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Porn, age verification and the Digital Economy Bill

I have always said that what I write here is porn. Sometimes it’ll devolve into political rants, but by and large the purpose of this site is to write sexy stories that arouse people. Unfortunately, the UK Government doesn’t like porn, and the Digital Economy Bill – a piece of legislation that is currently before Parliament – will totally change the way in which anyone in the UK watches it. I shouldn’t even really say ‘in the UK’ there, because it will have a huge effect on those of you outside it too.

The Digital Economy Bill

At the heart of the Digital Economy Bill lies a commitment to age verification: age verification means that all ‘commercial’ adult websites based in the UK will need to have some system of verifying that people are over 18. And not just ‘type your date of birth in’ like many of the alcohol websites do: you will need to provide robust, identifying details about yourself if you wish to access adult content.

  • ‘Identifying details’ might mean your passport number, drivers’ licence, or credit card. It could potentially mean just your mobile phone number – you give your number, and the site checks you against a mobile phone database to make sure you’re over 18. However, the bill offers no guarantee of privacy – however age verification is done, there will always be a risk that someone, somewhere, will hold (read: could potentially leak) a database of your sexual tastes. What’s more, to run each of these checks is going to cost money. It’s expensive to build these systems, and while massive sites with lots of money might be able to pay the 20p per user it could cost to verify, smaller sites won’t. If I were subject to age verification checks on every user, and they cost 20p each, so far this year I’d have spent over £200,000 on age verification. Or more realistically, I would just have shut this site down.
  • ‘Based in the UK’ is going to primarily affect sites run by UK individuals and companies. But you’re not in the clear if you run a sex blog from the US: you will still need to age-check anyone who is visiting from within the UK. Don’t fancy doing that? I don’t blame you – as mentioned above it’s expensive. So: bye bye to all your UK traffic. UK people: bye-bye to any porn site – from anywhere – which can’t afford to age check you.
  • ‘Commercial’ means ‘a site which makes money.’ Not ‘any site which makes millions’, just any money at all: affiliate links, adverts, even the occasional sponsored post which someone paid you £20 for: commercial. And in fact, the Adult Provider Network (a committee made up of guys who work for large commercial sites which can afford age verification) is keen to change the wording of the bill so that even non-commercial sites which make no money will still be subject to the same rules. Presumably the logic is that ‘if we’re fucked so are you.’
  • ‘Adult’ is never something that’s easy to define. Where do we draw the line between porn and not-porn? What’s art versus pornography? What’s free expression versus obscenity? Normally I’d love to get stuck into this kind of philosophical debate, but fuck it: the Digital Economy Bill says that adult content includes still images, videos and audio. Can you think of an adult site you like that includes none of these elements?

The Digital Economy Bill is bad for everyone

The above is just a tiny summary of why the Digital Economy Bill is so worrying to me personally. If you watch porn or run an adult site (sex bloggers – this absolutely includes you) it should worry you too. Even if you don’t like porn this Bill is bad. If you think porn is too hardcore, or too violent, then note that the Digital Economy Bill does not take power away from the big tube sites you hate like PornHub or RedTube – it actually gives them more power relative to smaller, independent producers – because the big companies are the only ones that will be able to afford the age verification checks. Pop back tomorrow as I’ve another post lined up about why this is deeply worrying.

The above points are all distilled from this incredible blog post by Pandora Blake, which goes into much more detail about just how utterly fucked we all are. I can’t do justice to it, I’m only writing this post because I know there will be people who see it who wouldn’t otherwise have seen a retweet/share/howl into the wilderness. What’s more, I tweeted that link last week and someone asked ‘can I have the tl;dr version? It’s quite long.’ So for the record, and for what it’s worth, here goes:

It is long because there is a hell of a lot wrong with the Digital Economy Bill. It is really worth paying attention to this, whether you’re in the UK or not, and whether you run an adult website or just enjoy the content from a distance. 

Kink Olympixxx protest

On the 17th October, outside the Houses of Parliament, Pandora Blake and Myles Jackman – along with representatives from the Open Rights Group, Privacy International, Index on Censorship, Backlash and a number of other organisations – are arranging the ‘Kink Olympixxx.’ The aim is to highlight the problems with the Digital Economy Bill, as well as calling for an update on our ridiculously antiquated Obscenity Laws.

12pm. Houses of Parliament. 17th October. 

