War on Porn Steps Up

No Porn Sign

Age Verification to prevent children under the age of 18 from accessing online pornography is set for rollout in the UK. The House of Lords approved the final piece of legislation relating to guidance for the new UK Age Verification system this week (Dec. 11, 2018), with final sign-off from the House of Commons poised. Enforcement is anticipated to begin in early 2019. 

Here are some common questions and issues that are being raised. 

I don’t want to give my personal details to a porn site.

Age Verification will not require consumers to share their personal details with a porn site. 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.

How will the UK make sure get porn companies to comply?

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.

There are tons of porn sites. How will the government restrict them all with regulatory demands?

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 the first step toward censorship on the internet. That’s not the role of the government.

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.

It’s impossible to block all content and kids will find a way around it.

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.

Will the UK AV stop porn on YouTube and social media as well?

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 to assist the 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.

This article first appeared on the Culture Reframed website.

 

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