UK websites told to enforce age checks

New guidance from Ofcom has stated that UK websites and apps that host pornography and adult material, such as OnlyFans and PocketStars, must put in place strict age-verification processes or face severe financial penalties. 

Platforms that have under 18 users but do not specialise in pornographic material or which ban adult content under the terms of their service, such as TikTok and Snapchat, will also be expected to put measures in place to protect younger users from harmful content, such as age-estimation techniques. Age estimation refers to methods that can estimate a person’s age, usually by algorithmic means.

The heavy fines are £250,000 or 5% of applicable turnover, whichever is greater, for breaches of regulations.

 

The Ofcom guidance states that the providers should:

Restrict access to adult sites. VSPs that host pornographic material should have robust age verification in place, to protect under-18s from accessing such material.

Have clear, visible terms and conditions which prohibit uploading content relating to terrorism, child sexual abuse material or racism and enforce them effectively.

Implement tools that allow users to flag harmful videos easily. They should signpost how quickly they will respond, and be open about any action taken.

Ofcom said it also expected the platforms to put in place registration processes and subsequent checks that are strong enough to significantly reduce the risk of child sexual abuse material being uploaded and shared on their platforms.

 

Melanie Dawes, Ofcom’s chief executive, commented, “The platforms where these videos are shared now have a legal duty to take steps to protect their users. So we’re stepping up our oversight of these tech companies, while also gearing up for the task of tackling a much wider range of online harms in the future.”

The UK Government has stated its intention to push forward with it’s online safety bill which is currently undergoing pre-legislative scrutiny in parliament.

AgeGO Wins Best Age Verification Technology Solutions Award (Western Europe)

18 May 2021, Dublin, Ireland. AgeGo has been awarded Best Age Verification Technology Solutions (Western Europe) by the 2021 Irish Enterprise Awards. Created by EU Business News, the Irish Enterprise Awards are now in their fourth year and showcase exemplary Irish businesses.

AgeGO’s COO Adrien Fonzé commented, “We are very proud to have been selected for this award. Since launching AgeGO two years ago, we have continually improved our technology to create the most comprehensive age verification solution on the market today. Our age verification methods lead the industry and our technology is able to verify a user’s age anonymously while staying fully GDPR compliant because no personal data is stored.”

Awards Coordinator Katherine Benton commented: “Congratulations to AgeGO. It is with great pride that we showcase the best of the best from across the entirety of Ireland carrying out business within the EU.”

AgeGO and all the winners in the various Irish Enterprise Awards categories can be viewed at EU Business News.

French regulators push adult sites to implement age verification

Teenagers in France on mobile phones

In early March 2021, France’s media regulatory agency, the Conseil Supérieur de l’Audiovisuel (CSA) wrote to several large traffic volume adult content websites asking that they implement an age verification system by 16 March. Letters were sent to Pornhub.com, xHamster.com, XVideos.com, XNXX.com, Tukif.com, JacquieEtMichel.net, JacquieEtMicheltv.net and JacquieEtMicheltv2.net.

With the deadline now passed and if nothing is done after a fifteen day period, then the president of the CSA can call the President of the Judicial Tribunal of Paris to issue a judicial order to the companies telling them to ‘put an end to the access to this service.’ The offending individual risks three years imprisonment and a fine of €75,000, with the fine amount being multiplied by five to €375,000 for companies.

French legal experts also mentioned an intermediate step before total shutdown: having the CSA and a judge ask search engines to “dereference” or “deprioritize” the seven websites so they no longer show in search results.

The push has come about following an initiative by President Emmanuel Macron’s government regarding an amendment to Article 23 after France’s parliament passed a law last year against domestic violence that includes provisions obliging pornographic websites to install age verification, without specifying what technical means they should take. The law also gives the President of the CSA the power to send a formal notice to any company or person whose online activity allows minors to have access to pornographic content. 

Despite the passed deadline the sites appear to still be active in France. It is unclear at this point if the judicial authorities have been contacted by the CSA to report the apparent non-compliance. The sites in question are posting notices on their homepages trying to inform the public of the French government’s threats.

AgeGO offers an age verification solution for adult websites that respects all privacy laws for individuals, it is easy to implement and offers several verification methods including passport, driving licence, mobile phone and credit card. Contact us for more information.

 

UK Government plans Online Safety Bill for 2021

age verification

The UK Government outlined its plans to introduce new rules for tech firms in its Online Harms White Paper, to make the UK a safer place to be online. The safety of children is at the heart of the measures.

The new regulations will apply to any company in the world hosting user-generated content online that is accessible by people in the UK or enabling them to privately or publicly interact with others online.

