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What is age verification, how does it work and what are the risks - click below to find out:
Adults (over-18s) in the UK will soon have to be age-checked when they visit pornographic websites and apps. The age check is intended to make sure that children and teenagers don’t accidentally see explicit sexual content.
The requirement for online porn to be restricted through age verification became law in the Digital Economy Act 2017.
All sites selling porn will soon have to use age verification software to prove that their UK customers are aged 18 or over. Other sites and apps that host a lot of explicit content might have to use this software as well.
The law does not say how age verification should work. However, it will no longer be enough to ask people just to tick a box or type in a date of birth. This is to stop people from simply typing in false details. Adults wanting to access porn online will generally have to provide some form of personal identity document, such as a passport or driving licence.
All commercial porn sites and apps will soon have to age-verify UK users. This applies whether they are in the UK or overseas. Any sites and apps not complying with this legal requirement are likely to be blocked.
The British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) has been appointed by the government to make sure that porn sites and apps comply with the law. If a site or app refuses or fails to use age verification, the BBFC can issue a fine, instruct internet providers and mobile phone networks to block it, and/or ask social media companies and search engines to remove connected accounts or links – which will stop people finding and accessing it.
If porn providers outside the UK refuse or fail to implement age verification, the BBFC has said it will ask payment providers such as VISA to refuse to process UK payments, with the aim of preventing UK users from accessing these sites and apps.
You can find ways to avoid using age verification to access online porn, but we do not recommend or encourage you to use these. Workaround methods are all risky, and you should think very carefully about the possible outcomes before using any of these. In particular, if you use a workaround method, your parents, peers and school might find out about your porn viewing, which could be embarrassing or worse.
It may be possible to use Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) to avoid Age Verification. Porn providers will most likely show age verification prompts only to users who appear to be visiting from the UK. A VPN can make you appear to be outside the UK, in which case age verification will probably not be triggered.
VPNs are not risk-free. In particular, any provider offering VPNs for free will track and record your internet use. This can build up a profile of the sites you visit, which other people might be able to find out about. We advise you never to use free VPNs.
It is also possible to use the Tor network to access the internet anonymously. However, your web traffic can still be monitored at the moment it exits Tor, exposing you to risk.
It is possible that age verification companies will store information about people who have tried to get through their age verification process and failed. This data could become public through a hack or leak. Your parents could find out, and potentially also your school or college, and other authorities with whom you interact such as social services.
Once sensitive data about your private sexuality is in the public domain, there is no going back. Information about your sexual preferences and porn viewing habits cannot simply be changed or destroyed. This information could have a lasting effect on your personal life, education, work and family.
If you do manage to avoid age verification and access a porn site or app, UK data protection laws put some limits on the ability of companies to collect, store, share and sell your personal information. However, if you view porn online, you cannot rely on the law alone to keep your sexual information private.
Porn companies could track you across different internet sites, and keep a log of everything you’ve watched. No database is ever fully secure, which means this sensitive information could be hacked or leaked.
If information about your porn viewing becomes public, you cannot make it private again. You could choose to sue a porn provider for failing to adequately protect your sexual data, but this will make your pornographic viewing more widely known, which might impact on your education or employment prospects. No amount of money can fully compensate for your loss of privacy.
Sites and apps which host “extreme” pornographic material will all be blocked. “Extreme” is a legal definition and is quite wide, so it could restrict a lot of niche/fetish porn.
Other porn sites and apps are expected to continue operating in the UK, but access to these will now be age-restricted.
The British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) has been appointed by the government to make sure that porn providers comply with legal requirements to age-verify users. Sites and apps hosting explicit content may be shut down if they do not comply with regulatory standards.
It is likely that in time more and more porn sites and apps will be blocked.
Age verification will mean that homepages of commercial porn sites no longer have explicit content on them, but it will not prevent people from accidentally seeing porn online. Porn will still be openly available on social media, advertised on e.g. file-sharing sites and appear in search engine results.