Please do what you can to spread the word, and if you can make it please come along. You should also follow Pandora Blake and Myles Jackman who are doing absolutely incredible work fighting against the Digital Economy Bill and other irrational and outdated restrictions on adult content in the UK. And as what I’ve given here is just an intro, you can read more on the Digital Economy Bill at Pandora’s blog here, and on Myles’s blog here.

Added 10th Oct 2016 – after a meeting with some of the companies offering age verification ‘solutions’ security researcher Alec Muffett has summarised proposed adult verification options. It’s worth checking out because this is what the law would look like in practice, and it’s appalling.

14 Comments

  • Ay None says:

    It always boggles me that people throw this much effort into trying to keep videos and images away from “impressionable young minds” but they never seem to care about books. When I was a teenager I was reading Piers Anthony novels, which have some seriously shady shit in them. When I was barely eighteen I bought a copy of The Fermata by Nicholson Baker on the recommendation of my creative writing tutor and that’s got (amongst other filth) a threesome with all three participants daisy-chained together courtesy of a double-ended vibrator and a whole lot of anal penetration. Nobody asked how old I was when I bought that.

    Age verification is a fruitless task. Any teenager who really wants to watch porn can figure out how to use a VPN to pretend to be outside the UK. Or do it the old-fashioned way with DVDs or copies of Penthouse discarded under bushes. Or they can read filthy novels like I did. There’s loads of self-published erotica on Amazon for starters.

    If the government really cared about the possible effects of porn on teenagers, they’d be pushing education and discussion instead of trying to find a way to stop them watching in the first place. But you know, that’s harder to implement and requires the government to do actual work instead of foisting it on other people…

    • Girl on the net says:

      Yes! Couldn’t agree with you more. The idea seems to be that images and videos are terrible and can corrupt people, but books can’t. I suspect it’s because it’s so much harder to argue for censorship of literature (because of the book-burning connotations) than for videos which generally are considered less ‘worthy’ or what have you.

    • SpaceCaptainSmith says:

      Um, don’t give them ideas. I remember a proposal a few years ago that books should have age restrictions…

      The law as currently written doesn’t apply to written material, but according to Pandora Blake it does apply to audio content, presumably including audiobooks. From there it’s only a short step to controlling what people can read.

    • Thanks for your recommendation of The Fermata. I will certainly read it!

      Yours,
      liberated librosexual

  • Thomas Roberts says:

