Implementing the Online Safety Act: Protecting children from online pornography


INSIGHT
Published
Dec 5th '23
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Children are set to be protected from accessing online pornography under new age-check guidance proposed by Ofcom to help services to comply with online safety laws.

 

Latest research [1] 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%), and one in ten as young as 9 (10%). Additionally, nearly 8 in 10 youngsters (79%) have encountered violent pornography depicting coercive, degrading or pain-inducing sex acts before turning 18.

 

Under the Online Safety Act, sites and apps that display or publish pornographic content [2] must ensure that children are not normally able to encounter pornography on their service.

 

To do this, they 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. Effective access controls should prevent children from encountering pornographic content on that service.

 

The average age at which children first see online pornography is

 

 

– although nearly a quarter come across it by age

and one in ten as young as 9 (10%).

 

 

Highly effective methods of age assurance

 

Ofcom 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.

 

Given the technology underpinning age assurance is likely to develop and improve in future, our guidance includes a non-exhaustive list of methods that Ofcom currently consider could be highly effective. These include:

 

 

Weaker age-checks won’t be enough

 

 

In addition, Ofcom specify that pornographic content must not be visible to users before, or during, the process of completing an age check. Nor should services host or permit content that directs or encourages children to attempt to circumvent age and access controls.

 

 

“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.

 

“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.” Dame Melanie Dawes, Ofcom’s Chief Executive

 

Attitudes towards age assurance

 

Among adults who have previously viewed pornography online, their biggest concerns about proving their age to access the content are around data protection (52%) and sharing personal information (42%).

 

Protecting privacy rights and adults’ access to legal content

 

Under the Online Safety Act, online pornography services are required to keep written records explaining how they protect users from a breach of these laws. Guidance offers practical ways of how they might go about this – including, for example, by conducting a data protection impact assessment, and providing users with privacy information such as how their personal data will be processed, how long it will be retained, and if it will be shared with anyone else.

 

Ofcom also recommend that services should consult the ICO’s guidance [5] to understand how to comply with the data protection regime, as well as its Opinion on Age Assurance for the Children’s Code, which they expect to be revised in January 2024.

 

To ensure that adults are not unduly prevented from accessing legal content, draft guidance also sets out important principles that age assurance should be easy to use and work for all users, regardless of their characteristics or whether they are members of a certain group.

 

Next steps

 

Ofcom expect to publish final guidance in early 2025, after which the Government will bring these duties into force.

 

Source: Office of Communications (Ofcom)

 

Ofcom is the regulator for the communications services that we use and rely on each day.

 

More information

 

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