UK porn block law: How the creepy age verification systems will work

The age verification systems will include online account based verification, app and voucher based verification, and facial scanning verification.


New information has been released about the age verification systems that will be rolled out as part of the UK’s porn blocking law which will be coming into force as part of the Digital Economy Act 2017.

There will be three main age verification under this law which are:

  1. Verifying your age using an online account
  2. Verifying your age using a voucher and app
  3. Verifying your age using facial scanning technology

It’s not clear when this porn blocking law will fully roll out. It was originally meant to start in April 2018 but it has been pushed back a number of times and the latest statement from Margot James, the Minister of State for Digital and the Creative Industries, suggest it will come in by April 21, 2019.

When this law comes into force, the only way to access porn from inside the UK will be through one of these age verification systems or via a VPN (Virtual Private Network).

While the UK government are positioning this porn blocking law as a way to protect children from pornography, the true impact of the law seems to be that it will onboard UK citizens into an age verification system for online content which can then be used to control, censor, and restrict UK citizen’s access to the internet.

How to circumvent these age verification systems

If you want to access porn without opting into these age verification systems, your best option is to use a VPN (our referral link). A VPN allows you to change your IP (Internet Protocol) address to a country that doesn’t have these porn blocks in place and circumvent the age verification systems completely. As an added bonus, a VPN also encrypts your internet traffic and protects your privacy by stopping your ISP (internet service provider) seeing the sites you visit.

However, even if you are going to be using a VPN, it’s a good idea to understand how these age verification systems will work to truly grasp the invasiveness and privacy implications of this new law.

Below are more details on each of the age verification systems that will be rolled out when the law comes into force.

Online account age verification systems

Online account age verification systems require you to verify your age through an online account. Once you’ve verified your age through this online account, you can use it to access porn and other age-restricted content.

These online account age verification systems require you to submit some personal information which may include your email address, phone number, and documentation that proves your age. However, most of the providers of this service claim to store a minimum amount of personal data and encrypt or anonymize any personal data that is collected.

There are currently four main providers of online account based age verification systems:

1. AgeID

The AgeID homepage.
Source: AgeID.com

Here’s the process for signing up to and using AgeID:

  1. Submit and verify your email address.
  2. Verify your age with AgeID’s trusted providers by providing them with documentation such as your passport, driving license, or banking details.
  3. Once your age is approved, login to AgeID to access porn and other age-restricted content.

AgeID says it collects a minimal amount of personally identifiable information which includes:

  • Your email address
  • Your password
  • A “Yes” or “No” answer to the question “Is this user over 18?”
  • Technical information to prevent fraud

However, it doesn’t provide details of the trusted third parties that are used during the age verification process or the data that these third parties collect during this process. It also doesn’t specify what “technical information” is collected to prevent fraud.

One other thing to be aware of with AgeID is that it’s owned and operated by a company called MindGeek. MindGeek also owns and operates Pornhub, RedTube, and YouPorn – three of the biggest porn sites on the internet.

This means the same company will be collecting some personally identifiable information (such as email addresses) from users of both the age verification services and the porn sites they want to access. MindGeek could potentially link this information and use it to create a much more detailed and personal profile of a user’s porn consumption habits.

Since MindGeek’s AgeID system is government approved, it’s also possible that this data could be passed to the UK government.

2. AgeChecked

The AgeChecked homepage.
Source: AgeChecked.com

Here’s the process for signing up to and using AgeChecked:

  1. Sign up and choose from a number of age verification options such as your passport, driving license, or banking details.
  2. Once your age has been verified, login to AgeChecked to view online porn and other age-restricted content.

AgeChecked claims it anonymizes your data throughout the age verification process, holds no personal data, and wipes your data from its system once approved.

While this sounds good, AgeChecked provides no specific examples of the specific data that’s collected and anonymized during the age verification process, the third parties it works with to perform this age verification, or the data that these third parties may collect during the age verification process.

3. AVSecure

 

The AVSecure homepage.
Source: AVSecure.com

Here’s the process for signing up to and using AVSecure:

  1. Choose an age verification method which can include your address, credit or debit card details, driving license, mobile phone number, or passport ID.
  2. Once your age has been verified by one of AVSecure’s trusted partners, you’ll be given an access key and asked to set up a PIN.
  3. After setting up this PIN, you can use your AVSecure account to generate one-time use tokens which can be used to view porn and other age-restricted content.

AVSecure says it provides industry-leading anonymization techniques. However, the company gives no specifics on the data that’s collected, how it’s anonymized, the third parties that are involved in the age verification process, or if these third parties collect any personal data during this verification process.

4. Yoti

The Yoti homepage.
Yoti.com

Here’s the process for signing up to and using Yoti:

  1. Submit and verify your phone number.
  2. Choose a five-digit PIN.
  3. Scan your face and say three random words to the camera.
  4. Scan the documents you’ll be using to verify your age into Yoti. This can be your passport, driving license, and other types of age verification documents.
  5. Once you’ve added the appropriate age verification documents into Yoti, you can use them to verify your age and access porn sites via the Yoti app.

Unlike the other online account based age verification options which just store a record of whether you’re over 18, Yoti keeps an encrypted copy of any documents you submit on its servers. While these documents are encrypted and Yoti says it has no access to your encryption keys, their encryption method is not open source, so there’s no way to independently audit the company’s claims.

Additionally, Yoti is the only online account based verification provider that requires you to submit your phone number and perform a face scan in order to use its age verification services.

Ultimately, this means you have to provide Yoti with a lot more personal information, allow the company to store more of your personal information on its servers, and trust that its encryption will keep your personal information safe.

