On Tuesday, 5 December, Ofcom, the UK's communications regulator, issued new age-check guidance to operators of pornographic websites and apps, requiring them to introduce stricter technical measures to ensure service users are over the age of 18.
Under the Online Safety Act 2023 (OSA), porn sites must ensure children under 18 are not normally able to access any pornographic material offered on the service. The guidance requires that sites implement reliable age verification measures using either age estimation, age verification, or a combination of both. Such age verification measures may include open banking, photo ID matching, facial age estimation, mobile network operator age checks, credit card checks and digital identity wallets.
The guidance states weaker age verification methods will not be sufficient and that whatever measures are implemented, they must be highly effective in determining whether a user is over 18 or not.
In a statement responding to the guidelines, Abigail Burke, Programme Manager for Platform Power at Open Rights Group, said: "Age verification technologies for pornography risk sensitive personal data being breached, collected, shared, or sold. The potential consequences of data being leaked are catastrophic and could include blackmail, fraud, relationship damage, and the outing of people's sexual preferences in very vulnerable circumstances"
Furthermore, Burke expressed concern over Ofcom's reliance on the UK's data protection laws and the Information Commissioners Office (ICO), given that the Data Protection and Digital Information Bill will significantly weaken our privacy protections. Concerning the ICO, Burke said it had: "proven itself to be one of the weakest data regulators in Europe and is in urgent need of reform." Instead, Burke called on Ofcom to go further by setting "clearer standards and guidelines to ensure users' data will be protected from the substantially increased risk of fraud and cybercrime that comes with invasive age verification technologies."
In related news, infosecurity magazine reports on a new study from the European Policy Information Center (EPICENTER) and the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA).
The report: The XXX Factor, examines the challenges associated with implementing effective age verification for adult content and its impact on broader internet freedoms. In particular, the report highlights that: "Mandatory age verification could significantly increase the amount of sensitive data held by third parties and the frequency at which it is collected, exposing users to privacy breaches and abuse."
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