Broadband News

Age Verification for commercial porn sites delayed

Pornography is a devisive topic but also one that by its nature is difficult to get firm data on in terms of the number of websites and actual visitors rather than visitors tricked by pop-up, pop unders and other marketing tricks. The consensus these days seems to be that social media and sites like YouTube dominate and thus stories of porn being just one click away no matter where you are on Internet are often just stories.

Oddly news about the Age Verification scheme the Government is pushing through was buried on a Saturday morning halfway down a press release around £25 million being released for 5G projects across the UK. The Age Verification section follows:

A new campaign, led by the Information Commissioner’s Office, will prepare SMEs to be compliant with these updated laws for the digital age. It will encourage businesses to access the wealth of free help and guidance available from the ICO.

The Strategy also reflects the Government’s ambition to make the internet safer for children by requiring age verification for access to commercial pornographic websites in the UK. In February, the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) was formally designated as the age verification regulator.

Our priority is to make the internet safer for children and we believe this is best achieved by taking time to get the implementation of the policy right. We will therefore allow time for the BBFC as regulator to undertake a public consultation on its draft guidance which will be launched later this month.

For the public and the industry to prepare for and comply with age verification, the Government will also ensure a period of up to three months after the BBFC guidance has been cleared by Parliament before the law comes into force. It is anticipated age verification will be enforceable by the end of the year.

The six winning projects in the 5G Trials and Testbeds scheme are:

Age Verification (AV) extract from 5G press release

The BBFC acting as regulator was set to police the age verification system starting in April, but with a public consultation and the need to clear a vote in Parliament it is likely that the system will not be in place until the end of 2018, if at all.

The system is designed to protect children by requiring any UK based person visiting a commercial pornography website to verify that they are 18 or older, and while age verification systems exist for other areas such as alcohol sales online a big difference is that people are looking to make a purchase so there was the expectation to share credit card information as part of the visit. The majority of visits to pornographic content sites will be people looking for free content i.e. just like all other content on the web people expect it to be free, but because so many sites are laden with adverts they fall into the commercial site remit and thus fall within the scope of the AV requirements. The assumption is that children will not have access to an adults passport or credit card or some other piece of ID that proves your age.

Where things get complicated is that the Internet is not a garden with walls around each individual country, and thus the requirement would apply equally to a US or Russian based site and this is where talk of a UK firewall states to emerge, since sites accessible to UK users no matter where they are located in the world would need to comply and just the same as any UK based sites if they do not comply they risk fines, action that would see payment providers withdraw payment processing or requests being made to Internet Service Providers to add them to a block list. Sites that offer pornographic content that is legal in some other European countries but not legal in the UK would also have to adapt to only offer what is legally viewable as deemed by Government and BBFC in the UK, again the penalties of fines and blocking could be applied.

The policing of all this was handed to the BBFC in February 2018, and if you want to see what they have to currently say on the topic visit here. The key is apparently that systems are intended to verify your age but not you as an individual, and civil rights groups are very concerned that if systems are not written carefully there will be leaks and individuals will be able to identified and given the amount of personal data that we all already leak it is highly likely that no-one source would identify an individual but the combination of elements from many places would achieve that.

The BBFC site does identify that age verification is not a magic bullet, that parents and sex education in schools have roles to play, but oddly omits to mention that parental controls are available and for all the large broadband providers are mandated. The new rules around Age Verification only apply to commercial sites, so individual blogs that are not commercial are thought to be exempt and thus parents if they are concerned about children accessing pornography will still need to ensure controls are in place in the home and on electronic devices in the home.

Exemptions so far to the AV rules has been social media which many people access via apps on their mobile phones, so for many are not considered web sites and if you are faint hearted innocent searches such as BDUK can throw up surprising results. It is thought likely that the extra time for implementation may consider more around how apps fit into the age verification landscape.

The extra time will also hopefully make it clearer around how blocking will work, i.e. will blocking be required based purely on the say so of the BBFC, what appeals process will exist, will this apply to all broadband providers from the small wireless operator who has their own AS but just 100 customers through to the big BT with its many millions of customers.

Unfortunately while we can see Age Verification making it harder for people to make it past the first page of pornographic websites, it does nothing to block free sites and we expect teenagers to be ever resourceful and details of some adults might end up passed around during school, not unlike the old urban myth of every wood or hedge holding a stash of printed pornography that existed in the 1980's. The other option is that it will drive both adults and teenagers to make wider use of Virtual Private Networks (VPN) to tunnel their traffic to a service abroad, but depending on the choice of the tunnel provider people may be exposing themselves to more risk of hacks.

We had been watching to see what the main age verification tools were actually going to do, but while MindGeek has apparently being using its AGEID system in Germany for a couple of years there is nothing indicating how it works, and very similar for other age verification systems they all seem very sparse on what site admins and developers need to do to make use of them, and this is even when they may be charging 10 to 20 pence per verification. The BBFC also needs to verify which of the verification systems actually work and it also has a massive task ahead in terms of policing sites to verify that the content offered fits within the UK legal framework and there are potential legal challenges if the BBFC declares a site verified, since they may be endorsing a site that is engaged in copyright infringement which so many of the 'tube' style sites do as ripped content is uploaded by people.

It will be interesting in 2019 to see what the next stage will be, since no-one who has been elected has dared say it, but the need for Age Verification suggests that previous policy on Parental Controls has failed.

Comments

Saw this on red button yesterday, my thoughts are this might have half a chance of working to prevent 'accidental' viewing of porn, but if a teenager wants to watch porn it will be beyond what the BBFC can come up with to stop it.

  • burble
  • 6 months ago

There are already simple and effective solutions for parents to stop minors from viewing porn, such as clicking on parental controls, using OpenDNS family shield or going through your ISP. All it takes is a few minutes of study from parents to implement changes and it won't cost them a penny. This is the responsibility of parents; not a meddling nanny state.

  • spartax
  • 6 months ago

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