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Online Safety Bill will require porn sites to verify age of UK users

However, internet users are concerned the proposal will threaten online privacy and open new opportunities for blackmail

Pornhub logo on smartphone

Websites containing pornographic content will be obliged to use secure age verification technology – or face a fine of 10% of their global annual turnover from Ofcom.

The latest Online Safety Bill proposal coincides with Safer Internet Day, and comes almost four years after the UK government delayed compulsory age verification due to online privacy threats.

On Tuesday, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) announced that pornography sites will either have to verify that UK-based users possess a credit card or use third-party age verification technology providers to confirm users’ age against government data.

If the sites fail to cooperate with Ofcom, their executives could also be held criminally liable.

According to digital minister Chris Philp, the provision will help to make the internet “a safer place for children”, as research found that children as young as seven years old stumble upon pornographic content online, with 61% of 11-13-year-olds describing their viewing as mostly unintentional. Moreover, 63% of 16 and 17 year olds had seen pornography on social media platforms than on pornographic web sites (47%).

“It is too easy for children to access pornography online. Parents deserve peace of mind that their children are protected online from seeing things no child should see,” said Phelps.

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However, internet users were quick to point out that the proposal will threaten online privacy and open new opportunities for blackmail, as seen in the 2015 Ashley Madison data leak, while also being insufficient in protecting children from adult content.

“Government wants to bring in the #onlinesafetybill but they forget that kids can literally download a VPN from the app store and avoid [UK] verification checks by changing ip [sic] & country,” one Twitter user stated.

According to privacy advocate Open Rights Group, age verification for online pornography will provide more harm than protection.

“Collecting identity documents in a way that allows them to potentially be correlated with the pornographic content viewed by a user represents a serious potential risk to personal and potentially highly sensitive data,” the organisation warned in 2018, when the proposal was last explored.

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