February 27, 2019 | Jim Killock

We met to discuss BBFC's voluntary age verification privacy scheme, but BBFC did not attend

Today Open Rights Group met a number of age verification providers to discuss the privacy standards that they will be meeting when the scheme launches, slated for April. Up to 20 million UK adults are expected to sign up to these products.


We invited all the AV providers we know about, and most importantly, the BBFC, at the start of February. BBFC are about to launch a voluntary privacy standard which some of the providers will sign up to. Unfortunately, BBFC have not committed to any public consultation about the scheme, relying instead on a commercial provider to draft the contents with providers, but without wider feedback from privacy experts and people who are concerned about users.

We held the offices close to the BBFC’s offices in order that it would be convenient for them to send someone that might be able to discuss this with us. We have been asking for meetings with BBFC about the privacy issues in the new code since October 2018: but have not received any reply or acknowledgement of our requests, until this morning, when BBFC said they would be unable to attend today’s roundtable. This is very disappointing.

BBFC’s failure to consult the public about this standard, or even to meet us to discuss our concerns, is alarming. We can understand that BBFC is cautious and does not wish to overstep its relationship with its new masters at DCMS. BBFC may be worried about ORG’s attitude towards the scheme: and we certainly are critical. However, it is not responsible for a regulator to fail to talk to its potential critics.

We are very clear about our objectives. We are acting to do our best to ensure the risk to adult users of age verification technologies are minimised. We do not pose a threat to the scheme as a whole: listening to us can only result in making the pornographic age verification scheme more likely to succeed, and for instance, to avoid catastrophic failures.

Privacy concerns appear to have been recognised by BBFC and DCMS as a result of consultation responses from ORG supporters and others, which resulted in the voluntary privacy standard. These concerns have also been highlighted by Parliament, whose regulatory committee expressed surprise that the Digital Economy Act 2017 had contained no provision to deal with the privacy implications of pornographic age verification.

Today’s meeting was held to discuss:

  1. What the scheme is likely to cover; and what it ideally should cover;

  2. Whether there is any prospect of making the scheme compulsory;

  3. What should be done about non-compliant services;

  4. What the governance of the scheme should be in the long tern, for instance whether it might be suitable to become an ICO backed code, or complement such as code

As we communicated to BBFC in December 2018, we have considerable worries about the lack of consultation over the standard they are writing, which appears to be truncated in order to meet the artificial deadline of April this year. This is what we explained to BBFC in our email:

  1. Security requires as many perspectives to be considered as possible.

  2. The best security standards eg PCI DSS are developed in the open and iterated

  3. The standards will be best if those with most to lose are involved in the design.

    1. For PCI DSS, the banks and their customers have more to lose than the processors

    2. For Age Verification, site users have more to lose than the processors, however only the processors seem likely to be involved in setting  the standard

We look forward to BBFC agreeing to meet us to discuss the outcome of the roundtable we held about their scheme, and to discuss our concerns about the new voluntary privacy standard. Meanwhile, we will produce a note from the meeting, which we believe was useful. It covered the concerns above, and issues around timing, as well as strategies for getting government to adjust their view of the absence of compulsory standards, which many of the providers want. In this, BBFC are a critical actor. ORG also intends as a result of the meeting to start to produce a note explaining what an effective privacy scheme would cover, in terms of scope, risks to mitigate, governance and enforcement for participants.