Jon Porter reports via The Verge: UK telecoms regulator Ofcom has laid out how porn sites could verify users’ ages under the newly passed Online Safety Act. Although the law gives sites the choice of how they keep out underage users, the regulator is publishing a list of measures they’ll be able to use to comply. These include having a bank or mobile network confirm that a user is at least 18 years old (with that user’s consent) or asking a user to supply valid details for a credit card that’s only available to people who are 18 and older. The regulator is consulting on these guidelines starting today and hopes to finalize its official guidance in roughly a year’s time.
Ofcom lists six age verification methods in today’s draft guidelines. As well as turning to banks, mobile networks, and credit cards, other suggested measures include asking users to upload photo ID like a driver’s license or passport, or for sites to use “facial age estimation” technology to analyze a person’s face to determine that they’ve turned 18. Simply asking a site visitor to declare that they’re an adult won’t be considered strict enough. Once the duties come into force, pornography sites will be able to choose from Ofcom’s approaches or implement their own age verification measures so long as they’re deemed to hit the “highly effective” bar demanded by the Online Safety Act. The regulator will work with larger sites directly and keep tabs on smaller sites by listening to complaints, monitoring media coverage, and working with frontline services. Noncompliance with the Online Safety Act can be punished with fines of up to [$22.7 million] or 10 percent of global revenue (whichever is higher).
The guidelines being announced today will eventually apply to pornography sites both big and small so long as the content has been “published or displayed on an online service by the provider of the service.” In other words, they’re designed for professionally made pornography, rather than the kinds of user-generated content found on sites like OnlyFans. That’s a tricky distinction when the two kinds often sit together side by side on the largest tube sites. But Ofcom will be opening a consultation on rules for user-generated content, search engines, and social media sites in the new year, and Whitehead suggests that the both sets of rules will come into effect at around the same time.