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ATVOD Demand Mandatory UK Internet Age Checks for Adult Websites

Friday, March 28th, 2014 (8:35 am) - Score 1,005
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The Authority for Television On Demand has called on the Government to reinforce in law the requirement for UK operators of adult websites, specifically those that peddle pornography, to put workable Age Verification in front of R18 content or risk having their funding sources blocked. Now they just need to figure out the “how“.

The call comes shortly after a parliamentary committee urged the Government to do more to combat under-age exposure to online porn. At present most of the major broadband ISPs already offer optional network-level filtering (censorship) controls, which block adult websites of many different varieties (not just porn), but naturally it would be better to solve the problem at its source; at least in the limited areas of a global Internet where UK law actually applies.

A study commissioned by ATVOD found that one website alone (Pornhub) had been visited by 112,000 boys (aged 12 to 17-years-old) in the UK and 6% of children (aged 15 years or younger) had accessed an adult website. In general, out of all the 45,000 Internet users voluntarily monitored by special kit (similar to that used for measuring TV audiences), 23% of active Internet users were found to have visited an “adult site“.

Ruth Evans, ATVOD Chair, said:

We do not advocate censorship … There is nothing in the ATVOD Rules which interferes with the right to provide sexually explicit material to an adult online. But pornography is a product which is produced and designed for use by adults, not children.

That is why the industry that makes and sells it calls itself ‘the adult industry’. There cannot be any justification for UK providers of sexually explicit pornographic material to make such images available to under 18s. The law requires that UK on demand services keep such material out of reach of minors and we are committed to ensuring that UK providers of video on demand services comply with the statutory rules. But we have no control over services that come from outside the UK.

These findings expose the scale of the problem of child access to pornography on adult websites operated from outside the UK. The Government needs to act urgently with a range of measures to protect children from this content.”

Credit card companies have already signalled that they’d be willing to restrict the flow of funds to adult websites that didn’t comply with calls for access controls on related content. In principal this all sounds like a much better approach that forcing ISPs to censor the Internet via unreliable filtering technology.

The problem is usually, how will it work? A site that finds itself banned wouldn’t be able to use Credit Card Verification, which in any case remains highly unreliable as a means of identifying somebodies age (some situations allow CC’s to be held by minors and it’s not like a child never “borrowed” their parents card before). A third-party online ID service might be an option but nobody is sure how that would work, what it might cost and whether it could even be reliably / securely implemented.

Meanwhile even if a lot of money was spent to introduce such a system then none of it would actually prevent those who go actively seeking such content. The number of ways for circumventing censorship are vast, which is a product of how the “self-healing” Internet was originally designed to work (many different paths can be taken to reach the same information). Just look at Turkey’s fail attempts to ban Twitter and YouTube, which millions circumvented with ease. As ever the best age verification system remains good parenting and education.

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By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.
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