The UK’s “porn block” is legislation defined in the Digital Economy Act 2017. It is being brought in to place an “age restriction on pornographic material”. You can find the relevant legislation for porn under part 3 of the Digital Economy Act (section 16 & section 17 refer to the age verification). This will require that pornographic websites which operate in the UK must first verify the users age on a non-pornographic page before porn can be accessed this is achieved using an age verification system. In other words it's a “porn card”, bringing back the old days and the embarrassment of buying dirty magazines at the newsagents to the new digital generation.
Whilst the BBFC are leaving it down to the individual companies to decide which system they use, MindGeek (who we will talk about later) are heavily pushing their system known as "AgeID". AgeID can verify users with a credit card, drivers license, or a physical card known as the "PortesCard" you can buy from "Pay Points".
In July 2017 the plans to block pornographic content to minors were announced and the block was due to start sometime around April of 2018, however a press release published in March 2018 stated the block was to be pushed back until quote “the end of the year”. We’re now in April 2019 and surprise, surprise the block is still not here and the very people regulating the new age verification scheme; the BBFC are still yet to publish much information surrounding the second push back they’ve issued. All we have is that the block is ready to be rolled out by early spring of 2019 that is if it does not get pushed back (again). The first mention of a “porn block” was actually from the Conservatives 2015 manifesto and as time has passed Mrs. May’s government sneakily pushed the block into the law.
The most interesting part about this whole block is that the very people providing the recommended software solution, own most of the porn streaming sites - that’s right, MindGeek who own Pornhub and various other x-rated sites, also own the product AgeID which is the piece of software being advocated in order to fulfil this requirement for porn to be blocked to those under 18. As well as owning PornHub, MindGeek also own various other porn streaming & production companies including but not limited to; RedTube, YouPorn, Brazzers, Digital Playground and Reality Kings - they’re basically the Amazon of porn at this point!
So, what is the possible reasoning for MindGeek introducing AgeID given that they own most of the porn sites in the world? Well, it’s pretty simple - it makes them money. They claim that this software will be “cheap” (although they’ve not actually released costings, nor have they responded to my email or my attempt to contact them via Twitter) but sites like xHamster and xVideos who are entirely independent of MindGeek will be required to implement some kind of age verification system and it’s likely to be AgeID. As it seems likely that most people will just implement AgeID this means that MindGeek are essentially not only making a profit on their own porn but they will also be making a profit from any independent porn company too! It’s bordering on a porn monopoly, that’s assuming they don’t already have a monopoly on porn!
What about the BBFC? Who are they? The BBFC are the British Board of Film Classification, these are the people which the government have tasked with the job of actually blocking minors’ access to porn, despite they themselves having no experience in the porn industry, in-fact, they’re not even government owned - they are a Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO). So what do the BBFC do currently? Well, they classify film ratings, they are the people who decide if a movie gets a “U”, “12a” or “18” but beyond that they do not really have anything to do with porn. So why them?
After an exhaustive search, we were actually unable to find any official comments on why it was the BBFC who were chosen for this task. One of the most disturbing parts about this whole act is that it allows them to decide what is considered to be porn, that means they are legally allowed to make a subjective or politically motivated decision on what is classified as porn and this is very dangerous.
It theoretically means they can instruct ISPs to block anything that they do not agree with, we’re assuming little justification is required too. The bright side is that seems to be the only actual power they have over this - I wonder though, are they going to start making porn detector vans? I mean after all, we do have TV detector vans, right!?
So how will we actually access porn now? Assuming that everyone implements AgeID, there are two methods. The first method is to send a photo of your ID or debit/credit card via their app, they will then verify your ID and you will have an AgeID account, you will need to use this account to login to porn sites. Alternatively you can buy a porn card from your nearest PayPoint, this porn card or the “PortesCard” will allow you to watch porn by requiring that you provide ID to purchase it, upon purchasing it you will be able to enter the ID on the card into AgeID to verify.
You might be wondering what the huge deal is about this, aside from the political problems (which is enough to fill 500 articles) privacy is possibly the biggest concern. What if I told you that the porn you watch is linked to your real identity, and someone potentially has access to this data? How would you actually feel that someone at AgeID could see that you - Joe Bloggs just watched a family fetish video, how would that make you feel? For most people, they’d be embarrassed at the idea of this. I know I would. I mean, sure, right now those sites do know what you watch but unless you have an account it’s virtually anonymous, it’s not tied to your real identity but with one of the methods of this new system; it is.
That’s worrying, it’s actually pretty disgusting and it would certainly make me more conscious when watching porn which isn’t fair! We shouldn’t have to feel bad for having fantasies, we shouldn’t have to be embarrassed about what we are into sexually, yet this system causes exactly that and the irony is that in 2019 I thought the internet was all about giving young adults a platform to express and investigate their sexuality, yet we’re now taking it away!
What about the other method of verification, is this anymore anonymous?
Well yes, in ways it is more anonymous. Firstly you go to the store to buy the card so if you wanted you could pay in cash, all you need to do is show your ID, they give you a porn card (for £5) and then you go home and use the code and you can now watch porn, this seems like a better solution right?
Kind of. I feel a lot happier about this method of verification as opposed to sending a photo of my ID and tying my porn verification account to my real identity. Despite MindGeek claiming that AgeID won't track you & what you watch, given the track record of companies saying such statements, it makes it hard/concerning for us to believe that they won't somehow use this data in ways which they should not.
Another thing we must consider is that this seems to be like a really good way of giving hackers a way to attack you, I mean after all, if they do actually track this data and a hacker breached their database imagine the amount of cash they could make out of blackmailing people into exposing their porn habits, it's certainly something that must be considered.
Ultimately, we believe that the UK government are using this as a way of proving that they can & will implement anything they wish to move the censorship movement forwards. We believe that the UK government are using this as a way of flexing their power and later down the line use this as an example of why extra censorship laws should be pushed into the Internet. This is super worrying and whilst a lot of people are not worried, we thoroughly believe this is only the tip of the iceberg with the censorship movement that the UK seems to be championing.