Adult sites face stiff penalties as age checks rise again

porn-censored (1)The Government is aiming to resurrect its limp attempts at forcing adult websites to introduce age-verification measures in a rehash of the draft Online Safety Bill, designed to give children better protection from pornography.

The measures, to ensure users are 18 or over, could see people asked to prove they own a credit card or confirm their age via a third-party service, with sites that fail to act facing fines up to 10% of their global turnover.

Children’s safety groups have long been calling for age verification on porn sites, but similar attempts to bring in such measures were dropped in 2019.

Announcing the age verification plans, Digital Economy Minister Chris Philp said: “Parents deserve peace of mind that their children are protected online from seeing things no child should see.”

As well as being able to fine websites that do not follow the rules, the regulator Ofcom could block them from being accessible in the UK, with bosses of these websites held criminally liable if they fail to cooperate with Ofcom.

Previously, only commercial porn sites that allowed user-generated content were in the scope of the Online Safety Bill, but all commercial adult sites will now be covered.

Andy Burrows, of the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC), welcomed the changes but said the measures still do not go far enough.

He commented: “It’s right the Government has listened to calls to fix one of the gaps in the Online Safety Bill and protect children from pornography wherever it’s hosted.

“Crucially, they have also acted on our concerns and closed the ‘Only Fans loophole’ that would have let some of the riskiest sites off the hook despite allowing children access to extremely damaging material.

“But the legislation still falls short of giving children comprehensive protection from preventable abuse and harmful content and needs significant strengthening to match the government’s rhetoric and focus minds at the very top of tech companies on child safety.”

Privacy campaigners have slated the plans, however. Open Rights Group executive director Jim Killock claimed the rules would benefit age verification companies while offering “little practical benefit for child safety, and much harm to people’s privacy”.

He told the BBC: “There is no indication that this proposal will protect people from tracking and profiling porn viewing. We have to assume the same basic mistakes about privacy and security may be about to be made again.”

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