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Popular porn sites hit with EU regulation mandating age verification

Popular porn sites hit with EU regulation mandating age verification
 

Popular porn sites Pornhub, Stripchat and XVideos will be forced to prevent European minors from accessing their content online, including with age verification tools, after receiving a new designation under the European Union’s Digital Services Act (DSA).

On Wednesday, the adult websites joined the ranks of Google, Facebook, Amazon, LinkedIn and 15 other sites designated as Very Large Online Platforms (VLOPs). The designation comes after the European Commission investigation concluded that the three services fulfill the threshold of 45 million average monthly users in the EU.

Under the Digital Services Act, VLOPs are obliged to adopt stringent content moderation, transparency and accountability measures. They will also have to introduce strong protection for minors, the Commission states in its decision.

The sites will have until February 2024 to comply with the DSA obligations.

Pornhub’s pushback

The EU designation comes amid a legislative tsunami towards enforcing stricter age verification for pornography sites, including in Canada, Australia, the UK, the United States and in individual European countries. But some porn sites are unhappy about the new obligations.

Canada-based Pornhub, one of the top three publishers of adult entertainment globally, claimed it should not be included on the VLOP list as it only has 33 million monthly active users in the bloc. The figure, however, has drawn skepticism from non-governmental organizations, including digital rights group Access Now, which has called the number “unlikely,” according to The Verge.

This week’s designation means that the European Commission did not buy the user figures either. But Pornhub may have other tools in its arsenal.

After the U.S. state of Utah passed a law requiring pornographic sites to verify visitors’ ages earlier this year the site decided to block all Utah IP addresses to avoid potential lawsuits. The company has been fighting similar legislation in Canada, claiming that collecting significant amounts of sensitive personal information would put user safety at risk.

Other companies have also challenged regulations that would require protecting minors through age checks. In the UK, the Wikimedia Foundation, the organization behind Wikipedia, said it will not comply with age checks mandated by the local Online Safety Bill, expected to be fully in force next year.

Multiple companies have also mounted legal challenges against the EU’s VLOP designation, including e-commerce sites Amazon and Zalando.

Europe devising new strategies for age verification

The EU is not just counting on platforms to introduce age checks, it’s also creating backup plans for protecting children online.

One of them is euConsent, a project to create a Europe-wide age verification and parental consent solution that would keep minors from restricted online content and products.

The project completed its pilot in 2022, showing that face estimation is the most popular age verification option among the trial participants.

The European project has ambitions to become a global solution. It is difficult to estimate, however, when the euConsent will be ready, according to Kostas Flokos, CEO of UpcoMinds and euConsent Project Coordinator who recently presented the project at a webinar.

Coupled with euConsent, the bloc has also devised a strategy called Better Internet for Kids (BIK+) Adopted in May 2022, BIK+ has three main goals: Protecting children from harmful and illegal content, giving them the necessary skills to make safe choices and express themselves online and improving children’s active participation online.

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