The Digital Economy Act and age verification on adult websites: the facts

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What is the Digital Economy Act?

The Digital Economy Act is a law introduced by the UK government that includes measures to prevent children from accessing pornographic content online. Age verification is a child protection measure, introduced as part of the government’s ambition to make the UK the safest place to be online.

When does the Digital Economy Act take effect and who does it apply to?

From the enforcement date, on 15th July 2019, anyone who wants to access a UK adult website will be required to prove they’re 18 or over.

Does the Digital Economy Act apply to all adult websites?

The law will require any website with more than one-third of pornographic content to securely verify that their visitors are 18 or over.

What is the BBFC’s role in the Digital Economy Act?

Under the Digital Economy Act 2017, all online commercial pornography services accessible from the UK are required to perform age verification to prevent children from viewing adult content.

The UK government has appointed the BBFC as the Age Verification Regulator because of its knowledge of online regulation and proven experience in classifying films, videos, websites and more.

How will the Digital Economy Act work with sites that are based in another country, with a different legal system? How will they be made to comply?

If an adult site is accessible in the UK it will need to implement age verification solutions. Sites based in another country, that serve content to UK audiences, will still need to comply. If they don’t, the BBFC can apply to the ISPs to block the site from being viewed from within the UK.

Do other countries do age verification?

Very few countries do this at the moment. Germany operates a registration system where consumers go through a more formal process of either ‘person present’ (at a Post Office or on their doorstep) or they can go online and take a video/photo along with their ID. However, their regulations only apply to sites aimed at a German audience, for example, de domains. The UK legislation is for any domain accessible in the UK.

How will the Digital Economy Act work in practice?

UK adult sites will have landing pages that only display ‘glamour imagery’, such as clothed or partially clothed images. If adults want to view more erotic content they will be prompted to verify their age first. There will be a variety of age verification solutions to choose from on an adult site.

What if an adult website doesn’t comply with the Digital Economy Act?

The BBFC has the power to fine adult sites a sum no greater than £250,000 or 5% of their qualifying turnover. The government has said the BBFC will notify ‘non-compliant pornographic providers’ and directs ISPs to stop people from accessing their websites.

What are the different age verification solutions for the Digital Economy Act?

There are a number of age verification solutions on the market. Many adult websites will offer a variety to give their customers a choice.

Age verification solutions include the following.

  • Enter your credit card details and make a nominal payment.
  • Enter your phone number, which needs to be a UK phone contract that has been age verified.
  • Answer a series of knowledge-based questions that will be cross-referenced with identity databases.
  • Buy a ‘porn pass’, which is a 16-digit code, from your local Post Office. To purchase one, you show a driving licence or passport to prove your age, then enter the code into the adult website.

Our age verification solution is a private and secure way for individuals to prove their age:

  • Use the free Yoti app to share your verified 18+ attribute only.
  • Use Yoti’s age estimation technology, Yoti Age Scan, which will determine whether you look over the required age threshold.

What data will I be required to share when complying with the Digital Economy Act?

The amount of information you share will depend on your chosen age verification solution. For example, you will need to share your credit card details if you choose credit card verification, or show your ID at a Post Office if you want to purchase a porn pass.

With the Yoti app, you will only share your 18+ attribute; no other personal details need to be shared. Yoti Age Scan doesn’t require any personal or financial details at all.

Won’t adults just use the ‘dark web’ or a VPN to access adult content instead?

There will be no need to visit the dark web because there are a host of suitable solutions adults can use to access age-restricted content.

What happens if there is a technical glitch? Could children slip through the net?

The sanctions enforced by the regulations make it unlikely that an adult site will neglect to ensure its systems work effectively. Adult operators and age verification providers will ensure their technologies are suitably robust as it is not in their interest for children to access adult content.

Will children use fake IDs or try and use their parent’s credit card or phone number?

This will be difficult to do on websites using sensible age verification solutions. But with offline checks, anything is possible for the most determined of teenagers. The first step of the Digital Economy Act is to protect children from stumbling across adult content. These children are unlikely to be using a fake ID or their parent’s credit card.

Why was the Digital Economy Act introduced?

The Digital Economy Act is a big step taken by the adult industry to tackle the issue of children stumbling across porn. NSPCC research (2016) showed that nearly half (46%) of children who’ve seen porn first saw it by accident.

The age verification tools are designed to work alongside education about staying safe online, to help make the internet a safer place for children. This isn’t intended to put people off accessing porn; it’s simply to ensure that only adults can access the content. They’ll have a variety of age verification solutions to choose from and adult sites will want to get their customers verified quickly and efficiently.

Does the Digital Economy Act cover pornography on social media?

Under the government’s Online Pornography (Commercial Basis) Regulations, social media and search engines are not defined as ‘online commercial pornography’, so will not be required to enforce age verification.

Social media and search engines are classed as ancillary service providers. The BBFC can notify them if they do have pornographic content and request they take action against this, for example, by removing pornographic accounts on social media.

Please get in touch if you’d like to learn more about Yoti’s age verification solution, or if you have other questions about the Digital Economy Act.