opinion

The Increasing Push for Online Age Verification

Stephen Yagielowicz

It is a decades-old problem facing the online adult entertainment industry: how to effectively prevent minors from viewing age-inappropriate material — a process that is especially problematic given the global nature of the Internet, and where many players see it as a problem caused by poor parenting — rather than being a responsibility for pornographers to undertake.

An increasing number of governments disagree over who is responsible, however; making mandatory age verification something that the industry may have to come to grips with in the very near future — especially since other industries, such as online alcohol and gaming, adopted age verification protocols — but getting a voluntary consensus among adult site operators is a process akin to herding cats; with few paysite owners willing to add hurdles to their sales proposition, when the largest free sites splash hardcore porn all over their landing pages.

A growing number of lawmakers feel the role of the parent and existing filtering technologies are inadequate safeguards for protecting youth from viewing sexually explicit content. -Tim Henning

It will take outside intervention for ubiquitous age verification, and that mandate seems forthcoming.

During the recent XBIZ 360 event in Hollywood, the Association of Sites Advocating Child Protection and ICM Registry presented a special age verification workshop, entitled, “Current State of Age Verification: What You Need to Know,” as part of its efforts to inform the industry of the outside forces affecting it.

According to ASACP Executive Director Tim Henning, his goal was to impart the most factual information possible through this workshop, intended to address an audience that had limited exposure to the topic.

He explains that the issue of online child protection is gaining popularity among governments.

“A growing number of lawmakers feel the role of the parent and existing filtering technologies are inadequate safeguards for protecting youth from viewing sexually explicit content,” Henning told XBIZ, noting that “There are growing calls for mandatory age verification for adult entertainment websites worldwide, and these calls are now most strongly being felt in the U.K.”

“The U.K. is one of the largest markets in the world for the consumption of adult entertainment websites and a testing ground that is being closely studied by others,” Henning added. “Much more attention needs to be paid to these issues, and awareness is the key to understanding how this could impact adult businesses and consumers.”

At the workshop, Henning discussed how this movement began in the U.K., as well as an overview of the players, including ATVOD, the Cameron government and the U.K. adult industry — along with the other child protection related political issues, such as the Cameron government’s attempt to mandate content filtering at the ISP level. Also on deck was an analysis of the current state of ISP-level filtering, and how this affects ATVOD’s age-verification plans, along with a look at the Digital Policy Alliance.

The session also focused on what the future could hold — such as a further spread of age verification mandates and similar measures by other governments and regulatory bodies — as well as how these ongoing efforts could affect adult entertainment businesses and consumers (including those outside of the U.K.’s jurisdiction).

For its part, ICM Registry is a corporate member of the U.K.’s Digital Policy Alliance, which leads one of the most active initiatives, the Age Verification Group, chaired by Lord Erroll. ICM Vice President Steve Winyard serves on the Age-Verification Requirements Working Group, which reports back to the main DPA group. Among its efforts are developing a Catalogue of Collaborative Requirements (CCR), with representatives from adult entertainment, advertising, alcohol, dating, e-cigarettes and other market sectors.

Winyard notes that the group is discussing the possibility of developing Publicly Accessible Standards on Age Verification, with the British Standards Institute (BSI). Also on the agenda is a mutual effort with the Korean government, which is fast-tracking age verification and leading the ISO study into the creation of new international age verification standards.

In the U.K., the National Crime Agency, City of London and the Metropolitan Police are also increasing their counter-fraud activities, and this incorporates age verification. In the E.U., new directives are being developed around Internet governance, age verification, privacy, and intellectual property protection.

“The E.U.’s new electronic ID, Authentication and Signature (eIDAS) law will impact all European citizens over the next three years but the U.K. has yet to work out its position,” Winyard said. “This is an exciting area that has certainly gathered momentum in the last few months.”

It is a momentum that will carry this movement forward in 2015, with the choice of how it happens now largely out of the hands of adult site operators, who had a chance to make a difference, and to influence the process — but cats refuse to be herded.

Whatever can be done on behalf of the industry may now be in the hands of ASACP, but it can only be an effective voice through the support of the businesses it seeks to protect. To learn more about how your company can help itself by helping the association, visit ASACP.org.

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