most robust child protection measures online
Millions of UK broadband customers will previously have been given the option of turning on various levels of parental controls for their connections, and the next stage of policing adult websites that offer pornography as a result of the Digital Economy Bill looks set to operating by April 2018.
The changes are that in addition to the parental controls those wishing to access websites offering pornography on a commercial basis will need to verifty that they are over 18. It is believed that providing credit card details is the most likely verification mechanism since credit is only available to over 18's, though this may cause issues for those adults who do not have a credit card and only use a debit card. Online gambling sites already run verification systems and while it seems likely that clearing houses will operate verification schemes rather than individual websites, the scope for dodgy operators or impersonation of genuine verification mechanisms may see those sharing details put at greater risk.
A new regulatory body will be setup to oversee the rules, and there are provisions for fines of £250,000 for sites not operating age verification or requests for providers to block those sites. The British Board of Film Classification appears to be in line for this role, and sites operating under their auspicies will also have to abide by various restrictions on the type of content that can be offered. Other options such as payment providers refusing transactions have been suggested for policing content and ensuring only BBFC approved material is available, payment providers such as PayPal already refuse any 'adult content' transactions.
It seems likely that the major sites that usually operate outside the UK will comply with extra checks and filters added for visitors identified as being from the UK, and they may welcome the changes since age verification may require registration at which point the upsell for monthly or premium access becomes a lot easier.
In terms of protecting children the problem is that the genie has been out of the bottle for many years, and as previous generations used to find parents stashes of magazines and then VHS tapes, teenagers are likely to discover when parents or older siblings have left web pages logged in, or just lift a parents credit card from their purse or wallet and note the details down for later use and with the increasing number of low value contactless transactions a busy parent might miss a £1 charge (NOTE: We don't know if verfication will carry a charge, and it may be some sites do not and others do).
In terms of freedoms for the public a lot hinges on how broadband providers operate any block lists and how transparent this operation will be, there is a real and present danger that sites may get 'accidentally' added to the list simply because those in charge feel its in the interest of the public to block the site without any recourse to the UK courts.
The BBFC is definitely going to be growing significantly if it takes on this role, unless only largest dozen or so sites will be targeted and there are still many issues around mixed use services such as twitter, snapchat and a myriad of other social media sites and apps. There is also the matter of how quickly will the regulator identify violations and also deal with new websites and the sites that walk a fine line between titillation and pornographic content.
The last few months have seen our user forums receive more spam than usual from sites purporting to offer VPN services masking what people do online and this is likely to become more prevalent, and for these private networks where the end-point is outside the UK people will simply bypass any effects from the new rules and it seems highly likely that if VPN and proxies become the norm and social media networks don't somehow make themselves childsafe we will see more changes in a couple of years time.
While people being told to be careful what information they share online and a number of high profile hacking cases the scope for outing celebrities using age verification, attempts at blackmail or plain old phishing of the public by exploiting age verification databases looks set to grow.