    You are fine.You have a good mind and heart.It is honest and it is clean – true to yourself.IT IS SEXY BUT NOT DIRTY.
    THE REST OF THE WORLD IS SICK. IT IS THEY WHO HAVE THE DIRTY MINDS – they look out there and and see filth everywhere believing themselves innocent goody goody saintly divine beings above being animal – human- sexual. THEY ARE SIMPLY NOT YET A COMPLETE HUMAN ANIMAL – THEY ARE ALIENATED from the human experience- THEY HAVE NOT ARRIVED YET – still back there trying to grow into a fully feeling human being.BEING ALIEN DEPRIVES THEM OF ANY UNDERSTANDING OF WHAT HUMAN IS.THEY KNOW NOTHING WHAT-SO-EVER ABOUT BEING HUMAN – THEY ONLY BELIEVE – THAT IS ALL THEY ARE ABLE TO DO -MAKE-BELIEVE.FOOLS WHO PROJECT THEIR IGNORANT INSANITY ON EVERYONE ELSE.ALL THEY ARE DOING IS SEEING THEMSELVES EVERYWHERE ELSE –THEY SEE US NOT – WE ARE MERELY MIRRORS IN WHICH THEY ARE REFLECTED – BUT BEING DEAF DUMB AND BLIND – THEY CANNOT GRASP THAT TRUTH – DO NOT WANT TO KNOW THE TRUTH – SO THEY LIVE IN A PRETEND – PRETENDING WE ARE THE BAD GUYS THEY SEE IN THE MIRROR – NOT THEMSELVES.THEY ARE THE UNTEACHABLES LOST IN THEIR CLEVER FAIRY TALE BLACK HOLE OF IGNORANCE.- FOREVER SAVING THE WORLD FROM ITSELF – DOING US ALL THIS GREAT FAVOUR – RELIEVING US OF OUR FREEDOM IN THE NAME OF RIGHTEOUSNESS AND LOVE.
    IF THEY ONLY KNEW.IF THEY COULD EVER GET TO KNOW HOW WRONG – HOW ARROGANT – HOW UNGODLY – HOW EVIL THEIR GOOD INTENTIONS TWIST THIS WORLD OUT OF SHAPE FOR THE REST OF US TO SUFFER.THEY PLAY WITH THIS WORLD – THIS LIFE -MIS-SHAPING IT TO SUIT THEMSELVES.SELFISHLY THEY STEAL FOR THEMSELVES OUR WORLD – GOD’S WORLD – KNOWING BETTER THAN WE – AND SO MUCH BETTER THAN GOD – HOW IT SHOULD BE.
    THIS PUFFED UP EGO MANIA IS MAD BUT IS BLINDED BY ITS ARROGANCE SO IT NEVER FACES THE TRUTH – IT IS CONTENTED AND COSY IN ITS BUBBLE OF LIES – WHICH IT PROTECTS FROM REALITY BY FABRICATING MORE FANTASIES – LIES – AND MORE LIES.IT IS LOST IN SUCH A CHAOS OF LIES NOTHING CAN SAVE IT.THAT CREATURE IS AN EGO – INFLATED AND OUT OF CONTROL.A LITTLE MONKEY MIND DISCONNECTED FROM THE REST OF THE BEING IT IS A SERVANT OF. BECAUSE IT HAS HAS TAKEN CONTROL – USURPED THE POWER – “made itself king or queen of the throne” THE WHOLE REAL PERSON IS ITS VICTIM.THIS IS A JUST ONE MORE LITTLE PRICK RUNNING THE SHOW – IN A REALM POPULATED BY BILLIONS JUST LIKE IT- ALL TRYING OUT THIS PART TO PLAY – EACH A HOPEFUL CANDIDATE FOR THE ACADEMY AWARD.
    IT IS NOTHING BUT AN IMMATURE AMATEUR OFF COURSE – BUT STUBBORNLY UNRELENTING IN PURSUING ITS COURSE OF ILLOGICAL STUPIDITY- ITS INEVITABLE DEAD ENDING.THIS CREATURE HAS BECOME AN ENEMY TO ITSELF – AND TO THE REST OF HUMANITY,IT IS AN EGO RUN AMMOCK – MISTAKEN – GONE COMPLETELY BONKERS – WRONG IN EVERY WAY – BUT UNSHAKEABLE IN ITS BELIEF THAT IT WISE GOOD KINDLY AND ABOVE ALL GIFTED WITH THE GRACE OF SUPERIORITY.
    LOST FOREVER
    NEVER TO KNOW THE TRUTH.
    NEVER WANTING TO KNOW THE TRUTH.
    BELIEVING THEMSELVES RIGHT IS THE ONLY WAY THEY KNOW TO EXIST.
    AND THIS WILL BE PROTECTED – THIS RIGHTNESS – EVEN IF IT TAKES A GUN TO DO PROVE IT – DO THE JOB.
    WE ARE THE MIRROR THEY USE TO SEE – BUT MISUNDERSTAND.
    Believing themselves superior when they really inferior – THEY DUMP THEIR SHIT ONTO THE WORLD – THEN HAVING GIVEN IT TO US – CAN SAY WE ARE THE SHIT- (after all it is true we have it – we deal with it.Their refuse is their gift to their peasants – THESE LORDS AND MASTERS -we always had to clean their messes – their shit – we their slaves.
    THESE FREAKS never did and never will get it right.THE ONLY RIGHT WAY IS THEIR WAY – EVERY OTHER WAY IS WRONG.
    THAT IS VERY TRUE FOR THEM BECAUSE IT IS THE ONLY WAY TO MAKE SURE EVERYTHING WORKS RIGHT FOR THEM.THE WAY THEY WANT EVERYTHING TO WORK.
    NOTHING – NOT THE COLLAPSE OF THEIR CIVILIZATION – NOT EVEN TUMBLING FROM THEIR LOFTY HEIGHTS – CONVINCES THEM THAT THEY MIGHT HAVE GOTTEN THINGS WRONG.
    DUMB IS DUMB.
    BLIND IS BLIND.
    INFLATION IS A DISEASE OF THE SOUL – A KILLER – THE EMPLOYEE OF THIS CLASS OF CREATURE WITH WHICH THEY MAKE SENSE OF THEIR LIVES.IT IS THEIR FRIEND – THEIR ONLY FRIEND.THE ONLY TRUE FRIEND THEY CAN TRUST.
    I SHOULD RESTATE THAT.
    IT IS THE ONLY REAL FRIEND THEY HAVE -SO THEY HAVE NO CHOICE BUT TO “think” – “believe” THEY CAN TRUST IT.
    THEY ARE NOT HUMAN – JUST EGOS CAGED IN THEIR CRANIUMS – LODGED INSIDE THEIR HEADS WHICH SITS PERCHED ON THEIR SHOULDERS.NOT HAVING MATURED BEYOND THE SELFISH STAGE THEY LACK A HUMAN SPIRIT- THEY HAVE NOT YET GROWN FEELINGS BEYOND AN INFANT AND FEEL NO ADULT PASSIONS.- ANY ADULT PASSIONS.
    THEY HAVE SUCH A LONG WAY TO GO BUT ARE STUCK IN A DOLDRUM BELIEVING THE CLEVER LIE THAT THEY HAVE GONE SO FAR- OUTSTRIPPING THE REST OF HUMANITY – REACHING LEVELS OF UNDERSTANDING THE REST OF US ARE UNABLE TO GRASP.
    THEY BELIEVE THEY HAVE LEFT POOR PATHETIC US WAY BACK SOMEWHERE – IN THEIR DUST – TRYING DESPERATELY TO CATCH UP TO THEM.