Voucher and app age verification systems

The voucher and app age verification systems allow you to verify your age in a relatively anonymous way by purchasing a voucher in-store and then entering a code from that voucher into an app. After entering the code, the app verifies your age and saves the age verification information to your device. You can then access porn and other age-restricted content by generating a one-time use code in the app or scanning a QR code via the app.

The advantage of using voucher and app age verification systems is that they don’t collect any personal information from you during the account creation process or the age verification process. However, they do require you to install an app on your device which could potentially collect personally identifiable information from your device.

There are currently two main providers of voucher and app based age verification systems:

1. AVSecure Age Verification Card

The AVSecure homepage.
Source: AVSecure.com

Alternative text: The AVSecure homepage.

AVSecure’s Age Verification Card is a more anonymous alternative to the online account based age verification options that this company provides.

Here’s the process for verifying your age with the AVSecure Age Verification Card:

  1. Purchase an Age Verification Card for £10 from one of 60,000 retail across the UK. These locations include major supermarket chains. Age verification will be performed in-store at the point of sale.
  2. Use the single-use number from the Age Verification Card to verify your age with AVSecure.
  3. Once your age has been verified, AVSecure will give you an access key and ask you to set up a PIN.
  4. After setting up this PIN, you can generate one-time use tokens with your AVSecure account and use them to access porn and other age-restricted content.

2. PortesCard

The PortesCard page.
Source: Portes.is

Alternative text: The PortesCard page.

Here’s the process for verifying your age with the PortesCard:

  1. Purchase a PortesCard from one of the retail locations in the UK. You can purchase a single device card for £4.99 or a multi-device card for £8.99.
  2. Enter or scan the code on the PortesCard into the Portes app within 24 hours of purchasing the card.
  3. The Portes app will generate a virtual card which it calls a DIID and ask you to set up a passcode.
  4. Once you’ve set up this passcode, you can access porn and other age-restricted content by scanning a QR code via the Portes app.

Facial scanning age verification systems

Currently, there’s just one facial scanning age verification system provided by Yoti – the same company which also provides online account based age verification systems.

The technology is called Yoti Age Scan and is currently being used to provide in-store age verification. According to Yoti’s whitepaper, its age estimation technology is 100% accurate at estimating ages with a 15-year buffer and 99.14% accurate at estimating ages with a 10-year buffer.

There isn’t much information available on how this technology will be used to provide age verification on porn websites but it’s likely that the Yoti app will be used to perform a face scan and then the Yoti Age Scan technology will determine whether you’re old enough to access porn.

According to Yoti, its age estimation technology doesn’t require individuals to register in advance or provide any documentary evidence of their identity. It also doesn’t store the face scan images or personal information. This suggests that you may be able to use Yoti Age Scan to view porn without registering for an account or providing any further personally identifiable information.

Why the UK’s push towards online age verification systems is concerning

1. Some of the age verification companies collect a lot of personally identifiable information

Yoti, in particular, collects your phone number and keeps an encrypted copy of all your identification documents on its servers. Since none of these companies provide truly open source products, we have to trust them to properly encrypt any personal data they collect.

There are no guarantees that they’re not sharing this data with government authorities or third party companies and without these guarantees, it’s possible that this personal data could also be hacked or leaked.

2. MindGeek is working with the UK government to provide age verification services while also providing pornographic content to users

As mentioned earlier in this article, MindGeek owns and operates both AgeID and a number of leading porn sites that will be using the AgeID verification system. This seems like a huge conflict of interests for a number of reasons.

First, MindGeek may be able to connect the emails collected through AgeID with the emails of users of its porn sites. This could potentially remove any promised anonymity when using AgeID and allow MindGeek to identify AgeID users and track their porn consumption habits.

Second, MindGeek is working with the UK government in some capacity to provide this age verification system. Previously, MindGeek and the data it collects from operating its porn businesses had no ties to the UK government. Now that these two entities are linked, it’s possible that this porn consumption data could be shared.

3. No information is provided about the third-party age verification services

The companies that perform the actual age verification are simply referred to as “trusted third parties.” We have no idea who these third parties are, how much personal information these third parties collect, or whether using these third-parties adds you to a database of UK porn consumers.

4. This age verification system is encroaching on people’s private internet activity

Even if we assume that the most private age verification options allow UK citizens to watch porn anonymously, the rollout of this age verification system represents a huge encroachment on people’s private internet activity.

It changes the internet from a place where you can browse freely to a place where you’re required to get some form of ID or verification to access certain types of content. Once the UK government has set the precedent that you need permission to access certain types of content on the internet, it could easily tighten the net and start to require citizens to use ID or verification to access certain sites, content from specific creators, age-restricted movies, music with explicit lyrics, and lots of other internet content.

Porn is an easy target for the government. Fewer people will defend the right to access porn because of its taboo nature and because they don’t want to be seen as going against something that’s positioned as protecting children. However, once the government controls access to porn, it can easily control access to the internet as a whole.

Reclaim your internet privacy with a VPN

While the UK government’s plans to roll out age verification systems are worrying, you can take a stand against this internet encroachment by using a VPN (our referral link).

Not only does a VPN allow you to change your IP address and circumvent these age verification systems completely but it also secures and encrypts all your internet browsing activity which keeps it completely private. This means in addition to being able to access porn privately and anonymously, you’ll also be protected against other forms of government tracking.

The UK government has shown that it doesn’t respect the right to privacy on the internet. By using a VPN, you can reclaim your internet privacy and say no to this government encroachment.


Tom Parker

Tom Parker is a head contributor for Reclaim The Net and provides news and analysis on how we can promote free speech, stop censorship, and protect our personal data online. [email protected]