The UK's domestic pornography industry is being screwed by age verification laws unveiled by the Government.
New laws passed as part of the Digital Economy Act will require websites hosting pornographic material to verify the ages of visitors from the UK or face being blocked by ISPs.
Pandora/Blake, who described themself as a feminist pornographer, as well as obscenity lawyer and legal officer at Open Rights Group Myles Jackman, told Sky News that this posed an enormous privacy risk to viewers.
They argue the age verification requirements may harm small businesses and curtail the freedom of expression by allowing multinational pornography giants to monopolise the industry.
Many of the most popular pornographic websites (Pornhub, RedTube, YouPorn) and production studios (Brazzers, Digital Playground) are owned by one company: MindGeek.
MindGeek stands to increase its already considerable market share by offering age verification services to smaller sites.
Pandora/Blake said the Government is refusing to engage with pornographers who are concerned the laws will harm their business.
Age checks are going to be expensive, they said, noting figures given to them ranged from 2£0.05 to 2£1.50 per age check. If you know anything about the economics of porn you realise that if you're paying a cost per viewer, rather than per
customer, then you're going to be orders of magnitude making a loss.
I'm seeing a lot of smaller sites simply giving up pre-emptively. There's already a chilling effect of sites not knowing how they're going to possibly be able to comply, said Pandora/Blake.
A Government spokesperson told Sky News that the BBFC was the intended regulator for the age verification system, and would be required to publish guidance regarding the arrangements for making pornographic material available in a compliant
The BBFC said that as it had not yet been appointed the regulator, it could not comment on the concerns raised to Sky News.
The recent attempt by Conservative MPs to label porn a
public health crisis in Canada
is part of a web of attacks against gender and sexual minorities -- and a diversion from necessary policy debates on ending sexual violence. Luckily, the House of Commons Standing Committee on Health didn't go for it.
Just the title creates confusion. For example, separating out the social and sexual differences between children and adults would be a Herculean task. Then there is the fraught problem of defining "violent and degrading."
Remarkably, Canada decided not to follow in the footsteps of the United States and the United Kingdom in blaming porn for a wide range of medical and social ailments, from erectile dysfunction to divorce. Instead, the report acknowledged that
while pornography use may co-relate with some unhealthy and anti-social behaviour in some people, there is no credible evidence that pornography of any kind causes that behaviour.
The decision to emphasize evidence over moral panic is a hopeful sign that we are done with excusing abusive behaviour by men against women with false diagnoses like sex addiction or porn addiction.
Adult film performer, Chocolate Chip from the movie, Snapshot. (Courtesy of Pink Label TV)
As noted sex therapist David Ley, author of both
The Myth of Sex Addiction
Ethical Porn For Dicks
, has said: "It's possible to be an ethical, responsible person and treat oneself and others with dignity and integrity, AND to watch hot, no-holds-barred sex on screen."
Anti-porn advocates will remain unconvinced, as is clear by the dissenting opinion submitted by Conservative members of the committee. Why do some people cling to the notion that porn is a destructive force on the health of the nation?
Uncovering the answer reaches into the darkest corners of sex shaming, stigmatization, ignorance and fear that continue to characterize Canada's sexual culture.
Instead of personal stories of porn horror, we explored the difference between causation and correlation and the heteronormative bias in anti-porn research. We also looked at the slippery definitions often provided for "violent" or
"degrading" pornography -- especially when consent isn't considered a factor in the evaluation process.
Over one third of the briefs insisted porn use contributed to relationship breakdowns. Increased interest in sexual experimentation and casual sex were also frequently listed as a public health concern.
Not one of the briefs acknowledged lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer or Two Spirited (LGBTQ2+) sexual expression. Some of them even listed "anal sex" as a violent-and-degrading consequence of porn. The deep-set homophobia of such an
argument cannot be understated.
M-47 came on the heels of a spate of legislation, particularly in the United States and United Kingdom, to curtail access to pornography. The U.K. passed the
Extreme Pornography Act
, a draconian intervention on privacy rights that blocks pornography sites with national-based ISPs if they depict acts considered "extreme."
Meanwhile, in the United States, the Republican Party and eight states have already declared porn a public health crisis
. What might appear at first as absurd political grandstanding can have significant consequences on how sexual health is publicly supported, including sexual health curricula, access and privacy rights, research support and professional training.
