Report warns of age verification risk

Research by independent consumer switching advice site Broadband Genie has revealed the majority (81 per cent) of the British public support the government’s latest crackdown on adult websites as part of the Digital Economy Bill, which will require operators to verify a user’s age before allowing them to access the content. Adult websites in the UK could be blocked by Internet Service Providers if they fail to meet the new requirement.

However, of those surveyed just 8 per cent say they would be willing to provide an adult website with their personal information. According to Jim Killock, Executive Director of the Open Rights Group, the proposed changes could inadvertently push more people towards dangerous parts of the web, dependent on how much material gets blocked. “The BBFC’s [British Board of Film Classification] power gives them the ability to block thousands of websites, but they say they will choose to block a smaller number,” he advised. “Either way, it would mean people using smaller, less well-known sites, and that of course comes with dangers. P2P sites could also find themselves with more traffic, and that is a riskier activity, given that shared files could include malware,” he warned.

While for the moment it is adult websites in the spotlight, the Open Rights Group also suggests such blocks could set a dangerous precedent for the future. “Once we have set up a system for blocking websites without court orders, it will be much easier to use it for other legal content – for example material that is legal but considered political. This could set a dangerous precedent, where political content is being censored without any recourse. Politicians have already discussed other kinds of material that ought to be banned because of the risks posed to children,” advised Killock.

The move follows other methods the government has introduced to curb the amount of adult content children are seeing online – most notably the ISP web filters that were implemented in 2013. Broadband Genie found that 28 per cent of those surveyed were currently using the filters, up by 4 per cent from a similar survey run in 2015.

“The robust age verification system the government is proposing is tricky to implement, as ideally we don’t want people putting their personal information into potentially risky adult websites,” advised Rob Hilborn, Head of Strategy at Broadband Genie. “The high-profile hack of Ashley Madison has shown such sites to be a lucrative target for hackers.”

“There are already plenty of tools available to parents to block this type of content if they wish to, so the focus should instead shift to educating and improving children’s awareness of surfing the web safely.”

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