Claims that Government plans to launch an online age verification system for adult websites are unworkable have been scotched by the company behind the largest mainstream test of the so-called "porn ban", due to come into force this year.
Digital age gates were placed on "I Want Fourplay," an adult film created during Channel 4’s shooting of the documentary Mums Make Porn. The film was directed by five mothers who sought to draw attention to the negative impact that easy-access pornography has on children’s mental wellbeing.
The three-part show had over 850,000 viewers in the UK, with the film available to watch online after the final episode.
Viewers were required to authenticate their age as over-18; something that will be mandatory once age verification legislation is implemented under the Digital Economy Act later this year. The process was supported by age verification software provider AgeChecked.
The system worked by age-verifying customers through a driving licence, credit card or mobile phone - the latter of which emerged as by far the most popular method of verification. It then provided them with a unique username and password. The external film website only received a ’pass’ or ’fail’ message - nothing more – whilst users that did not meet the age requirements were denied entry.
AgeChecked chief executive Alastair Graham said: "The results of this first mainstream test were hugely encouraging. It highlights that customers are willing to participate in the process when they know that they are being verified by a secure provider, with whom their identity is fully protected.
"The popularity of mobile phone verification was interesting and presumably due the simplicity of using this device. This is something that we foresee as being a key part of this process moving forward."
Rudd Apsey, a spokesman for the Age Verification Providers Association (AVPA), said: "There have been a number of negative stories lately about the so-called ’porn ban’ in the UK. This test demonstrates that the age verification measures required under the Digital Economy Act can be successfully applied to adult websites without issue – verification of adults can be quick and anonymous. It is worth remembering that the goal of this legislation is to protect young kids from stumbling across adult content - the UK is leading the world in the introduction of online child protection measures."
Not everyone is convinced, however, with Mishcon de Reya’s cyber intelligence director Mark Tibbs believing the move is likely to have a number of unintended consequences which could create more problems than it solves.
He said: "If the Ashley Madison hack taught us anything, it’s that a company which holds personal information about millions of users’ sex lives will be a prime target for hackers and extortionists, regardless of how good security is. Underage porn seekers and even adults not wanting to give over their personal information are likely to quickly find services to hide their true identities and bypass the controls.
"It will possibly even drive determined porn seekers onto alternative platforms such as the dark web, which are harder for governments to regulate, and may be more likely to expose users to illegal content. It may even stimulate an illicit black market of stolen accounts and identities, giving budding hackers even more reason to steal online identities."