Written by Emma Lindley, Managing Director, Innovate Identity

On Saturday the Conservatives released a statement noting that if elected in May, they would make age verification mandatory on all porn sites. We have championed this issue for many years, so this is great news!

Verifying the age of customers attracted to porn sites, is a long-standing and complex issue. It’s broader than the porn industry as retailers, social networks and gambling companies are affected too.

Credit Cards Are Not Effective for Age Verification

The BBC article released on the 4th of April 2015 mentions the use of credit cards as a way of validating age. I was fascinated to see this still considered as a valid way to verify age. Back in 2005 when the gambling industry became regulated in the UK and I was part of the DCMS working group into online age verification, credit card validation for age verification was considered then too. It was found that as pre-paid cards, and sometimes credit cards, were being made available to those under 18, it wasn’t considered an effective verification. I don’t think shifting the onus onto the financial services industry is necessarily the way to try to deal with this issue.

What Does the Adult Industry Say?

Having spoken with a number of adult content providers when we completed the recent Innovate Identity research, found that one of the critical issues for them is that some porn is made available free of charge, particularly from overseas, making it a commercially challenging playing field.

The other issue they stated was that many current age verification procedures required users to input information to prove their age which felt like too much disclosure, for example checks against passports or driving licences. These users were happy to verify their age but wanted some level of anonymity about their transaction.

Level The Playing Field

Current age verification solutions are provided by the private sector by data aggregators, identity providers and others. The industry has to foot the bill to purchase, integrate and use these solutions. If the adult sector in the UK is competing against overseas operators who are offering content for free, this puts them at a fairly obvious commercial disadvantage.

This makes the issue of age verification for the adult industry different to that of another affected sector, for example the gambling industry, because often in that case money exchanges hands and therefore there is margin in the transaction to pay for electronic age verification services.

This same issue affects other sectors, such as retailers who need to implement age verification on products where the margins are slim, e.g. DVD’s or computer games.

For age verification to be ubiquitous and viable for all industries requiring to verify their customers, processes have to be very low cost or free as well as accurate, effective and secure.

Pseudo-Anonymous

Current age verification solutions often require users to give lots of personal information about themselves in order to verify their age. This can include address and even passport or driving licence information.

There is a huge move towards making identity and age verification processes proportionate in terms of the information they request, and allowing for users’ data to be protected.

What is required is a model which allows users to have their age verified, as a simple and instant yes/no response.

There are a number of models where this can be demonstrated in operation successfully through the implementation of ”hub” architecture, the most relevant being here in the UK through the GOV.UK Verify scheme which enables verification but protects user privacy.

A British Standard?

There is currently a move with the Digital Policy Alliance to implement a British Standard for age verification. Innovate Identity are close to this work and my good friend and colleague Dr Rachel O’Connell is working on this; you can read more about it in the DPA press release here and Rachel’s personal blog here

In my opinion British Standard stands a better chance of being effective if industry can access low cost or free methods of age verification, verifying against accurate data. There are databases currently available that would allow for effective age verification such as DOB information taken from historical education records. But these databases are not currently available for use for this purpose.

Make Age Verification Low Cost or Free

It would be great if this policy is implemented by whomever is elected, because in my opinion it’s taken too long.

Perhaps if the Conservatives are elected they will think about how accurate, low cost or free age verification could be made available to industry in order to make it effective but still allow industry to thrive.

This should be done using models, which have proven to be privacy protecting for the consumer and at the same time access data that is proven to be accurate for the verification of age.

After all this shouldn’t just be about winning votes, this issue should be about effective measures to protect children whilst supporting our economy, adult content or otherwise…