All companies will need to take appropriate steps to address illegal content and activity such as terrorism and child sexual abuse. They will also be required to assess the likelihood of children accessing their services and, if so, provide additional protections for them. This could be by using age verification solutions to ensure children are not accessing platforms which are not suitable for them.

The scope includes social media, video sharing and instant messaging platforms, online forums, dating apps, commercial pornography websites, as well as online marketplaces, peer-to-peer services, consumer cloud storage sites and video games which allow online interaction. Search engines will also be subject to the new regulations. 

Tech platforms will need to do far more to protect children from being exposed to harmful content or activity such as grooming, bullying and pornography. The white paper divides online platforms into two categories:

  • Category 1 services include companies with the largest online presences and high-risk features: Facebook, TikTok, Instagram and Twitter. These companies will need to assess the risk of legal content or activity on their services with “a reasonably foreseeable risk of causing significant physical or psychological harm to adults”. They will then need to make clear what type of “legal but harmful” content is acceptable on their platforms in their terms and conditions and enforce this transparently and consistently.  All companies will need mechanisms so people can easily report harmful content or activity while also being able to appeal the takedown of content. Category 1 companies will be required to publish transparency reports about the steps they are taking to tackle online harms.
  • Category 2 services are platforms which host dating services or pornography and private messaging apps. Less than three per cent of UK businesses will fall within the scope of the legislation and the vast majority of companies will be Category 2 services.  

Ofcom is now confirmed as the regulator with the power to fine companies who fail in their duty of care. Fines will be up to £18 million or ten percent of annual global turnover, whichever is higher. It will have the power to block non-compliant services from being accessed in the UK and the government will reserve the power for senior managers to be held liable.

As well as ensuring that online businesses comply with the new laws proposed by the UK, AgeGO recommends that commercial pornography sites and adult dating platforms should begin using some kind of age verification solution to ensure users of their platforms are 18 years or over. This acts as an additional safety measure to not only to stop underage users from accessing adult content, but also ensuring compliance for their businesses. 

French Parliament Agrees to Age Verification Requirement

The French Parliament unanimously agreed in July 2020 to introduce an Age Verification (AV) requirement aimed at preventing minors from accessing pornographic websites.

France’s president, Emmanuel Macron, had made a commitment months ago to implement such a system.

According to news site Politico, Macron made the protection of children against adult content online a high-profile issue well before the coronavirus crisis hit. In January, tech companies, internet service providers and the adult movie industry signed a voluntary charter, pledging to roll out tools to help ensure minors don’t have access to pornographic content. The new French law, gives sites discretion to decide how to perform age verification. Requiring users to enter a credit card number seems to be one of the most popular options, the news site reported.

In order to enforce the law, the French audiovisual regulator CSA will be granted new powers to audit and sanction companies that do not comply, sanctions could go as far as blocking access to the websites in France with a court order, if the site does not comply within 15 days after a first warning from the audiovisual regulator CSA, the regulator will be able to ask the Paris Court of Justice to send an order to telecom operators to block the access to these sites from France.

Australia moves one step further to introducing online age verification

The Australian parliamentary committee has compiled a report that recommends creating an “e-safety commissioner” in order to develop a procedure for mandatory age verification (AV) within the next 12 months, making it mandatory for Australian citizens to submit to an identity verification service run by the federal government.

The report, entitled ‘Protecting the Age of Innocence,’ was issued by the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Social Policy and Legal Affairs in Canberra.

According to sources Australia’s AV procedure would involve minimal retention of personal information, so as to not create a honeypot of sensitive data and the retained data must be stored securely, but the committee did not recommend using a facial recognition service under development.

Additionally, the committee recommended that more regulation could be considered to capture social media sites, and did not rule out potentially bringing back mandatory internet filtering

Committee members acknowledged the U.K.’s stalled efforts at AV and called for a further review of the issue, observing the public may not trust a system that could potentially increase risks and have unintended consequences around data security and privacy.

View a PDF of the parliamentary committee report here.

German parents want a good age verification system to protect children online

Germany is looking at safeguarding children who are viewing online content and social media, which could also include age verification to protect them from online pornography. 

A recent survey published by Germany’s children’s rights organization Kinderhilfswerk (DHKW) states that that are not enough safeguards for children on social media, video and games portals, with 55% of parents saying that their children had been hurt by ‘excessive’ consumption, mobbing, violence and pornography.

93% of parents want harsher penalties for domestic and foreign platforms under Germany’s child protection laws and 97% said that a good system of age verification was important in the choice of social media services, online content and games for their children. 88% said they scanned for age suitability for films, apps, games and streaming services, when overseeing their children’s digital consumption usage.

Only 37% said that they knew who to consult about negative experiences and only 66% were inclined to consult prosecutory services, notably the police.

