In this week’s episode, the abuse team discusses the implementation of the Online Safety Act, which was recently passed in Parliament with the aim to protect children from online pornography.
Ofcom, the regulator for communications services sets out guidance on highly effective age checks to stop children accessing online pornography services and other harmful content. The various methods of age assurance include:
- Open banking. A user can consent to their bank sharing information confirming they are over 18 with the online pornography service. Their full date of birth is not shared.
- Photo identification matching. Users can upload a photo-ID document, such as a driving licence or passport, which is then compared to an image of the user at the point of uploading to verify that they are the same person.
- Facial age estimation. The features of a user’s face are analysed to estimate their age.
- Mobile network operator age checks. Some UK mobile providers automatically apply a default content restriction which prevents children from accessing age-restricted websites. Users can remove this restriction by proving to their mobile provider that they are an adult, and this confirmation is then shared with the online pornography service.
- Credit cards checks. In the UK, credit card issuers are obliged to verify that applicants are over 18 before providing them with a credit card. A user can provide their credit card details to the online pornography service, after which a payment processor sends a request to check the card is valid to the issuing bank. Approval by the bank can be taken as evidence that the user is over 18.
- Digital identity wallets. Using a variety of methods, including those listed above users can securely store their age in a digital format, which the user can then share with the online pornography service.
Ofcom’s job is to produce guidance to help online pornography services to meet their legal responsibilities, and to hold them to account if they don’t. Their guidance sets strict criteria which age checks must meet to be considered highly effective including that they must be technically accurate, robust, reliable and fair.
Research shows that the average age at which children first see online pornography is 13 (although nearly a quarter come across it by age 11 (27%) and 1 out of 10 as young as 9 (10%).
Under the Online Safety Act, sites and apps that display or publish pornographic content must ensure that children are not normally able to encounter pornography on their service.
Ofcom expects online pornography services to work with them to ensure they are fully prepared to comply when the time comes. Companies who ultimately fall short will face enforcement action, including possible fines.
Ofcom expects to publish their final guidance in early 2025, after which the Government will bring these duties into force.