Porn sites must legally verify users’ age under new robust checks

By Claire Schofield
Tuesday, 8th February 2022, 8:40 am
Updated Tuesday, 8th February 2022, 8:40 am
Pornography websites will be legally required to verify users are 18 or over (Photo: Adobe)
Pornography websites will be legally required to verify users are 18 or over (Photo: Adobe)

Pornography websites will be legally required to verify users are 18 or over under a shake-up of online safety rules.

The government has expanded the range of websites that face being blocked in the UK unless they actually verify users are at least 18, instead of just allowing visitors to tick a box.

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The Online Safety Bill, which intends to prevent children from accessing adult material on the internet, will be strengtehned to cover all commercial porngraphy sites to ensure “robust checks” are put in place.

Websites could use secure age verification technology to confirm a user possesses a credit card and is therefore at least 18, or use a third-party service to confirm someone’s age against government data.

Any sites that fail to act face being fined up to 10% of their annual global turnover or could be blocked in the UK by Ofcom, the sector’s regulator.

Bosses of such sites could also be held criminally liable if they fail to cooperate with Ofcom.

Digital minister Chris Philp said: “It is too easy for children to access pornography online.

Parents deserve peace of mind that their children are protected online from seeing things no child should see.

“We are now strengthening the Online Safety Bill so it applies to all porn sites to ensure we achieve our aim of making the internet a safer place for children.”

Before, only commercial porn sites that allow user-generated content were in the scope of the Bill, but the update means all sites are now covered by the proposed new rules.

Sites to decide how to comply

The government said the onus will be on the companies and sites themselves to decide on how best to comply with the new rules, but Ofcom may recommend the use of certain age verification technology.

Any measures put in place should not process or store data that is irrelevant to the purpose of checking someone’s age.

Andy Burrows, head of child safety online policy at the NSPCC, said: “It’s right the government has listened to calls to fix one of the gaps in the Online Safety Bill and protect children from pornography wherever it’s hosted.

“Crucially, they have also acted on our concerns and closed the ‘Only Fans loophole’ that would have let some of the riskiest sites off the hook despite allowing children access to extremely damaging material.

“But the legislation still falls short of giving children comprehensive protection from preventable abuse and harmful content and needs significant strengthening to match the government’s rhetoric and focus minds at the very top of tech companies on child safety.”

Alex Davies-Jones, Labour’s shadow minister for tech, gambling and the digital economy, added: “Labour has long called on the government to offer security for young people online, and we’re glad it has accepted our call for all pornography sites to stop children accessing them by using age-verification technology.

“We need strict age protection rules, while tightly regulating age-verification tech to ensure they are not being used to collect unnecessary personal data and to protect people’s privacy online.

“Ultimately the Tories’ persistent delays on online safety legislation means that another generation have grown up with access to harmful content online – they can and must do better.”