Powers to define legal but harmful content have been removed, which has pleased some free speech advocates.
According to safety organizations, it is far too easy for children to access pornography online.
However, ministers reject claims that the legislation has been watered down, citing improved age verification for children.
According to Ofcom research, one in every three children now has access to adult content on social media. They simply lie about their birth date to circumvent age restrictions on websites.
As part of the bill, all sites that publish pornography will be required to implement enhanced checks to ensure that their users are truly 18 or older.
Protesters demand action
Adults could use secure age verification technology to prove they have a credit card and are over the age of 18, or they could have a third-party service confirm their age against government data.
Sites that fail to act could face fines of up to 10% of their global turnover from regulator Ofcom, and their owners could face criminal charges if they do not cooperate.
Children’s safety organizations have long advocated for age verification on porn sites, citing concerns that minors have too easy access to publicly available material online.
There were plans to use porn blockers, which would have required commercial porn providers to verify users’ ages or face a UK ban, but those plans were scrapped in 2019.
“In the offline world, we have robust systems to prevent children from accessing things that may harm them,” Will Gardner, CEO of Childnet International, told the BBC.
“People must show identification when purchasing pornography, alcohol, or cigarettes, or when going to the movies to see an 18-rated film.” We want to extend these safeguards to the online environment.”
Data privacy concerns
There are many worries that young people’s understanding of healthy relationships, sex, and consent is being impacted by their exposure to porn.
Children are at risk from predators, according to specialists who work with kids, and it might deter them from coming forward with abuse.
Internet Matters, a group dedicated to online safety, reports that more than half of mothers worry that their kids will see a negative representation of women.
The best way for businesses to comply with the new regulations will depend on them, but Ofcom might suggest using specific age verification technologies.
OnlyFans, already the biggest adult-content website in the UK, has implemented age verification for all new UK subscribers using third-party tools from Yoti and Ondato.
Although age verification technology is widely used in industries like online gambling, there are still concerns that it may compromise privacy. Campaigners have cautioned that blackmailers would likely target a database of users of pornography as a prime target for hacking.
According to Monica Horten of the Open Rights Group, which works to protect digital rights and freedoms, the bill gave kids a “Hobson’s choice” regarding what to view.
Platforms would have to “either lock them out completely, or sanitize their platform to the level of the youngest child likely to access their service,” according to her.
The only other option, according to Ms. Horten, would be for AI systems to “guess the age” of users by analyzing their biometric data, which she claimed “raised serious privacy concerns.”
However, according to Iain Corby, executive director of the Age Verification Providers Association, the companies he represents have created a variety of ways for people to prove their age online without giving away their identity to the websites they visit.
“Artificial intelligence software can estimate your age based on a selfie or even a voice recording for those who are well over the legal drinking age, and tests have shown that it is generally far more accurate than the average bouncer. This is similar to how a bouncer at a nightclub might guess your age based on how old you look.
“Traditional methods of age verification, like the use of a passport or driver’s license, may be required in situations where the legal limit is stricter.
“The main benefit of these techniques is that they let you verify your age without disclosing who you are, so you can choose to remain anonymous online if you so choose.”