Online age verification is a hot topic. It is the subject of a current consultation by Ofcom as part of a series of work before the Online Safety Act takes full effect. Platforms will be required (among other things) to take measures to prevent children from accessing harmful content.
The issue of age verification is already being tackled in the context of video sharing platforms, which are required to implement measures to prevent under-18s from accessing pornographic material under the Video Sharing Platform rules. Ofcom recently reported that Tapnet Ltd (which provides the online adult video service RevealMe) has introduced age verification measures, after Ofcom raised concerns that it was not doing enough to prevent children from being able to access pornography on its platform.
Earlier this year, Ofcom launched an enforcement programme into the age assurance measures of UK adult sites, to examine the scale of potential compliance concerns in the sector and determine whether any further action was required.
As part of this, Ofcom discovered that Tapnet was relying on self-declaration and debit card payments to provide assurance as to the age of its users. Tapnet has now introduced an interim age verification process while implementing an automated tool. It now requires users, upon entering the site and before accessing any videos, to verify their age by submitting valid identification to a third-party automated age verification tool or making a credit card payment; or by signing into a registered account where their age has already been verified.
Ofcom has welcomed these changes and will monitor whether they are working effectively. Some may say Tapnet got off lightly, given that the business has already been sanctioned for non-compliance with reporting obligations.
Since this latest Tapnet case was published, Ofcom has issued its consultation on new guidance to help online pornography services comply with the requirement under the Online Safety Act to introduce highly effective age-controls to protect children. That guidance also makes clear that debit cards and self-declaration will not be considered adequate measures.
This case follows other recent developments of interest to VSPs, which we have also covered in this article.