Under the new Online Safety Act, websites and apps that display or publish pornographic content must ensure that children are not normally able to encounter pornography on their service, Ofcom said in a statement.
Methods could include photo ID matching, facial age estimation and credit card checks and online services must take care to safeguard users’ privacy and adults’ rights to access legal pornography, the regulator added.
Companies who ultimately fall short will face enforcement action, including possible fines.
Ofcom expects to publish its final guidance in early 2025, after which the government will bring these duties into force.
“Our practical guidance sets out a range of methods for highly effective age checks. We’re clear that weaker methods – such as allowing users to self-declare their age – won’t meet this standard,” said Dame Melanie Dawes, Ofcom’s Chief Executive.
“Regardless of their approach, we expect all services to offer robust protection to children from stumbling across pornography, and also to take care that privacy rights and freedoms for adults to access legal content are safeguarded,” Dawes added.
Latest 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 per cent), and one in 10 as young as 9 (10 per cent).
The regulator said that websites and apps must introduce ‘age assurance’ – through age verification, age estimation or a combination of both – which is ‘highly effective’ at correctly determining whether a user is a child or not.
“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help online pornography services to meet their legal responsibilities, and to hold them to account if they don’t. Our draft guidance sets strict criteria which age checks must meet to be considered highly effective; they should be technically accurate, robust, reliable and fair,” the regulator stressed.
“We also expect services to consider the interests of all users when implementing age assurance. That means affording strong protection to children, and taking care that privacy rights are safeguarded and adults can still access legal pornography,” it noted.
The vast majority of people are broadly supportive of age assurance on online pornographic sites as a means of protecting children.
–Ajit Weekly News
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