What is so laudable about Canada's House of Commons report is it refutes the oppressive and harmful assumptions contained within the "public health crisis" argument. In recognizing the spectrum of gender and sexual diversity, and the
critical factor of consent in defining both "violent" and "degrading," the committee has set Canada on a long-overdue path to
developing a sexual health promotion strategy
"that would include, but not be limited to, sexual identity, gender equity, gender-based violence, consent and behaviour in the digital age."
Porn ground rules
To be sure, the House of Commons report recognizes there are "possible risks of exposure to online violent and degrading sexually explicit materials." This is fair and correct, as there are risks to individuals of any age who are
pre-disposed toward gender or sexual violence due to a host of social influences that breed intolerance for gender and sexual diversity and equity.
Thus, as we enter this new stage of the oft-battled-but-never-won porn wars, we would like to see more research on how the negative impacts of porn consumption could be mitigated by a more inclusive sexual ethic. Is there perhaps a way for
spiritual and sexual communities to work together for sex positivity?
"Grounded in respect for the body and for the vulnerability that intimacy brings, this ethic fosters physical, emotional and spiritual health. It accepts no double standards and applies to all persons, without regard to sex, gender,
colour, age, bodily condition, marital status or sexual orientation."
Their statement shares a lot in common with the growing international network of feminist and ethical porn producers to whom we owe a debt of gratitude for establishing the ground rules for consent-based sex.
If ecumenical societies and ethical porn networks can share the same sexual values, the opportunity to develop a dynamic sexual health strategy has never been better. Canada can become a global leader in fostering healthy sexualities through
consent-based education, sex worker support and gender and sexual inclusiveness.
The diversion into porn fear-mongering has resulted in not much more than a few cheeky, clickbait headlines. Now that we've had our laughs, it is imperative that the House of Commons Standing Committee on Health return to the commitment made in
South Korea's internet censor made a large amount of censorship requests to the social network Tumblr but these were turned down on the
grounds that the 'offending' posts did not actually violate Tumblr's policies.
Tumblr received 22,468 requests from the Korean government from January to June to delete posts related to prostitution and porn.
The Korea Communications Standards Commission (KCSC), the country's internet censor, sent 30,200 requests to several internet companies to delete posts related to prostitution and porn. Requests to Tumblr accounted for over two-thirds, totalling
22,468. By comparison, Twitter received 1,771, Instagram 12, and Facebook 5.
Tumblr rejected the requests to censor adult content saying that it had no physical presence in South Korea and was not subject to local laws. It also said it allows wide-range freedom of expression on its service. The company also said posts
reported by KCSC didn't violate its policy.
The wolrd's most popular porn website, Pornhub has introduced stringent age verification checks at the bequest of the Russian
PornHub is now asking Russian viewers to verify their age by logging in with their social media account on VKontakte, Russia's answer to Facebook.
This is a stricter requirement than logging in via Facebook or Google as VKontakte itself requires connection to a mobile phone that has been mandatorily registered against a passport.
Verification through a social media account may be daunting to those concerned that the same company which has the contacts of their close family and friends is also aware of their porn watching habits. Though PornHub has promised a third party
would not get more users' information than before, the consensus on its VKontakte page showed some of its biggest fans are precisely concerned that may happen.
The system was considered the most effective and simple way to ensure compliance with Russian laws about the access to the content for adults. Dmitry Kolodin, a representative of PornHub in Russia told news site Meduza, confirming the new measure
came into effect Thursday.
UK Government internet censors at the Department of Censorship, Media and Sport have announced a timetable for banning UK adult businesses from operating unless they sign up for currently economically unviable age verification services. Foreign
adult websites will simply end up getting blocked.
Minister of State for Digital Censorship, Matt Hancock MP writes:
Mandatory age verification to view online pornography, a crackdown on ticket bots, and new subtitling requirements for video on demand services are are among the measures being taken forward today as work begins on implementing the new Digital
Digital Minister Matt Hancock has signed the commencement order for the Digital Economy Act 2017 which achieved Royal Assent in April. The Act places the consumer at its heart and will be a vital piece of legislation in making sure the rights and
interests of the individual are protected and strengthened in an increasingly digital society.
Following the signing of the commencement order today, work will now begin on the following areas:
introducing a new age verification process for accessing online pornography, expected to be in place by April 2018, a milestone in the Government's work to make the UK the safest place in the world for children to be online
requiring catch-up TV and video on demand services to provide subtitling and audio description on their programmes
cracking down on ticket touts by making it a criminal offence for those that misuse bot technology to sweep up tickets
measures to improve digital connectivity for consumers right across the UK, cutting the costs for new infrastructure and simplifying planning rules which will see greater coverage in some of the hardest to reach places in the UK
Comment: Age verification plans put web users' privacy at risk
Open Rights Group has responded to the announcement that the Government has initiated plans for the age verification of porn websites.
