California has passed a controversial age verification bill that could set a new precedent for online age verification processes, leading to fears that adult content sites and platforms will be under further constraints limiting their output and processes.
The AB 2273 bill, known as The California Age-Appropriate Design Code Act, was passed by lawmakers on September 1, 2022. Designed to protect minors from harmful online content, it has sparked fears that it sets unrealistic age verification rules for sites and platforms.
If it is passed by Governor Gavin Newsom, as it is expected to be by many industry watchers, the bill will come into effect on July 1, 2024.
The bill will require websites accessible in California, where much of the online porn industry is based, to judge users’ ages with “a reasonable level of certainty”. Essentially, sites and services would be compelled to determine if a user is a child or not, before allowing them access.
It would apply to any website “likely to be accessed by children”. This vague wording has led to uncertainty about how much the bill might affect adult content sites. Porn sites and platforms are clearly aimed at adults, but at present many can be freely accessed by anyone. Will that be considered “likely to be accessed by children”?
Adult industry insiders are concerned that if rigorously enforced, the bill could require stringent age verification processes that would be unrealistic for many companies to implement effectively. Commentators have said that the bill would be “literally impossible to comply with“.
The passing of the bill will potentially further constrict the freedom of adult content sites and services, including individuals reliant on them for income, in an already rapidly-tightening legal sphere.
In 2018 the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (SESTA) and Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA) bills, designed to crack down on sex trafficking, led to online platforms being more stringent about removing content that could be linked to sex work.
Further proposed bills, such as Stop Internet Sexual Exploitation Act (SIESA), have the potential to make it more difficult for adult content creators to put their material online.
“There is bipartisan agreement at the international level, in both the United States and in the State of California, that more needs to be done to create a safer online space for children to learn, explore, and play,” the AB 2273 bill states of its purpose.
Meanwhile, a number of other countries around the world are also mulling age verification measures. The UK, for example, mooted then abandoned plans to introduce strict verification rules to ensure people accessing adult content are over the age of 18. Likewise, some other European countries are considering similar schemes.