Age verification process for watching porn in the UK could include being forced to let AI scan your face to assess your age

The proposed UK Online Safety Bill guidance may incorporate AI face checks for porn age verification purposes.

Ofcom, the UK’s communications regulatory authority, is considering using AI facial age assessments as part of verification processes to access online porn in the country.

The Online Safety Bill, which is set to toughen up age verification rules for online porn and make online platforms more accountable for the content they host, was recently passed in the UK, with Ofcom now planning its implementation.

Earlier this month (December 2023) Ofcom released a document called Implementing the Online Safety Act: Protecting Children From Online Pornography. In the document it was suggested that AI could be used to judge whether a person looks under the age of 25, and if they are, the person could be pushed through to a further age verification step before being able to access online porn.

The document states: “At present, we have only proposed including facial age estimation in our guidance, as we do not have evidence to suggest that other methods of age estimation are currently capable of being highly effective, are sufficiently mature technologies, or are being deployed at scale.”

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It adds: “We will continue to review this position over time as technologies evolve.”

Ofcom said it was also looking at the potential of using open banking, photo ID matching, credit card checks and digital identity wallets in age verification processes, as well as facial recognition. It’s still relatively early days for the organization, which says it won’t publish its guidance on age verification implementation until early 2025.

Some in the online porn industry are concerned that tougher age verification measures, pushed into law following concerns about the amount of children accessing porn, will make it harder for adults to access porn legally.

There is also concern that content creators and other sex workers who use porn sites to earn a living may find it harder to legally post content.

“Regardless of their approach, we expect all services to offer robust protection to children from stumbling across pornography, and also to take care that privacy rights and freedoms for adults to access legal content are safeguarded,” Ofcom Chief Executive Dame Melanie Dawes said in a statement.

Editor’s Opinion: Would AI verification work?

“Obviously, the success (or not) of automated AI-based age verification measures depends on a couple of things. Firstly, it’d need to be difficult to defeat. There’s not a lot of point requiring facial age verification if it can be defeated with a photo from the internet (or indeed, create with other AI tools), in the same way that banks and financial services apps require authentication. Often this takes the form of recording (and not uploading) a short video.

Secondly, it’d need to be as secure as a bank too. Creating databases of faces, associated with specific profiles of users on porn sites sounds like an awfully big target for hackers or anyone with nefarious intent and a penchant for blackmail or extortion, a criticism that’s already been levelled at some Age Verification suggestions by privacy advocates.

Ultimately, of course, most people would probably just use a proxy network (more commonly known as a VPN) to connect to the porn site from outside the UK, thereby negating the need to verify ages with a photo anyway. Again, the likelihood that the scheme won’t achieve its stated goals has also been criticized for several years.”

Ben Woods, Founder & Editorial Director, SEXTECHGUIDE
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Jamie F
Jamie F

Jamie is a freelance writer, contributing to outlets such as The Guardian, The Times, The Telegraph, CNN and Vice, among others. He is also the creative force behind the Audible podcast Beast Master.

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