Executive Director Jim Killock said:
Age verification could lead to porn companies building databases of the UK's porn habits, which could be vulnerable to Ashley Madison style hacks.
The Government has repeatedly refused to ensure that there is a legal duty for age verification providers to protect the privacy of web users.
There is also nothing to ensure a free and fair market for age verification. We are concerned that the porn company MindGeek will become the Facebook of age verification, dominating the UK market. They would then decide what privacy risks or
profiling take place for the vast majority of UK citizens.
Age verification risks failure as it attempts to fix a social problem with technology. In their recent manifestos, all three main political parties called for compulsory sex and relationship education in schools. Sex education would genuinely
protect young people, as it would give them information and context.
As Policy Director David Miles is the principal adviser on policy and public affairs to the Chief Executive. He is responsible
for coordinating the BBFC's policy work and managing and leading on its public affairs effort. The role is also responsible for managing the BBFC's research, communications and education programmes.
David Miles, BBFC Policy Director said: The BBFC is an intelligent and innovative organisation with a growing remit online, as well as an important legacy as a British institution and one of the most respected film and video regulators in the
world. I am very pleased to join the BBFC as its Policy Director and look forward to working with all BBFC staff to ensure the BBFC's Classification Guidelines continue to adapt shifting public opinion and the BBFC provides the best possible,
transparent and accessible guidance for anyone making a film, DVD/Blu-ray or VOD viewing decision for themselves or on behalf of children.
I also look forward to the opportunity to work on the BBFC's proposed role as the age verification regulator for pornography online, a significant and vital step in reducing children's exposure to online pornography available in the UK, and a role
I believe the BBFC is well equipped to fulfil.
David joined the BBFC as a consultant in February 2017, before his appointment as Policy Director in June 2017. Prior to this David held a wide range of executive leadership roles in the technology and charitable sector, including IBM and the
Family Online Safety Institute (FOSI). He is currently a member of UNICEF's Expert Panel for the Global Fund to End Violence against Children, as well as former Executive Board member of the UK Council for Child Internet Safety (UKCCIS) and chair
of several key working groups. David is a Freeman of the City of London and a member of the Worshipful Company of Information Technologists (WCIT), one of the Livery Companies of the City of London. The Company received its Royal Charter in 2010.
A Freedom of Information request to the DCMS has revealed that porn company MindGeek suggested that the BBFC should potentially block millions of porn sites if they didn't comply with Age Verification requirements outlined in the Digital Economy
MindGeek, who are also developing Age Verification technology, said that the Government's plans to prevent children from seeing pornography would not be effective unless millions of sites could be blocked.
Notes made by the company and sent to the DCMS state:
A greylist of 4M URLs already exists from Sky, but lets assume that's actually much smaller as these URLs will I suspect, be page- level blocks, not TLDs. The regulator should contact them all within that 12 months, explaining that if they do not
demonstrate they are AV ready by the enforcement date then they will be enforced against. "On the enforcement date, all sites on the greylist turn black or white depending upon what they have demonstrated to the regulator.
Corey Price, VP of Pornhub, separately noted:
It is our corporate responsibility as part of the global tech community to promote ethical and responsible behavior. We firmly believe that parents are best placed to police their children's online activity using the plethora of tools already
available in modern operating systems. The law has the potential to send a message to parents that they no longer need to monitor their children's online activity, so it is therefore essential that the Act is robustly enforced.
Despite the law, those seeking adult content can still circumvent age verification using simple proxy/VPN services. Consequently the intent of the legislation is to only protect children who stumble across adult content in an un-protected
environment. There are over 4 million domains containing adult content, and unless sites are enforced against equally, stumbling across adult content will be no harder than at present. If the regulator pursues a proportionate approach we may only
see the Top 50 sites being effected 203 this is wholly unacceptable as the law will then be completely ineffective, and simply discriminate against compliant sites. We are therefore informing, and closely monitoring the development of the
regulations, to be published later this year, to see if they achieve the intended goals of the Act.
MindGeek could stand to gain commercially if competitor websites are blocked from UK visitors, or if the industry takes up their Age Verification product.
