Ofcom proposals will require online providers to seek proof of being over 18 to stop children accessing content
Online pornography sites will be required to use age-checking measures to ensure users are over 18, under new guidelines.
Communications watchdog Ofcom has launched a consultation under the Online Safety Act to stop children from accessing websites that display or publish pornographic content.
The list of measures for proving someone is over 18 include: uploading a photo-ID document; facial age estimation technology; contacting your mobile network provider to allow your phone to access adult content; checking age via credit card details; and using “digital identity wallets” that store evidence of a person’s age.
Under the proposed guidelines, if technology platforms adopt the measures they will be deemed to be in compliance with the act. Companies that fail to comply face fines of up to £18m or 10% of their global annual revenue.
The Ofcom proposals do not cover user-generated pornographic content on social media sites, which will be covered by a separate Ofcom consultation.
Measures that won’t comply with the act include self-declaration of age and online payment methods that don’t carry an under-18 age limit, like debit or solon cards.
Dame Melanie Dawes, Ofcom’s chief executive, said: “Pornography is too readily accessible to children online, and the new online safety laws are clear that must change.”
“Our practical guidance sets out a range of methods for highly effective age checks. We’re clear that weaker methods – such as allowing users to self-declare their age – won’t meet this standard.”
The Ofcom consultation also suggests that the new guidelines could set a “challenge age”. Under this scenario, if age estimation technology puts a user’s age at under 25 that user will undergo a second age-check via a different method.
One in 10 children have watched pornography by the time they are nine years old, according to research published by the children’s commissioner for England.
Ofcom’s group director for online safety, Gill Whitehead, said: “We want to see the stats of how many children are currently accessing pornography to come down.”
The watchdog said sites must adhere to data protection laws with their measures, amid concerns from privacy advocates that age assurance measures will put users’ rights at risk.
The watchdog said age checks must be “technically accurate, robust, reliable and fair”. The new guidelines are not expected to come into force until 2025.
Responding to the Ofcom proposals, the Open Rights Group (ORG), which campaigns for privacy and free speech online, said age-checking technologies risked personal data being “breached, collected, shared or sold”.
Abigail Burke, a programme manager at ORG, said: “The potential consequences of data being leaked are catastrophic and could include blackmail, fraud, relationship damage, and the outing of people’s sexual preferences in very vulnerable circumstances.”News