Sadly it is getting all too easy for children and young teenagers to get hold of adult content in the un-regulated wild west of the internet. And in the last few weeks it appears to have all come to a head as ministers are beginning to draft up new laws to force companies providing adult content online to carry out age verification checks. Not surprisingly this throws up all manner of debate from the effectiveness of such age checks, to the privacy concerns of adults wishing to remain anonymous whilst perusing such content. It’s a highly emotive topic, but one that is clearly not going to go away in the near future.
So whose fault is it that children are able to access content that quite frankly would make some grown adults blush?
“It’s the parent’s fault for allowing them access” I can hear some of the older generation shout as in the same sentence they ask why everything has a hashtag in front of it these days… Yes, parents can set parental controls on the home internet but we all know that where there’s a will there’s a way, and most teenagers can manage to bypass some simple internet settings.
“It’s the government’s fault for not trying to regulate the industry earlier”. This is a tough one. According to research for Atvod only one of the 1,266 adult websites visited from the UK in December 2013 was actually regulated in the UK. And the laws being drafted are for UK sites only. The government will be coming up against those who rebel against a nanny state especially from a privacy stance.
“It’s the adult site’s fault for not setting up age verification procedures”. As the adult industry is still self-regulating they have no real impetus to move forward with age verification, and tick boxes asking whether the individual is over 18 are still widely used. According to research undertaken by Innovate Identity, adult content providers found age verification solutions too costly and difficult to implement.
Let’s stop the mudslinging and find a solution
The online gaming industry really turned themselves around in the last decade. They went from being unregulated and allowing underage children to develop gambling habits, to being the industry that adult sites should aspire to. They implemented effective age verification solutions which cover around 80% of the adult population and tried to ensure that they had a squeaky clean image.
Other countries such as Germany are more advanced in their age verification as more emphasis seems to have been placed in Germany on the state setting out the policies and supervision rather than the solutions, with the responsibility residing with both the content providers and the parents and each assuming their responsibilities.
The introduction of the e-ID card in Germany, though, offers a way for age verification systems to be simplified (in Germany), both for the provider and the customer. It has the potential to be the universal approach by 2020.
To negate the issues of UK legislation only covering UK sites, this needs to be addressed at an international level rather than having a fragmented approach which will vary government to government. The opportunity may exist for an industry to take the lead through a programme of self-regulation backed by industry wide solutions that incorporate the flexibility to accommodate national variances.
It’s a big task though. Many objections and questions will arise. Why do we need this? What will be the consequence if we do nothing? If we introduce a policy and standards how can we ensure everybody will adopt them even those companies overseas? How will non-compliant adult content providers be blocked, if at all? But inevitably is it going to happen, and if it does, will it be driven by governments or industry?