The Age Verification solution is a Digital Child Protection Buffer underpinned by legislation. Age Verification places responsibility on the suppliers of pornography to verify the age of the customers using their sites. This solution creates penalties for those online pornographers who are non-compliant, by blocking access to Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and financial services.
Age Verification measures are a component of the proposed legislative framework in the UK to reduce online harms. This digital child protection buffer to pornography is currently under consideration for implementation in Australia. eChildhood would like to see age-verification implemented for the online safety of our kids.
Age-verification occurs through utilising a third-party trusted verification process that accesses existing robust data sources (credit card, driver's licence etc.). Age-verification companies do not hold the data - they request verification from existing sources to ascertain the age of the person requesting to be verified. A similar form of eID is currently being implemented in European countries and is intended to protect the privacy of the user. An adult-only site (whether that be for alcohol, gambling or pornography) is not privy to any information other than if the user has been age-verified or not.
Age-verification is currently used for alcohol and tobacco purchase online. Pornography is not suitable for children and young people and as such, the same legislation should be applied. This is a measure that respects adults right to choose and children’s rights to be kept safe form potentially harmful content. Age-verification places the responsibility on the pornography industry to comply with existing classification and protective measures already implemented across other sectors (i.e. Film and Media).
No. Age-verification will not require consumers to share their personal details with a porn site. In fact, it will potentially provide users with a greater level of anonymity. The companies emerging to provide the verification solutions will verify the age of someone using a number of options such as via the face-to-face purchase of a card, uploading documents online, or other digital measures. The company will then issue the individual a digital token which, in effect, tells the porn company that this individual has been verified as being over 18. That is the only thing the porn company needs to know. Not your name. Not your address or credit card number. Companies selling alcohol and tobacco along with betting companies, will also use the same systems. Having a digital ID will not necessarily single a person out as a consumer of porn.
Some concerns have been expressed about an AV provider called “AgeID,” which is owned by Mindgeek – the same company that Dr. Gail Dines of Culture Reframed has regularly exposed as a porn industry leader. However, even here it should be noted that AgeID is legally constituted as a separate entity from Pornhub; it would be illegal for the one entity to exchange any personally identifiable information with the other without the express consent of the owner of the information.
Every day, internet users take a risk with their personal data — everything from health information and banking records to driving license data are stored online. Age-verification companies will be subject to strict data protection standards. The AV Regulator in the UK is the British Board of Film Classification. They are expected to publish a list of AV solutions that are both effective and privacy compliant.
The bulk of the industry are already on board. In February 2018, an industry newsletter stated that they are fully aware “Britain’s efforts [are] a model for those to come.” The Free Speech Coalition – a U.S.-based trade association for the porn industry – indicated that “with the Digital Economy Act in the UK, we’re likely to see similar regulation elsewhere….”
If porn companies refuse to comply, they could find themselves subject to a range of financial and other sanctions. The Regulator will notify search engines, social media sites, payments providers, and other online ancillary service providers of the identities of any non-compliant porn sites. The expectation is that these businesses will withdraw their services from the porn sites. If a payments company were to withdraw its services, it is likely this would have an impact on the porn company’s ability to collect revenues worldwide.
The UK government is first focusing on the sites that attract the most traffic. They will also closely monitor evasion tactics and respond accordingly.
Age-verification is an issue of child protection. Censorship is when something is prohibited altogether. Adult consumers will still be able to access all the legal online pornography that is published by porn companies from anywhere in the world.
Porn sites are required to verify the age of all porn consumers trying to view content from a UK IP address. One potential circumvention strategy, therefore, would be to use a VPN that allows a user to appear to be in another country. However, even here, some of the VPNs are likely to require age-verification, in which case the policy is not compromised.
A 2018 cross-national survey of parents in Australia, New Zealand and the UK found that 49% of parents were concerned that their kids would see sexual images or videos of someone naked. In addition, according to UK research carried out by YouGov for the BBFC, 88% of parents with children aged 7-17 agree there should be robust age-verification controls in place to stop children seeing pornography online. Learn more about parental concerns here.
Currently, families across Australia individually arrange for their own protection to content that most don’t want their children to see. eChildhood believes that this measure does not adequately comply with the laws and the needs of society for protection. Increasingly, pornography is being recognised as a public health crisis. A response is required by the whole of government and community - this includes parents, but it is beyond the capacity of parents alone to solve this problem.
According to a report by OFCOM in November 2016, 12-15 year olds were marginally more likely than in 2015 to say they had deleted their history records (17% vs. 11%); amended the settings to use a web browser in privacy mode (10% vs. 6%); and disabled any filters or controls (3% vs. 1%). This means that 97% of kids don’t know how or have not bothered to disable filters.
Getting around any filter or restriction using a VPN, proxy or TOR, is a choice by the user. Statistically, this is RARELY carried out by minors. Remembering that age-verification is not the same as filtering, and its implementation is designed to protect children, it is completely inaccurate to believe the myth that kids will ‘easily get around the controls’.
With so much hardcore content available online, it is impossible to ensure that all content is age verified. “Amateur” porn sites are not covered, although the truth is there are not very many of these. In addition, content exchanged via Bluetooth or USB sticks is not covered. Tech-savvy teens will no doubt still try to find ways to access pornography. However, the huge volumes currently available for anyone to look at will disappear from within the UK, making it much less likely that younger children will access this type of content, whether accidentally or otherwise. A robust public health approach is being developed in the UK to ensure children and young people have access to accurate sexual health information and education.
Age-verification applies only to commercial pornography providers, even if the content is offered for free. If the site attracts revenue through advertising or it sells premium ‘paid’ content, it is classed as commercial. Therefore, AV will not change the way YouTube and social media platforms operate (unless they link to noncompliant pornography sites, in which case, they will be requested to block these sites or introduce AV).
That said, there are increasing calls for platforms such as YouTube, social media, apps, and gaming sites to design their platforms responsibly and respond to technology pitfalls with technological solutions. Safety by Design standards are being developed by the Australian Office of the eSafety Commissioner to “assist industry to embed user safety into technologies from the early stages of development by adopting tools to help children and young people navigate the online world in a safe way.” In the UK, the NSPCC has called for internet companies to be governed by minimum standards that safeguard children such as safe accounts with default privacy settings. In addition, 2019 will see OFCOM coordinating regulators from around the globe “to protect the public from online harms on social media platforms, many of which are based in the U.S.”
Measures are likely to include filtering of harmful content and responding to harmful conduct swiftly. It is expected that improvements made on any of the platforms, would not be limited to a region, but rather, benefit children around the world.
The BBFC is the regulator in the UK - their website provides extensive information about how age-verification for online pornography is implemented and additional details on on how AV arrangements will work can be found here. The official UK Government press release also provides helpful and accurate information.
NOTE: These FAQs were written by Liz Walker with the support of John Carr from the UK Children's Charities' Coalition on Internet Safety. A number of the FAQs were first published by Culture Reframed. Liz is Director of Health Education at Culture Reframed and also Deputy Chair of eChildhood.
eChildhood would like to see age-verification implemented for the online safety of our kids. eChildhood is the only Australian organisation to adopt and mobilise a public health approach to pornography impacts for the safety and wellbeing of children and young people in Australia and our future generations. We are connecting with government, law, policy makers, organisations and professionals that work with children and youth, parents and carers, and technology firms to see robust measures implemented to protect children from pornography harms in Australia.
If work for an organisation that represents children and young people, contact us if you would like to be involved in a national coalition led by eChildhood to implement a public health approach to pornography harms on children and young people.