Executive Director of Open Rights Group, Jim Killock said:
There is nothing in the Act to stop the BBFC from blocking 4.6 million pornographic websites. The only constraint is cash.
This leaves the BBFC wide open to pressure for mass website blocking without any need for a change in the law.
When giving evidence to the Public Bill Committee
, the chief executive of the British Board of Film Classification, David Austin implied that only tens of sites would be targeted:
We would start with the top 50 and work our way through those, but we would not stop there. We would look to get new data every quarter, for example. As you say, sites will come in and out of popularity. We will keep up to date and focus on those
most popular sites for children.
Britain has some ludicrous and dated prohibitions on aspects of porn that are commonplace in international porn sites. For example the government
requires that the BBFC cut fisting, squirting, gagging on blow jobs, dialogue references to incest or underage sex.
It would be ludicrous to expect all of the worlds websites to remove such commonplace scene from all its films and videos. The originally proposed porn censorship law would require the BBFC to identify sites with this commonplace material, and
ISPs would have then been forced to block these sites. Of course this would have meant that more or less all websites would have had to be banned.
Someone has obviously pointed this out to the government, perhaps the Lords had spotted this in their scrutiny.
The Daily Mail is now reporting that this censorship power will be dropped form the Digital Economy Bill. The age verification requirement will stand but foreign websites complying with age verification will not then be blocked for material
transgressing some of the stupid UK prohibitions.
A source at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport has acknowledged that the proposals were imperfect , but said the Obscene Publications Act 1959, which covers sex shops, was too outdated to be used to regulate the internet.
The Department for Culture, Media and Sport actually went further and said extreme material, including violent pornography and cartoons depicting child sex abuse, will be allowed to stay online as long as distributors put in place checks to ensure
it cannot be viewed by children. (But note that downloading films including what is defined as extreme pornography and cartoon child porn would still be illegal). There will be no change to the capability of the IWF to block child porn (and
occasionally, illegal adult porn).
Of course pro-censorship campaigners are not impressed by the lost opportunity for total porn censorship. Helen Lewington, of the morality campaign group Mediawatch-UK, claimed that the decision to allow extreme sites to operate behind the age
verification barrier risked giving them a veneer of respectability . She called on peers to reject the amendments this evening. She added:
We are deeply concerned by the Government's apparent change of direction. These proposals will permit some forms of violent pornography to be viewed behind age verification checks.
This will unhelpfully allow what is illegal offline to be legally viewed online, and may in the long term lead to some regarding such material as acceptable.'
Pro censorship campaigner John Carr revealed that the government will now be reviewing the rules on what is currently prohibited from UK adult porn. He set out his pro-censorship stall by claiming that reducing censorship for adults would somehow
endanger children. He claimed:
In his speech on the Digital Economy Bill, last Monday night in the House of Lords, Lord Ashton referred to the Secretary of State's announcement in the context of there being a need for a wider discussion about the effects of pornography in
society as a whole, not solely in respect of children. I would hope there will be an opportunity to contribute to that aspect of the review. I accept it was never envisaged that the Digital Economy Bill was to be a trigger for a wider debate
about what sorts of pornography are more or less acceptable, whether being viewed by children or not. However, just because children cannot view certain types of material that have been put behind an age verification wall, it does not mean that
its continued availability to adults does not constitute a threat to children. Such material might encourage, promote or appear to legitimize or condone harmful behaviours which either directly or indirectly put children at risk.
Offsite Comment: Lib Dems lay into the governments censorship efforts
To add to the list of obnoxious new laws such as the new offence of driving while being a suspected illegal immigrant and giving the
police unfettered access to innocent people's web histories, the Tories have waded into the swamp of online pornography and they are completely out of their depth.
The Digital Economy Bill, another universal answer to everything they couldn't get through when we had one hand on the reins of power, professes to protect children from online pornography.
Nonetheless, if we are to prohibit access to online adult material unless there is an age-verification solution in place, the privacy of those who are being forced to part with their sensitive personal information in order to verify their age,
must be protected. We have already seen user databases for a couple of major porn sites, containing sensitive personal information, being hacked and the details traded on the dark web. When details of users of the Ashley Madison site were leaked,
it reportedly led to two suicides.
Utah legislators have voted for abstinence-only education. Ironically, last summer, Utah passed legislation calling porn a public
health crisis, because they feared it was serving as de facto sex education.
