Published: 17th April 2019

Age-verification for online pornography to begin in July

The UK will become the first country in the world to bring in age-verification for online pornography when the measures come into force on 15 July 2019.

  • Porn sites must check age of users or risk facing sanctions
  • New approach is the first of its kind in the world, and puts in place the same protections that exist offline
  • Stricter measures in place to protect users’ data and privacy

It means that commercial providers of online pornography will be required by law to carry out robust age-verification checks on users, to ensure that they are 18 or over. The move is backed by 88% of UK parents with children aged 7-17, who agree there should be robust age-verification controls in place to stop children seeing pornography online

Websites that fail to implement age-verification technology face having payment services withdrawn or being blocked for UK users.

The British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) will be responsible for ensuring compliance with the new laws. They have confirmed that they will begin enforcement on 15 July, following an implementation period to allow websites time to comply with the new standards.

Minister for Digital Margot James said:

“Adult content is currently far too easy for children to access online. The introduction of mandatory age-verification is a world-first, and we’ve taken the time to balance privacy concerns with the need to protect children from inappropriate content. We want the UK to be the safest place in the world to be online, and these new laws will help us achieve this.”

Government has listened carefully to privacy concerns and is clear that age-verification arrangements should only be concerned with verifying age, not identity. In addition to the requirement for all age-verification providers to comply with General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) standards, the BBFC have created a voluntary certification scheme, the Age-verification Certificate (AVC), which will assess the data security standards of AV providers. The AVC has been developed in cooperation with industry, with input from government. 

Certified age-verification solutions which offer these robust data protection conditions will be certified following an independent assessment and will carry the BBFC's new green 'AV' symbol. Details will also be published on the BBFC’s age-verification website, so consumers can make an informed choice between age-verification providers.

BBFC Chief Executive David Austin said:

"The introduction of age-verification to restrict access to commercial pornographic websites to adults is a ground breaking child protection measure. Age-verification will help prevent children from accessing pornographic content online and means the UK is leading the way in internet safety.

“On entry into force, consumers will be able to identify that an age-verification provider has met rigorous security and data checks if they carry the BBFC's new green 'AV' symbol."

The change in law is part of the Government’s commitment to making the UK the safest place in the world to be online, especially for children. It follows last week’s publication of the Online Harms White Paper which set out clear responsibilities for tech companies to keep UK citizens safe online, how these responsibilities should be met and what would happen if they are not.

CEO of Internet Matters Carolyn Bunting said:

"We are delighted to see the government tackling the issue of online pornography - as children seeing content they're not emotionally ready for can be very damaging, especially if they don’t speak out about it.

"While our research shows that parents overwhelmingly support age-verification and are confident it will make a difference, we must recognise that digital solutions aren't the only answer and parents can't become complacent about their child's digital world.

"There is no substitute to having regular and honest conversations with your child about what they're getting up to online, establishing an open dialogue about their digital life from a young age."

Will Gardner, CEO of Childnet:

“We hope that the introduction of this age-verification will help in protecting children, making it harder for young people to accidentally come across online pornography, as well as bringing in the same protections that we use offline to protect children from age-restricted goods or services.

“Talking to children is vital and education has a major part to play here, and we need to ensure all young people are given a platform to discuss the pressures they face online and have the skills to spot and understand the gap between perception and reality. We are releasing a new extended PSHE toolkit later this month to address the issue of online pornography along with related topics of body image and healthy relationships.

“We know that conversations with young people, parents and carers and teachers are paramount to giving children the information, support and skills that they need.”

Notes to Editors

The BBFC were designated in February 2018, public consultation on the guidance was held from March - April 2018, Guidance was laid in parliament in October 2018, and debated and approved in December 2018.

A large amount of pornography is available online with little or no protections to ensure that those accessing it are old enough to do so. In turn, this is changing the way young people understand healthy relationships, sex and consent. In response the Government brought forward legislation in the Digital Economy Act to combat these changing attitudes and ensure that what is unacceptable offline is unacceptable online.

There will be a number of age-verification options available, so a user can choose what’s right for them. These checks will be rigorous - you won’t be able to just type in your date of birth or tick a box. Age-verification solutions range from the use of traditional ID documents online (for example, credit cards or passports) to mobile phones where the adult filters have been removed. Users can also use digital IDs or buy a card over the counter in a shop where the verification is face to face.

Research carried out by YouGov for the BBFC found that 88% of parents with children aged 7-17 agree there should be robust age-verification controls in place to stop children seeing pornography online. YouGov Plc.  Total sample size was 6339 adults, of which 996 are parents of 7 to 17 year olds. Fieldwork was undertaken between 6th - 11th December 2018. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all UK adults (aged 18+). 

Today Internet Matters has published new research detailing parents concerns about their children viewing online pornography. Top concerns included a distorted view of healthy relationships, objectification of women and use of violence, the impact on self-esteem and body image  - while a third of parents (33%) are concerned about their child becoming addicted to pornography. View the full research:

What is the AVC

The Age-verification Certificate (AVC) is a voluntary, non-statutory certification scheme to ensure age-verification providers maintain high standards of privacy and data security.

It has been developed by the BBFC and NCC Group in cooperation with industry and with the input of government. Under the AVC, age-verification providers may choose to be independently audited by NCC Group, who are experts in cyber security, and then certified by the BBFC. The third party audit by NCC Group will include an assessment of an age-verification provider’s compliance with strict privacy and data security requirements. 

Certified providers will carry the BBFC’s new green ‘AV’ symbol to indicate that rigorous security checks have been met and the provider has a high standard of data protection. Certified providers will also be listed on the BBFC’s age-verification website, alongside details of their assessment.