OFCOM (UK Federal Communications Commission) has published a bill for age restrictions for online serviceswhich offers explicit sexual content. These (yet unapproved) recommendations are a step towards strengthening enforcement of the recently passed Internet Safety Act, which requires platforms displaying or publishing pornography in the UK to ensure that children cannot normally encounter adult content on their sites or apps.
The agency cites studies that show that children are introduced to online pornography at an average age of 13, with 27% viewing it by the age of 11 and 10% by the age of 9. Furthermore, it states that 79% of children have seen violent pornography before their 18th birthday.
OFCOM states that sites or apps that host adult content in the UK must implement a method of ensuring a user’s age, either through direct verification, age estimation using a facial scan, or a combination of both. She emphasized that the current weaker measures (e.g. statements or warnings) will not help.
The UK could fine the company up to £18m or 10% of its global revenue (whichever is greater) if the company fails to comply with the guidelines. This gives platforms like Pornhub a significant financial incentive to comply.
One of OFCOM’s proposed safeguards is to ask users to consent to share bank details, to confirm that they are over 18 years of age. Another option is comparison with photo: Users would upload an ID and take a live picture of their face to ensure a match. Another approved method is age estimation using a scan user’s face (however, this approach would need to include additional verification methods for adults whose faces look significantly younger).
Another approved method in the proposal is age verification by wireless carriers (wide blocking of age-restricted content). Users could opt out of this restriction by proving to their mobile operator that they are of legal age, and this confirmation is then shared with the online pornography service. A solution would also be to verify the age using owning a credit card (credit card applicants in the UK must be over 18 years of age), where appropriate use digital wallets to confirm the user’s age.
OFCOM has said it will publish final guidance in early 2025. Enforcement should follow soon after.