Ofcom begins rolling out age assurance guidance for UK businesses, Yoti pans the pace
The regulator tasked with ensuring websites comply with the UK’s new rules for online age assurance and protections for minors has published draft guidance for businesses on how to meet their obligations.
The UK’s communications regulator, Ofcom, is best known for being the body people complain to when something on television breaches the standards of public decency. Ofcom is also responsible for enforcing the Online Safety Act (known prior to passage as the Online Safety Bill), which incudes age verification and other protections for young people.
Ofcom is publishing Codes of Practice for social media, gaming, pornography, search and video-sharing websites to use to ensure they are adhering to their obligations. The regulator has also published the results of a study showing the frequency with which young people online are exposed to potentially inappropriate or exploitative material.
The legislation relies on age assurance as a key tool needed to protect against these and other online harms, whether that assurance is provided by an age verification, which for high assurance would likely rely on a biometric match, or facial age estimation, which analyzes biometric data but does not retain or use it for identification purposes.
The draft guidance comes in the form of the first of four consultations. The first consultation consists of a series of documents, including 6 volumes and 16 annexes, and makes clear that age assurance measures will have to be widely stepped up. Higher standards for age verification will be required for user-to-user services as part of a set of proposals planned for next year, for instance.
Yoti Chief Policy and Regulatory Officer Julie Dawson, however, is unimpressed with the time-frame for the changes.
“After years of debate and discussion, the Online Safety Act is now law. Different elements of the Act will be enforced within 18 months to three years,” Dawson says in an email to Biometric Update. “We strongly believe the age requirements could be enforced sooner though, given that privacy-preserving and effective online age assurance already exists.
“Ofcom must quickly start to enforce proportionate measures to prevent revenge porn — which is now an illegal online harm under the Online Safety Act. Platforms will need to check individuals in sexually explicit content are over 18 and have provided consent for the content to be published — otherwise this content should not be published. This can be achieved as simply as using facial age estimation to assess age and getting signed consent via an e-signature,” Dawson continues.
“We have been working with adult sites for several years to help them with age assurance and consent. There’s no need to wait another three years for enforcement. It takes merely a few hours to integrate the technology — there’s no need for a three-year lead time.”