Opinion: Why Device-Based Age Verification is the Key to Protecting Minors Online

Opinion: Why Device-Based Age Verification is the Key to Protecting Minors Online

[This is an opinion piece by Pornhub’s Head of Community and Brand Alexzandra Kekesi]

LOS ANGELES — Across the United States, state legislators on both sides of the aisle have attempted to tackle the crucial goal of preventing minors from accessing adult content.

Last month, Texas became the latest in a wave of states to require users to verify their age by providing government-issued ID before being able to access adult platforms. On April 8, Gov. Hobbs of Arizona vetoed similar legislation, citing the need for bipartisan support of a solution that does not violate the First Amendment.

To be clear, we support age verification and the incredibly important goals behind these bills — creating a safer internet and keeping young people from accessing age-inappropriate content. However, the way most of these bills are designed will accomplish the exact opposite.

Aylo owns and operates Pornhub, a global adult entertainment platform where more than 130 million users worldwide engage with diverse types of adult content in a safe and moderated environment. For us, safety and compliance are at the core of what we do.

Our goal is to create safe, sex-positive online environments for the benefit of both creators and visitors.  We are leaders in trust and safety, and have implemented compliance measures that rival or surpass those of any other major platform on the internet.

Unfortunately, the legislation that has been introduced around the country not only raises severe concerns regarding user privacy and free speech, but also makes the internet more dangerous for adults and children. By haphazardly implementing legislation without proper enforcement, legislators are, in effect, allowing platforms to choose whether they will or will not comply, with no consequences.

As a result, traffic has migrated from responsible platforms that choose to comply, to illegal or other noncompliant sites that do not ask visitors to verify their age, that don't follow the law, that don't take user safety seriously, or that often don't even moderate content. In practice, the unintended consequence of the legislation is a less safe internet with severe added privacy risks.

While these challenges may feel insurmountable, the solution is at our fingertips: device-level age verification.

The Case for Device-Level Verification

With the touch of a button on a smartphone, computer or tablet, users should be able to mark a device as 18+, providing it access to an adult user experience. The technology to successfully verify user age at the device level exists today, and it can successfully prevent children from accessing adult content without risking the disclosure of sensitive user data.

When an adult wants to access apps or websites intended for adults, they can age-verify their user account, such as an Apple ID, Google or Microsoft account, directly through their device. The age verification is simply added into the account process, asking the user to prove their age once. When a minor uses their own device, which has not been age-verified, they will automatically be blocked if they try to access age-inappropriate sites or apps. With device-level age verification, adults’ online experience would largely be unchanged. The websites simply grant them access with no barriers because age verification has already taken place.

It goes without saying that adult content and platforms are not the only things children should be protected from accessing online. Unfortunately, without a clear standard, parents are forced to navigate a weak patchwork of potentially easily evaded verification processes for things like online dating, gaming, alcohol and cannabis.

Age restriction is a very complex subject that brings with it data privacy concerns, and the potential for uneven and inconsistent application for different digital platforms.

We have seen several states and countries try to impose platform-level age verification requirements and they have all failed to adequately protect children. Right now, there are thousands of existing sites, with new ones launching each year. In states where unworkable and unconstitutional laws have been passed, we have complied by removing access to our platform in those states. As a result, we have seen an exponential surge in searches for alternate adult sites without age restrictions or safety standards at all.

Without a uniform approach, adult material on thousands of sites that do not moderate content and contain harmful content will remain widely available to minors. Focusing on a handful of sites at a time does not solve the problem. Age verification on devices should be easy to use, secure and enforced equitably across all platforms offering adult content.

The device-level solution helps give parents the tools they need to keep their children safe. We unequivocally support a comprehensive technological and policy solution that will prevent noncompliance at the federal and state level throughout the country.

To truly have an impact on child safety, we maintain that age verification safeguards should be on the actual devices, rather than on thousands of individual sites with adult content. We are eager to work with policymakers at all levels of government to craft and adopt clear, enforceable and effective device-level age verification.

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