The UK's Dubious Plan For Age-Based Porn Filters Begins On July 15

from the hurry-and-hide-the-naughty-bits dept

Undaunted by the fact that internet filters never actually seem to work, the UK continues its quest to censor the internet of all of its naughty bits.

The UK has long implemented porn filters in a bid to restrict anybody under the age of 18 from accessing such content. New age verification controls were also mandated as part of the Digital Economy Act of 2017. But as we’ve previously noted, the UK government has seen several fits and starts with its proposal as it desperately tries to convince the public and business sectors that the ham-fisted effort is going to actually work. This week the country formally announced that its filter proposal officially now has a start date: July 15.

According to the UK government, websites that fail to comply with the country’s age verification program face fines up to ?250,000, risk being taken offline, or may lose access to payment services:

“…commercial providers of online pornography will be required by law to carry out robust age-verification checks on users, to ensure that they are 18 or over. The move is backed by 88% of UK parents with children aged 7-17, who agree there should be robust age-verification controls in place to stop children seeing pornography online.

Websites that fail to implement age-verification technology face having payment services withdrawn or being blocked for UK users.”

In short, starting in July, should you want to view some porn, you’ll be redirected to a special subsite where you’ll be prompted for an email address and a password, before verifying your age using a driving license or a passport. There’s a few exceptions, including websites that aren’t selling access to porn and those that are simply engaging in “artistic” pursuits. Expecting the UK government to figure all of this out on the run should, at the very least, provide some entertainment value.

While this might make some people feel good, there’s still little hard data to suggest any of this is going to work, and more than a few hints it’s actually going to cause problems. The obvious risk of this data leaking out and being used nefariously is one concern. The other major problem is there are simply too many porn websites to effectively police, and the belief the UK government can police them all is arguably laughable. Meanwhile all it takes to avoid the restrictions is the use of a VPN or proxy to trick the website in question to think that you’re coming from another country.

Others note that the ban is likely to just drive many users looking for porn toward notably more seedy venues and workarounds:

“When you hire a bouncer to crack down on kids drinking in the local pub, you don?t get a sudden rise in homework. You get a surge in fake IDs and drinking in the park.

The porn block will do the same thing online, pushing kids towards streaming sites stuffed with malware, creepy subreddits, and places on the dark web that sell credit cards details ? because it seems as if this age verification system is going to use credit cards as its basis. It?s a classic case of driving legal behaviour underground, making it a whole lot dodgier than it was in the first place.”

Meanwhile there’s little data supporting the idea that porn filters in general even work, and plenty of data suggesting such filters routinely cause collateral damage. A joint-report published this week by digital rights advocates Open Rights Group (ORG) and Top10VPN VPN review portal noted the UK government already filters 760,000 websites with notable inaccuracy, leading to the routine inadvertent censorship of legitimate websites.

All in all the UK’s war on porn is a puritanical feel good measure that’s going to cause far more problems than it actually fixes. And in a few years it’s likely the UK will either retreat from the measure after it gets tired of playing a futile game of naughty-bit Whac-a-Mole, or will double down on the efforts while pretending the entire affair actually worked.

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Comments on “The UK's Dubious Plan For Age-Based Porn Filters Begins On July 15”

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22 Comments
That One Guy (profile) says:

'Won't someone (else) think of the children?'

The move is backed by 88% of UK parents with children aged 7-17, who agree there should be robust age-verification controls in place to stop children seeing pornography online.

… but who couldn’t be arsed to address the ‘problem’ of their kids looking at porn themselves by, I dunno, being a parent.

Talk to them, install useless filters on the house computer, similarly useless filters on the kid’s computers/phones/tablets, take those devices away if they violate the ‘no naughty-bits’ rule, accept the fact that if they really want to see porn they will find a way…

If a parent doesn’t want their kids to see porn that’s their problem(in more ways than one), they’ve got no grounds to demand that someone else shield their kids from what they find offensive, and doing so strikes me as a pretty good indicator that they’re too freakin’ lazy to do that whole ‘parenting’ thing.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: 'Won't someone (else) think of the children?'

Really it is uncomfortable to think about – especially for parents but minors have long wanted access to porn and there isn’t really a point to the fetishistic protection of a mythical protection of some concept of ‘innocence’?

I know that no public figure wants to be the one to look like a creeper to suggest it but perhaps it is time to accept the best you can get is trying to avoid /accidental/ porn exposure which basic safe-search and anti-spam takes care of well enough?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

And just how do they intend validating

"They"? The validation will be done by porn companies, and why would they give a shit? They’ll do the bare minimum required by the government (…if they’re in the UK, and why would they be?).

Not like it matters anyway, with free porn sites being exempt. Why would anyone go to the trouble of providing money and personal information to a porn site? Especially kids, who’ll want to keep this from their parents and will have the technical know-how and time to locate alternatives.

Magnus says:

Oh, calm down everybody.

You will not need "the seedier parts of the internet", VPN or switching DNS providers. And no, no age verification either.

The "porn filter" is even more useless than you think: It doesn’t block porn. It blocks sites that has porn as their main product.

Sites like, say, Reddit, with tons of porn on them, will remain unblocked, as long as they are mostly not-porn.

Even metaphors fail me at this point.

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