Users of online porn sites will have to upload ID to prove age
By Jim Norton Technology Editor
PORN websites will have to ensure users are over 18 by checking their ID, asking their bank or mobile providers to vouch for them or using technology that can estimate their age from images.
The watchdog Ofcom has today set out guidance on how it expects adult websites to protect young people from sexually explicit content under the Online Safety Act.
On average, children are aged just 13 when they first encounter hardcore porn online. The watchdog said it would not accept ‘ weaker’ age checks, such as allowing users to self-declare their age or simply add disclaimers or warnings to sexually explicit material.
A survey found the majority of Britons are supportive of introducing tougher measures – but half said they were worried about handing over their personal and private information.
Ofcom said all age assurance methods were subject to the UK’s privacy laws and were overseen by the Information Commissioner’s Office. Hardore porn can easily be accessed with just a click of a button, with research finding the violent imagery leads teenagers to believe strangling and slapping is a normal part of sex.
By 2025, adult sites and apps would be required to keep written records explaining how they are protecting children from accessing porn – or face a hefty fine of up to 10 per cent of their global turnover.
The regulator said it expected porn sites to ‘work with us’ and listed potential ‘ age-assurance’ measures it believes would be ‘highly effective’.
These include users asking their bank or mobile phone provider to confirm they are an adult, sharing their passport or driving licence with the website, or uploading a picture to a company that uses the latest facial analysis technology to estimate a person’s age without identifying the individual – to confirm they are the age they claim.
Dame Melanie Dawes, Ofcom’s chief executive, said: ‘Pornography is too readily accessible to children online, and the new online safety laws are clear that must change. Our practical guidance sets out a range of methods for highly effective age checks.
‘We’re clear that weaker methods – such as allowing users to self-declare their age – won’t meet this standard.
‘Regardless of their approach, we expect all services to offer robust protection to children from stumbling across pornography, and also to take care that privacy rights and freedoms for adults to access legal content are safeguarded’.
Research by Ofcom last year found 87 per cent of women and 77 per cent of men were broadly supportive of age assurance on online pornographic sites as a means of protecting children.
But among adults who have previously viewed online porn, their biggest concerns about proving their age to access the content are around data protection (52 per cent) and sharing personal information (42 per cent).
However, a report by the Institute for Economic Affairs claimed age verification for pornography threatens user privacy.
It warned: ‘Internet regulation targeted at adult content risks undermining foundational internet principles like free speech, privacy and innovation.
‘Overregulation risks pushing users to less controlled and secure environments.
‘A more collaborative approach involving governments, industry, civil society and technical experts is needed to clamp down on illicit activity while protecting internet freedom.’
dmg media (UK)