The U.K. government has said it will introduce mandatory age verification for all adult websites, to make sure those accessing them are over the age of 18. It’ll hold the companies that produce and publish the content responsible for introducing the eventual system, and force sanctions on sites that don’t follow the new rules, which will be overseen by an as yet unnamed regulator. These rules will apply to “all sites containing pornographic material.”
A public consultation on the proposed rule will take place between now and April 12, and comes after the government sought the opinion and advice of Internet providers, search companies, charities, and other affected businesses. The proposal states a new legal requirement will be put into place, where age verification controls must be enforced by all online adult content providers accessible in the U.K.. Additionally, a new regulatory framework will also be created.
The new regulator will be responsible for checking compliance, and it’s possible the task will be handed to telecoms regulator Ofcom, or a new body will be specially created. The law will include the ability to impose sanctions on any sites not complying with the new rules. In the event of finding a site without age verification, the proposal wants to give businesses whose services are used by the sites — including payments and advertising — the ability to withdraw in the event of non-compliance.
This is how the U.K. government hopes it will get around the fact many adult sites are located outside of the country. The idea is, the regulator will have sites not complying flagged up with payment and advertising companies, who will stop doing business with the sites, thereby cutting off revenue. The logic, according to the senior communications officer at the Department for Culture, Media, and Sport who spoke with Digital Trends, is that many adult sites use free content to encourage people to pay for premium access. Removing the ability to receive payments by non-complying sites will encourage them to add in an age verification system. It’ll work in the same way for advertising. No ads, no income.
What age verification system will sites need to implement? This has yet to be determined, but there are several methods being discussed, including the trusty credit card option, and a more controversial plan that will use electoral roll data, or the information tied to a phone provider. This was first discussed last year, and while it may work using anonymized data that would make it less intrusive than a credit check, there are still concerns about identities being cross-linked with Web browsing history. The good news is, the U.K government isn’t worried about what system ends up being used, and will probably recognize many different ones. The only real requirement is for it to provide, “robust formal verification,” and not just someone clicking a button saying they are indeed over 18.
The announcement is a continuation of the U.K. government’s fight to protect children online, and its efforts to make adult material harder for those under the age of 18 to view. It’s not a new scheme, with a network provider “opt-in” for adult content being introduced, and ongoing discussion regarding a content filter.
Now the scheme has entered the public consultation phase, everyone gets the chance to have their say. This can be done using an online form found on the government’s website here, where all the documentation supporting the proposal can also be viewed. The consultation period ends on April 12.
Updated on 02-16-2016 by Andy Boxall: Added in clarification on how the system will work internationally, plus links to the public consultation material