Late last year, Federal Family Minister Franziska Giffey submitted a draft “juvenile media protection” bill. Katja Mast, deputy leader of the SPD parliamentary party, told the German news agency DPA that such a modernization was agreed within the coalition Government. Giffey’s bill will be submitted to a Bundestag parliamentary debate before Summer 2020.

DHKW president Thomas Krüger, commented, “We need a comprehensive system of child and juvenile media protection orientated around the real usage behaviors of children and teenagers. Providers of messenger services and video platforms are insufficient.”

Poland looks set to begin age verification for adult websites

Poland’s prime minister is set to legislate an all-encompassing program to prevent children from accessing pornography online. Mateusz Morawiecki said on Polish Radio 16 December 2019 that Poles must “protect children and young people from access to pornographic material and content, just as we shield them from alcohol and drugs — with all strictness. A number of reports show that the problem of children’s easy access to porn is growing,” Morawiecki explained.

Under Poland’s new rules, websites providing pornographic material would be required to check the age of Internet users. The prime minister signaled that the government will intervene to make sure that adult content reaches adults only. Morawiecki said Poland is continuing to study the verification methods currently developed by the governments of Great Britain and Israel in preventing children’s access to porn sites as a way to perfect Polish methods. Polish family minister Marlena Maląg said she wanted the bill to be adopted by lawmakers in the first half of 2020. Almost 60% of Polish boys and over 20% of girls age 14–16 admit to viewing pornography, according to a survey cited by the Polish Press Agency (PAP).

The online cannabis industry needs better age verification

Cannabis is now fully legal in Canada and 11 U.S. states, with more US states planning to legalise cannabis. In Canada, to buy cannabis products users need to be 18 years or older, in the US the minimum age is 21 years old. Cannabis and related products can be purchased online and delivered to the consumer’s front door. However this practice has caused controversy due to age verification compliance during online transactions.

Buying in store

When a consumer buys from a dispensary, they are often greeted by a “budtender” who will ask to see the customer’s driver’s license or other government-issued ID. They inspect the ID document, usually take a copy of it for their records, and sometimes ping a third-party database to verify the age and ensure the ID is legitimate. After the customer has been vetted and their age verified, they are usually asked to scan in their ID document on subsequent visits. The newly scanned ID is compared to the ID document on file to confirm it’s a match, and the user can then enter the dispensary and make cannabis purchases.

Buying online

When a consumer buys cannabis online companies rely solely on self-reporting, where the consumer simply interacts with a pop-up on screen that asks for their date of birth. If the date of birth provided exceeds the minimum age requirement, the consumer can access the website and make online purchases. If the date doesn’t match, they’re denied access to the website.

Problems with current age verification

As online sales increase, vendors must be able to confidently determine that an individual’s digital identity matches the real-world person making the purchase, ensuring that the consumer is of legal age. There are a number of potential repercussions of mismanaged age verification in the cannabis industry, all of which could hinder the growth of its legalization. Consider the current wave of legislation impacting the e-cigarette and vaping industry for example.

AgeGO has the solution

If you run an online cannabis retail business why not integrate AgeGO? Our technology is quick and easy to integrate within any website and creates a store branded AgeGO widget that instantly offers your consumer several quick, approved age verification methods. Not only will it help protect your business by truly verifying your customers ages, but each method is quick and simple for the consumer and can be done within minutes. Additionally AgeGO stores no customer data so that their privacy is totally protected, this builds up an excellent level of trust between your business and your customer. Visit our business section for more details or contact info@agego.com 

Australia considers age verification face scanning systems for adult content websites

Australia is seriously looking into age verification for accessing porn websites. This was recently announced by the country’s Department of Home Affairs, who hope that it will serve as a pilot program for wider deployment in all sectors that need a reliable identity-matching service. The system cannot be deployed just yet, as the Parliament will have to pass the relevant biometric legislation, but it is considered to be only a matter of time before this is introduced into legislation.

Currently a user visiting a porn website is asked to verify their age by clicking on a confirmation message or entering their date of birth. The Department of Home Affairs is stating that individuals who upload their ID documents onto the age-verification system could be minors using their parents’ IDs. Therefore it is proposing facial recognition systems that will match a user’s image with their identity is the direction to go.

One thing that is troubling the biometric bill in Australia right now is people’s privacy, and what provisions should be put in place in order to safeguard this right beyond any doubt. Australia’s Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security has asked lawmakers to completely redraft the identity-matching services bill, recommending the incorporation of appropriate oversight mechanisms as well as robust privacy protection measures. In the existing version, the explanatory memorandum was found to be too generic and vague in many key elements. The bill drafting committee told the press that they have no problem accepting these recommendations, and clarified that the intention of the government is not to introduce an online mass surveillance system but a reliable identity matching platform.