The UK’s Porn Age Verification Scheme: How Will It Work?

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Are you ready for the new UK porn-verification regulations?

In the first scheme of its kind in the world, the UK will bring in mandatory age-verification laws covering adult content online from July 2019. The scheme is intended to protect children from exposure to unsuitable material on the internet but some say the laws threaten data privacy and do not go far enough to achieve their goals.

In this feature, we take a look at what the scheme covers, who it effects and how it is intended to work. We also consider the impact that it might have on the industry from within the UK plus the criticisms of how the regulations are easy to ’bypass’.



UK Introduces Porn Age Check Laws

The UK has finally confirmed the introduction of its age-check scheme to prevent minors from viewing adult content online. As of 15th July 2019, all sites that are covered by the conditions of the regulations must employ the use of age verification software to allow access to their content.

Originally proposed in 2014 by the now defunct ATVOD (Authority for Television on Demand) regulator, the regulations were enacted into law under the Digital Economy Act 2017. However, the scheme has suffered from several false start and there have been a number of delays to the commencement date.

uk porn age verification

The days of easy access to porn are over in the UK and may just be the start of more wide-spread censorship. Image via Descrier/Flickr.

Who Will Be Affected by the Porn Age Check Scheme?

Though the thinking behind the scheme is sound and there is no argument that pornographic material, intended for the over-18s, should not be freely available to view (either accidentally or purposely) by children, there are many issues surrounding the regulations.

For a start, anti-porn proponents believe that the scheme does not go far enough.

The regulations state that it is the responsibility of those sites that provide pornographic content as a primary commercial activity must verify that anyone who wishes to access their service is over the age of 18. By primary, the regulations make a distinction that at least a third of the content on a site (or app) is explicit material.

This definition means that there are lots of exclusions to the regulations including Imgur, Twitter and Reddit where users may find a good deal of pornography but does not constitute the main bulk of the site’s content.

Likewise, the word commercial is very pertinent and those sites that do not charge any money for access to their content and do not receive affiliate fees or advertising revenue are also exempt from the scheme.

Lastly, the laws affect all adult content websites worldwide and not just those whose services are based in the UK. You can find details of exactly how this is intended to work, below.

So, from 15th July 2019, if you intend visiting a commercial adult site from within the UK, you will be required to verify your age before you can view the content. Even when you first reach an adult content site, you will now be met with a landing page designed exclusively for UK IP address that must not contain any graphic images.

How Will the Porn-Age Check Scheme Work?

When you access any website, whether it is based in the UK, Europe, North America or Tonga, your computer uses an access server that generates a unique IP address; this identifies your geographic location. From 15th July, users with a UK IP address must verify themselves with site’s that host adult content and confirm that they are over the age of 18 before they can view any explicit material.

Failure of a site to perform this check can result in their service being barred in the UK. There was an original plan to issue fines of up to £250,000 but this was deemed unenforceable and that blocking sites would be far more effective.

So, how will you be able to verify your age?

Well, there are a number of systems being adopted by various adult content providers.

MindGeek, the owner of Pornhub, YouPorn and RedTube has launched its own system called AgeID which is free to use and requires users to register an email address and provide some form of age verification including credit cards, passports and driving licenses. Their system is partnered with a third-party provider who undertakes an age check and provides a simple Pass or Fail result.

AgeID authentication can be used across MindGeek’s network but may be rolled out to other adopters. The system is also available to be performed manually using a voucher (dubbed the ‘Porn Pass’, or PortesCard) that can be obtained from local shops; however, there is a charge for this.

Other systems are being adopted including the London-based AgeChecked company which will verify age compliance through an app using either a credit card or driving license. AgeChecked is being used by a variety of adult content providers and stands a good chance of becoming an industry standard ahead of the AgeID scheme.

Some other companies are already operating age verification schemes in accordance with other legislation such as similar checks which became mandatory for the UK’s gambling industry as well as more traditionally restricted services such as buying alcohol and entering a nightclub. 1Account, Yoti and AgePass are perhaps the biggest of these which hope to provide similar services for the porn industry.

uk porn ban age check laws

Image via AgeChecked.

Regulation for the scheme falls to the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) who is considering a way to offer assurances to porn audiences over the cyber-security credentials for adult content platforms. By using a kitemark system, it is hoped that those sites that operate robust and secure systems to perform age checks could use a BBFC symbol to reassure its users. The problem is that a simple logo is easy to fake and such a scheme would be voluntary.

The government is not clueless about these issues and is well aware that more could be done if they were trying to seriously eradicate the risk of minors viewing pornographic content. However, they are also aware that they are treading a very dangerous line between censorship (effectively becoming what some may deem a ‘nanny-state’) and effective regulatory control.

Whilst no-one would argue with any measures taken to protect children from exposure to inappropriate material, there is a touch of the Big Brother about this scheme that would surely make George Orwell turn in his grave.

Fortunately, plans by the Information Commissioner’s Office to require even more personal data from porn audiences has not (yet) been taken up. Certainly, at some points during the last few years of debate, it was proposed that the government keep a database of those individuals that were verified to use porn…including for which sites! The ramifications of a measure like this are almost unbearable to think about. With data breaches in government hardly being a rarity, the consequences of information like this going public is enough to send a chill down the spine.

uk age check porn laws data protection

Data protection and privacy remain an important issue for users under this new scheme. Image via Cerillion/Flickr.

How Will the Porn Age Check Laws Affect the Industry?

There is absolutely no doubt that the laws will have a negative impact on traffic coming from within the UK to adult content providers in the short-term. The laws have not been widely publicized nor has the impending change been promoted prominently on any of the major porn networks and premium sites.

Certainly, regular users in the UK are largely unaware of the implementation of the scheme, when this will happen and how they will be affected.

So, on the 15th July 2019, it is expected that traffic to adult content sites will drop sharply as a result.

In the medium term, it is incredibly likely that, instead of site-hopping across multiple platforms and providers, porn fans will simply stick to those channels that their age-verification provider allows them to use. Let’s face it, if you had to go through the process of verifying your identity each time you wanted to simply check out what’s on offer, you would soon get a bit tired of the rigmarole. Not only that but each time you share personal data online in order to get past the age-checks, you are potentially opening yourself up to a brand-new opportunity of the exposure of sensitive data to security breach. Despite the assurances of safety, no system is flawless when it comes to cybercrime.

In the long term, it is our belief that more individuals will look at legitimate ways to bypass these age-checks and employ the use of Virtual Private Networks, or VPNs.

evade uk porn ban age check laws with VPN

VPN provides can expect an upturn in business from July. Image via MadSkip/Pixabay.

A VPN effectively masks your IP address making it seem as though your computer is based somewhere other than where it is. Legal to use and easy to set up, VPNs will allow users to evade the age-verification requirements. As well as offering simple access, VPNs can provide porn audiences with greater privacy and data-protection which, in view of the current ani-porn climate in the UK, could be a serious selling point.

So, for the time being, limited though the plans may seem to some, the fact remains that, unless you are using a VPN, or accessing a non-commercial site, viewing online porn in the UK will require you to officially prove your age and, in some cases, identity.

As for whether the UK will be the first and last country to introduce age checks for online pornographic material, the answer is likely ‘No’. Australia looks set to follow suit and some other European countries are considering the idea too.

Featured image via Pexels and Kurious from Pixabay.

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