LOS ANGELES — One of the biggest challenges facing the online adult entertainment industry over the past few years has been keeping abreast of the U.K.’s efforts to mandate age verification before allowing the country’s consumers to access age-restricted materials.
Questions of how and when implementation would occur; which AV solutions would enable compliance; and even which sites would be required to comply, led to some confusion for website operators, as well as new opportunities for service providers — but this all came to a halt when after several delays, the U.K. shelved its plans.
But not so fast.
An “Urgent Question” has been raised in Parliament — and the answer may have adult website operators worried.
According to Parliament’s official website, “if an urgent or important matter arises which an MP believes requires an immediate answer from a government minister, they may apply to ask an urgent question,” and in this case the pointed question posed by MP Margot James concerned “the future of age verification for online pornography.”
James explained that the sudden cancellation of the AV rollout “came as a shock to children’s charities, the age verification industry, the regulator and the online pornography industry itself, all of which were ready for, and expecting, the age verification regulations to be brought into law by the end of this year.”
Answering was Matt Warman, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, who engaged in a discussion with James and other MPs, during which a much more comprehensive approach to the problem of age- and identity-verification was revealed — including a call for mandatory facial recognition before being granted access to adult-oriented websites.
“It will always be the priority of this Government, and probably of any Government, to protect citizens in general and children in particular. We will do that online just as much as we would seek to do offline,” Warman explained and noted this had driven the U.K. to change its approach to age verification on the internet. “Adult content is too easily accessed online and more needs to be done to protect children from harm. We want to deliver the most coherent approach possible.”
Warman believes children can be better protected through the Online Harms agenda than through the measures dictated by the Digital Economy Act, which, for example, did not regulate social media outlets, such as Twitter, which was mentioned as being a conduit for underage users to be exposed to porn accidentally or otherwise and thus in need of regulation.
“I shall be straightforward,” Warman stated, “it will take slightly longer to do it through this mechanism, but we will go as fast as we can and deliver on the agenda in a more comprehensive way.”
Warman also supports the continued participation of the BBFC in this process, because of its expertise in content classification, and revealed that some £2.2 million (~$2.85 million) was spent by the government on AV to date.
Despite the investment, lingering concerns remain over age verification protocols, data security, privacy and more, with tech companies charged with taking a more proactive role — a role that some have already embraced, as was noted by one MP.
“Keeping our children safe must always be a priority, and I too am deeply concerned by this delay. Age verification is achievable,” Vicky Ford (Chelmsford) stated and pointed to a working example of AV tech. “The company Yoti in my constituency is already providing highly accurate digital ID in 170 different countries.”
Timeliness rather than technology seemed to be on the minds of most MPs, however, with widespread dismay being expressed over the inevitable delays that would result from changing tactics at this late stage in the game; and many questions about why the initial proposals could not move forward with additional measures added later.
“We are committed to the U.K. becoming a world leader in the development of online safety technology as a whole. This is a part of that, and it includes age verification tools, which will continue to be a key part of it,” Warman stated of the expanded effort. “This is not an indefinite postponement of the measures that we are seeking to introduce, it is an extension of what they will achieve.”
The full exchange is available here.
This author has long commented that “age verification” is a ruse in some quarters to implement “identity verification” — crumbling any remaining naïve notions of personal anonymity on the internet — and this now appears to be the more predominant line of legislative thinking regarding the broader threats that internet usage both enables and exacerbates.
Regardless, AV isn’t dead. It appears to be merely delayed, once again, as it morphs into something much more comprehensive.