Expect long queues at your corner shop on 15th July
Yes, 15th July 2019 has been announced as the date when Age Verification should be operational on all commercial pornography websites that people can access from a connection geo-located as in the United Kingdom.
The announcement of the firm date is on the gov.uk website and for those wanting to read more on the topic there is a BBFC ran website https://www.ageverificationregulator.com/ that providers more background, though for webmasters there seems to be a lack of information about which actual verification services are considered suitable, beyond stating that a simple enter your date of birth is not enough.
- Porn sites must check age of users or risk facing sanctions
- New approach is the first of its kind in the world, and puts in place the same protections that exist offline
- Stricter measures in place to protect users’ data and privacy
The UK will become the first country in the world to bring in age-verification for online pornography when the measures come into force on 15 July 2019.
It means that commercial providers of online pornography will be required by law to carry out robust age-verification checks on users, to ensure that they are 18 or over. The move is backed by 88% of UK parents with children aged 7-17, who agree there should be robust age-verification controls in place to stop children seeing pornography online.
Websites that fail to implement age-verification technology face having payment services withdrawn or being blocked for UK users.Core details on Age Verification
The part about commercial providers is important, so while the big tube type sites who dominate search engine results will fall inside the rules, smaller sites with self generated content will not. There is a rule of thirds involved too on whether a site is commercial, so apps such as twitter escape since they are considered to not have more than 1/3rd of their content classified as pornography. So in terms of stopping children stumbling on pornographic video and images (remember text is excluded) it may stop some, but may just mean that rather than being a click or two away a couple more clicks are needed.
Methods for adults wanting to access pornography in the UK will involve sharing some personal data that can verify you as being over 18, e.g. credit card details, passport or buying a age id pass on the high street. All of these methods are open to abuse by children, e.g. borrowing the documents for a while or getting an older 'friend' to buy them a pass on the high street, but if the key is stop children stumbling on porn by accident it could be said that if they are using 'borrowed' details or VPN bypass mechanisms they are actively seeking out the content.
In an attempt to help the public avoid scam sites that are bound to appear to harvest personal data there is a AV symbol that sites can display, though any scam site is likely to just use the image anyway and the simplicity of the image means even if the BBFC was to reverse image search that drawing the image using toolkits rather than hosting it as a PNG or JPEG will be easy.
The more contentious area arises over the punitive action taken that will be taken against the millions of sites that are not going to comply, i.e. the BBFC has its work cut out. The intent seems to be that only the largest sites will be pursued initially and if sites fail to complain sanctions such as a fine, getting card payment processors to withdraw facilities and similar for advertising are intended to take place before the final step of adding a site to a block list.
ISPA supports the Government’s commitment to protecting child internet safety, and our members have long been at the forefront of online safety.
The new age verification measures are targeted at online pornography providers and are intended to prevent children from stumbling onto sites that contain commercial pornographic material. ISPs have an enforcement role in this policy to block websites that do not comply with these regulations and it is important to clarify that ISP blocking will only be used as a last resort. Our members are expecting high levels of compliance from online pornography providers, and it is the role of the regulator, the BBFC, to ensure that these sites remain committed to age verification.
Age verification represents a significant change to online content regulation. It is therefore important that this new policy is introduced sensibly and proportionately and that the public’s expectations are managed effectively. Our members will work collaboratively with the BBFC, providing constructive input to ensure that any challenges are swiftly addressed and the implementation of the regime is as effective as possible.Andrew Glover, the Chair of the Internet Services Providers’ Association
The success of the Age Verification system is likely to be keenly studied as part of the Online Harms White Paper, where the short summary is that to make the UK Internet space the safest in the world it will become child friendly by default, with wider use of age verification to confirm someone is an adult accessing a service. The hardest part seems to be how to know that the person typing in personal details is actually the person who the details below to and that is a conundrum that is difficult to solve.
While parents will largely be happy with the extra hurdles put in place for accessing pornography, only time will tell what the wider reaction will be and whether the new system may just introduce teenagers to browsers such as Opera with a built-in VPN function.