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Age check rules meet with pushback from online publishers

Age check rules meet with pushback from online publishers
 

Businesses in the North Atlantic economies have few options when it comes to new regulations they do not like. One of the least-often used is a business owner saying they just refuse to play.

And yet, in the United States, the United Kingdom and, perhaps soon, the European Union, that is what is happening as governments regulate children’s privacy on and access to the internet.

The U.S. state of Utah earlier this year passed a law requiring sites deemed to be publishers of pornography to verify visitors’ ages. The law gives parents the right to sue non-compliant companies listed as porn purveyors by the government.

(Louisiana already has a similar law as well as a follow-up bill that would fine site owners not doing the job. Two other states, Arkansas and Virginia, are debating their own age-verification laws.)

Utah’s law has prompted Canada-based Pornhub, one of the top three publishers of adult entertainment globally, to block all Utah IP addresses. Pornhub is owned by another adult-entertainment streaming publisher, Luxemburg-based MindGeek.

It is more typical for a government to block the pornography publisher, as is the case with China, Pakistan and the Philippines.

According to The Salt Lake Tribune, state politicians are already getting angry calls from residents.

Compliance is an expense for publishers, and it will force them to collect some amount of personal information to ensure someone trying to view a site is older than 17. The adult entertainment industry thrives in anonymity, so this could hurt revenue.

There also is the concern that demands for proof of age could escalate to personally identifiable information, including biometric data, which would be as vulnerable to theft and misstep as any data online.

In a video statement posted by Pornhub, the company announces that, “we believe the best and most effective solution for protecting children and adults alike is to identify users by the device… .”

In the UK, the generally anodyne Wikimedia Foundation, the organization behind Wikipedia, says the community aggregated encyclopedia will not comply with age checks mandated by the Online Safety Bill, expected to be fully in force next year.

According to the BBC, the CEO of Wikimedia UK, Lucy Crompton-Reid, said the foundation will not verify that ages of contributors or readers. There are Wikipedia entries that someone could complain about, which makes the foundation liable to legal action if it does not verify ages.

Some legislators who favor the Online Safety Bill have said Wikipedia would not be targeted, that only organizations that are more clearly offensive would be the focus. Crompton-Reid has dismissed that assurance as unenforceable goodwill.

And in the EU, the European Commission has named 17 very large online platforms and two very large online search engines that will be regulated by the Digital Services Act. The act focuses on illegal content, disinformation and transparent advertising.

Aspects of the law would logically call for age verification. Lawmakers want the act to provide strong protections for minors, for example. Sites must “ensure a high level of privacy, security, and safety of minors,” according to the Commission.

The companies and sites on the hook to make minors safe are:

Alibaba AliExpress

Amazon Store

Apple AppStore

Booking.com

Facebook

Google Play

Google Maps

Google Shopping

Instagram

LinkedIn

Pinterest

Snapchat

TikTok

Twitter

Wikipedia

YouTube

Zalando

Bing

Google Search

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