U.K.'s Age Verification Law Likely to Expand Beyond Porn

U.K.'s Age Verification Law Likely to Expand Beyond Porn
Rhett Pardon

LONDON — Thousands of online businesses — not only those that offer adult entertainment content — are likely to be affected by the roll out of the U.K.’s Digital Economy Act, which was passed through Parliament earlier this year.

Online companies that sell e-cigarettes, knives, alcohol and pharmaceuticals, which typically would require identification at brick-and-mortar stores, could be regulated under the law, which focused originally on mandatory age verification for the consumption of commercial adult content.

London attorney Myles Jackman, who also is the legal director of the Open Rights Group, a nonprofit group that advocates on digital rights issues, told XBIZ that the likely expansion of the Digital Economy Act to include other products and services sold online beyond pornography is “predictably inevitable.”

In fact, later this month the London-based Digital Policy Alliance plans on addressing the wider application of “age-gating” to other sectors at a formal meeting.

The DPA’s Age Verification and Internet Safety panel will discuss the likely expansion of the law among members on Tuesday, Sept. 19.

The DPA is working on the assumption that the act is likely to be used as a template for the launch of age verification for other sectors that would typically require age verification at brick-and-mortar stores for products and services. Those businesses, the DPA believes, likely will have to increase granularity and install age verification at page level.

In April, when the law is set to be enacted, age checks to ensure users are 18 years old or over will be made mandatory for any website — accessed on desktop or mobile — that provides hardcore adult entertainment on a commercial basis to those in the U.K.

The act allows a U.K. regulator to fine businesses that refuse to comply, force ISPs to block content it deems obscene and order third-party payment services to withdraw billing support. Even foreign businesses, including those in the U.S., are affected by the law.

The U.K. has yet to appoint an official regulator, although fingers have pointed to the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) to assume the role. A decision over the appointment will be announced in coming weeks.

Stephen Winyard, who has been following every step of the Digital Economy Act as chief marketing officer of ad-verification tool company AVSecure Ltd., told XBIZ that the law will have a wide reach well past porn when it becomes effective.

“There are many other sectors of online trade that either require AV or will require it due to impending legislation,” Winyard said. “Even supermarkets that deliver alcohol from online sales are seeking ways to improve their service by watching the different methods of age verification that evolve from innovation due to the act.

“Social media sites are also in the cross hairs as they hold much adult content and governments are addressing methods to help address this, stimulated by the Digital Economy Act,” Winyard said.

Part of the law passed by Parliament includes a pledge to ensure that social media platforms like Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and Tumblr abide by the law and protect privacy and security.

The pledge vows a sanctions regime to ensure compliance, giving regulators the ability to fine or prosecute companies that fail in their legal duties and to order the removal of content where it clearly breaches U.K. law.

“The Digital Economy Act will certainly focus the minds of other countries that are watching closely as they also want to adopt or implement solutions that help prevent underage from accessing adult content,” Winyard said.

“I think the U.K. is the tipping point, and over the coming years third-party AV solutions that provide consumer privacy and anonymity along with regulatory compliance will be widely used,” Winyard said. “Exciting and challenging times!”

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