ORG report: BBFC age verification standard is pointless, misleading and potentially dangerous

  • From July 15, people in the UK are expected to prove they are 18 if they want to watch porn online.
  • Open Rights Group report warns that voluntary BBFC Age-verification Certificate Standard gives consumers little privacy protection as it is vague, imprecise and largely a ‘tick box’ exercise.
  • ORG believes consumers do not know enough about age verification scheme to make informed and safe choices.
  • ORG’s report is available here: AV_Security_Standard_Analysis_2.pdf

Just one month until age verification for online pornography is launched in the UK, the Open Rights Group has warned that the Government is failing to protect the privacy and security of adults who watch pornography online.

Open Rights Group has analysed the BBFC’s Age-verification Certificate Standard, which outlines measures for AV providers to demonstrate that they will keep users’ data safe. ORG’s report shows that the Scheme provides little assurance to the 20 million adults that are estimated to watch porn in the UK.

Executive Director Jim Killock said:

“On July 15, millions of Internet users in the UK will have to make a decision about which age verification providers they trust with data about their personal pornography habits and preferences.

“Due to the sensitive nature of age verification data, there needs to be a higher standard of protection than the baseline which is offered by data protection legislation.

“The BBFC’s standard is supposed to deliver this. However, it is a voluntary standard, which offers little information about the level of data protection being offered and provides no means of redress if companies fail to live up to it. Its requirements are vague and a ‘tick box’ exercise. This renders it pointless, misleading and potentially dangerous as advice to consumers seeking safe products.”

ORG’s key criticisms of the BBFC standard:

  • The Standard is voluntary, which means that age verification providers are under no obligation to apply it. 
  • There are no penalties for AV providers who sign up to the standard and then fail to meet its requirements. 
  • The Standard is very broadly drafted and there are not enough specific rules for providers to follow. Instead, providers must state they have considered problems and choose their own way to deal with them.
  • Those providers that meet the Standard will have an identifier mark. However, because of the vague criteria and wording within the standard, consumers will have little idea about the level of data protection being applied. 
  • Age verification providers have not been given enough time to apply the Standard, which was only published in April.

Privacy timebomb
Porn companies will have to apply age verification to UK users from July 15, 2019. As far as Open Rights Group is aware, there has been no government advertising to make the millions of UK porn users aware that the law has changed and there appears to be very little public awareness of the scheme.

A YouGov poll from March 2019 showed that 74% of the British public are unaware of that age verification is being introduced.

Killock added:
“Age verification will affect millions of people in the UK, yet the Government has done little to advertise this change, nor offered advice to consumers about what they need to do to keep their sensitive data safe.

“A DCMS impact assessment outlined that this scheme could put UK citizens at risk of fraud and blackmail, which could have a devastating impact on individuals. We urge the Government to delay age verification until there are proper mechanisms in place to protect privacy.”

Protecting under 18s
The requirement to verify the age of porn users aims to prevent under 18s from accessing pornographic content. However, it only applies to companies that provide pornographic content on a commercial basis. This means that young people will still be able to access pornography on free sites, through file sharing or on social media platforms, such as Twitter. A DCMS impact assessment of the scheme stated that it created, “a risk that both adults and children may be pushed towards ToR where they could be exposed to illegal activities and more extreme material.”

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Notes to Editors
The BBFC’s Age verification standard was published on April 2019:
ORG’s analysis of the standard is here: