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Press Release: Age Verification providers warn ICO to learn lessons from their French and German counterparts when trying to regulate the porn industry

September 2, 2022

PRESS RELEASE

Age Verification providers warn ICO to learn lessons from their French and German counterparts when trying to regulate the porn industry

London, 2 September – The trade body representing leading suppliers of technology to anonymously verify the age of online users welcomed the ICO’s announcement that it now accepts that pornographic sites are “likely to be accessed by children”. As a result, these sites will now be firmly regulated to prevent them using personal data to target children with harmful adult-only content.  They also warned the regulator not to follow the approach of the French and German authorities by only targeting a few high-profile porn sites.

The Age Verification Providers Association emphasised that there is already a wide choice of effective methods that websites can adopt to prevent children accessing inappropriate content.  These include checking a user has access to a credit card, is on the electoral roll, or if they prefer, that their mobile network has unblocked their account to allow adult content.  People can also ask their bank to confirm their age, or use facial or voice analysis to estimate their age using artificial intelligence techniques, which also cater for people who do not have access to an identity document.

Co-Chair of the Association, Warren Russell, said:

 

“The age verification industry is working together to develop clear standards to ensure robust, privacy-preserving online age checks, and to allow customers to re-use the same age check they may complete to order beer from a supermarket to access adult websites.  We know that children are not only likely to access porn sites, but as Ofcom research shows, definitely do so and in very large numbers.”

The Association has also made public its recent advice to both the ICO and Ofcom, which is already responsible for enforcing age verification laws on video-sharing platforms such as OnlyFans.  They warn that the use of traditional “risk-based” regulatory approaches which target only the largest, most high-profile sites, could leave regulators tied up in the courts for years.  This is because if only a few sites are under pressure to check that their users are adults, those sites risk losing many customers to competitors who are not requiring proof of age.

Fellow Co-Chair, Alastair Graham, added:

 

“When the British Board of Film Classification was preparing to implement age checks of adult sites, it realised that it could only secure the cooperation of the industry if it committed to creating a level playing field, enforcing the new rules across all sites at the same time. If only a handful are targeted, then those sites will have no choice but to fight the rules, as they are already doing in France and Germany, because they know that being the only sites to do so will potentially kill their business anyway.  The adult industry is prepared to do the right thing, but it takes a strong and effective regulator to make them all do it at the same time.”

Responding to concerns about privacy, the Association emphasises that the most important feature of age verification technology for adult websites is its guarantee of anonymity.  This is achieved through data minimisation techniques, including not retaining centrally any personal data after a user has proven their age.

Concerns that the ICO will be unable to enforce the Code on overseas-based porn sites are misplaced, argue the AV providers.  Reputable global companies that provide essential services critical to the business model of the adult industry, such as search, hosting, advertising and payments, will not be willing to work with sites which are judged by the ICO to be breaking UK law.

Iain Corby, Executive Director, commented:

 

“Age verification is the ability to prove your age online without disclosing who you are.  By using tightly regulated, standards-based, independent age verification providers, no personal data is given to adult websites beyond a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ response to whether the user is 18+, and no records are kept of which sites a user is visiting.  Given that it is the ICO which is the relevant regulator, we know we will be under close scrutiny for our data security practices and privacy-preserving design, and we welcome that.

It is now critical that companies that supply supporting services, such as hosting or advertising, make it clear that they will not work with non-compliant sites in the UK, as leading global payment providers have already demonstrated.”

 

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