U.K. Age-Verification Enforcement Delay Doesn't Surprise Insiders

U.K. Age-Verification Enforcement Delay Doesn't Surprise Insiders

LONDON — When news came out this past weekend about the U.K. putting enforcement of age-verification on ice ahead of its proposed spring rollout, few industry insiders were surprised.

After all, the U.K.’s new porn age-verification regulator, the British Board of Film Classification, still had not yet released its own set of guidelines and many companies facilitating age verification were left in the dark on how to proceed.

On Saturday, U.K. officials conceded in a press release that the BBFC needed more public discussion over proposed guidelines and that age verification would be enforceable by the end of the year.

Steve Winyard, chief marketing officer for age-verification platform AVSecure, said that he’s figured that enforcement will likely start between Oct. 1 and Nov. 1 — slowed down because the BBFC cannot release approved guidance before September, when members of Parliament come back to Parliament, and that verification companies will need to be allowed a period of time to adopt and implement the final regulations.

“Whilst we appreciate that this may cause frustration for some, it does allow AVSecure to deliver a final product that surpasses our initial expectations,” Windyard told XBIZ. “We believe it will offer even greater benefits to all our users.”

Winyard said that in coming weeks there will be a four-week public consultation period, where he expects many of the issues that have been documented in the press to be weighed. Once the public consultation has been concluded there is a Parliamentary process required on the final guidance.

James Clark, a representative from AgeID, an age-verification platform developed by MindGeek, said he was skeptical about a spring enforcement launch because of the delay in parliamental consultation and approval.

"There are set timings for such processes, so the math just doesn't seem to add up for it to be ready by April," Clark told the BBC.

Alastair Graham, of the AgeChecked platform, said he was surprised that there had not been more public debate around the new statute.

"It will affect 20 to 34 million people in the U.K.," he said. "You would have thought there would be more discussion about it.”

Warren Russell, a marketer from W2Global, which is building a cloud-based tool called AVYourself, said: "We [have been] working a little bit in the dark and making our best-educated guesses as to what will and won't be acceptable.”

Once enforcement gets the green light, the BBFC will be tasked to police the web for sites that don’t comply with mandatory age-verification checks for hardcore fare in the U.K.

A BBFC spokesman told XBIZ in January that 15 full-time examiners will be part of a team to enforce the statute.

The BBFC will have the power to recommend fines of up to £250,000, or five percent of a company’s revenue, when appropriate, to offending adult sites.

It also will recommend to credit cards like MasterCard to block processing for noncomplying sites, even sites that are not in the U.K.

Payment-service providers and ancillary service providers, such as traffic companies and hosting companies, that service sites found breaking the statute could also face consequences.

Industry attorney Myles Jackman, who also is the legal director for the London-based Open Rights Group, has been opposed to age-verification controls for years.

Jackman told XBIZ that U.K. lawmakers have failed to understand the implications of their age-verification strategy, and that the postponement of enforcement is a chance for them to rethink the absence of safeguards for privacy and security.

Jackman said: “Adult industry members should be prepared to submit responses to the U.K. government consultation on age verification to explain that if implemented the policy would have: grave data privacy and security implications; is practically unworkable as it can be obviated via VPN and similar tools; could have serious economic consequences for smaller tax-paying production companies; and the U.K. government blocking non-U.K. sites may be the tacit declaration of a trade war against the U.S. and other nations.”

Winyard, meanwhile, said that he doesn’t expect the statute to experience further delays past the fourth quarter. AVSecure, he said, anticipates 20-30 million users at launch.

“From our perspective this delay is welcome as it allows orderly education of consumers and gives you extra time to consider opportunities that the age-verification law may provide,” Windyard said.