Until they make up their minds, xHamster has announced that it is rerouting all traffic from Utah to its YouTube sex ed series, The Box . xHamster explained:
Today, the Utah legislature voted against comprehensive sex ed in schools in favor of abstinence education. Ironically, over the past few years, politicians in the state have also waged a war on porn, worried that it provides inauthentic views of
We've come up with a solution that we will hopefully satisfy them on both fronts. Beginning immediately, we're rerouting all xHamster traffic from Utah to our comprehensive sex ed series, The Box. We've been working on The Box since last year, producing
videos based on questions submitted by porn viewers.
While we love porn, we don't think that it should be relied on for sex ed any more than Star Wars is a substitute for science class.
Utahns consume the most porn per capita of any state in the nation. Let's see if we can turn the thirstiest state in the nation into the most sexually aware.
On 1 January 2016, Video on Demand censor ATVOD was sacked and Ofcom became the sole regulator for on-demand programme services ( ODPS )
under Part 4A of the Communications Act 2003 (the Act ).
In this document, we are consulting on a new regulatory fees regime under section 368NA of the Act, to apply from the 2017/18 financial year onwards. Our preferred proposal is to adopt a fees structure that shares the costs of regulating ODPS only
between the largest providers.
We have also provided an estimate of the 2017/18 fee that would be sufficient to meet, but not exceed, the likely cost of Ofcom carrying out the relevant functions in the financial year 2017/18.
Ofcom sets out what VoD companies had to pay under the year of ATVOD:
(a) ATVOD's estimated costs for the year were just over £487,000 and the fees collected were just over £488,000.
(b) The 40 largest ODPS providers each paid over £5,000 and accounted for over 93% of fees.
(c) ATVOD differentiated between those in the largest group, with the largest Super A providers paying £10,893 each for single outlet services and £14,135 for multiple outlet services (with a group cap available where there were multiple providers
in one corporate group). A Rate providers paid £5,010 for single outlet services and £6,502 for multiple outlet services.
(d) None of the remaining 77 providers (the long tail ) paid more than £815, and 40 of these paid £204 or less. These providers accounted, in total, for under 7% of fees.
By contrast, Ofcom's estimate of estimated costs is £114,000 and this will be raised from Video on Demand companies as follows:
Companies with total turnover greater than 50 million: £4146
Companies with total turnover 10 to 50 million: £2073
Companies with total turnover less than 10 million: no charge
Ofcom noted that a proportionally smaller charge for the small companies may not be cost effective to collect and may discourage companies from registering for censorship either by illegal avoidance or by moving offshore.
A consultation on this preferred option and several others is open until 29th March 2017.
An interesting article in Wired reports on a a recent Westminster eForum meeting when the British establishment got
together to discuss, porn, internet censorship and child protection.
A large portion of the article considers the issue that porn is not generally restricted just to 'porn websites'. It is widely available on more mainstream wesbites such as Google Images. Stephen Winyard, director and VP of ICM Registry and council
member of the digital policy alliance, argued that Twitter is in fact commercially benefiting from the proliferation of pornography on the network:
It's on Twitter, Reddit, Tumblr, mobile apps - Skype is used hugely for adult content. But Twitter is the largest platform for promoting pornography in the world - and it takes money for it. They pay Twitter money to advertise adult content.
Another good good pint was that the Digital Censorship Bill going through parliament was targetting the prevention of children 'stumbling across' porn. Hence a bit of partial blockade of porn may somehow reduce this problem. However Adam Kinsley of Sky
pointed out that partial blockage may not be so effective in stopping kids actively looking for porn. He noted:
The Digital Economy Bill's exact objectives are a little uncertain, but we are trying to stop children stumbling on pornography -- but they are not 'stumbling', they are looking for it and Twitter is where they will [find] it. Whether what the government
is proposing will deal with that threat is unclear. Initially, it did not propose ISPs blocking content. When it comes to extremist sites, the Home Office asks social media platforms to take down content. The government does not ask us to block material
- it has never done that. So this is a big deal. It doesn't happen with the IWF; it doesn't happen with terrorist material, and it wasn't in the government's original proposal. Whether they got it right and how will we deal with these millions of sites,
We're not really achieving anything if only dealing with a few sites.
The Bill is incredibly complex, as it stands. David Austin, from the BBFC, pointed out that for it to implement the bill correctly, it needs to be effective, proportionate, respectful of privacy, accountable - and the
Tens of millions of adults that go online to see legal content must be able to continue to do so.
At the same time, he said:
There is no silver bullet, no one model, no one sector that can achieve all child protection goals.