    SO FAR AHEAD – SO BETTER – SO SUPERIOR ARE OUR MASTERS – THEY ALONE KNOW WHAT IS BEST.
    THINKING THEY HAVE ARRIVED AND KNOWING WE WILL NEVER GET THERE ( they do know we won’t ever get there to join them – we are not meant to – we are not special like them)( we are nothings – to serve them- NOTHING MORE.

    I BETTER STOP.
    EXCUSE ME FOR GTTING CARRIED AWAY.IT HAPPENS AND I LET IT.

  • Nina says:

    Um.. Freedom of expression.. Includes opinion, imagery, painting, words anyway you can express yourself,(although the press don’t get a good time up against right of privacy but that’s another issue).. Freedom to hold opinion WITHOUT interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.. Freedom of speech… right to education..why should education stop at the traditional age.. Human rights, equality.. List goes on…

  • wannabe says:

    I’m puzzled on how the UK government plans to deal with US porn sites that ignore their age verification law. Request extradition? FWIW, US courts have already ruled against a domestic age verification law–the Child Online Protection Act–on First Amendment grounds. Overturning that would effectively allow foreign countries to censor ANY American web content, not just porn.

    • Girl on the net says:

      Good question, wannabe. In terms of enforcement, their initial proposal is a fine: 5% of turnover or £250,000, whichever is greater. They’ve also discussed potential sanctions by blocking at ISP level (i.e. porn blackout), but that’s still up in the air. There’s a great piece here on the practical implementations of actually getting AV on all websites – https://medium.com/@alecmuffett/a-sequence-of-spankingly-bad-ideas-483cecf4ba89 Basically exploring what sites could use to verify for age, and the pros and cons (mostly cons) of each.

      We don’t have the same kind of protections as the US has under first amendment, although we do have rights to expression under the ECHR. The UK govt doesn’t seem to think they would cover this though.

      • Carlos Silva says:

        The biggest problem, in my point of view it goes around the age verification on the parlament. All of them forgot long time ago what the word “sex” mean or worst since “penis” or “vagina” belongs to something they read somewhere long long years ago.
        Since they dont use them anymore like substantives…and they just remember them like adjectives. On another way there´s some kind of misconfusion between word “pussy” and economy.
        I hate facebook, twitter, I hate the need to have to connect to google when I use internet (mobile), I hate all that stupidity from linking and I dont really understand what makes them believe WE must care what they have in theyre mind when they sit on the toillet.
        Sorry the bad words and my even bad english but this is what a feel about.

  • wannabe says:

    Thanks, GOTN!

    And of course I could have gotten further had I first followed up on the links you originally provided…

    Now I have, more or less.

    Interesting is the attempt by porn giant MindGeek to effectively monopolize age verification: “It’s a clever business move for them; and it also goes some way towards explaining why MindGeek representatives have been so closely involved with the development of the age verification policy in Westminster.”

    Also interesting that the issues brought up in the meetings with the Department of Culture, Media and Sport were simply ignored. That shows that the Digital Economy Bill is going to be passed without major revision, one way or another.

    As you say, the question of overseas enforcement remains open. Assuming, say, a US porn provider simply ignores the age verification requirement and all assessed fines, I see that there wouldn’t be an appeal to the US government for enforcement (which is what I was asking). Rather, the (whatever) Authority would squeeze payment providers and/or block ISPs, and maybe even eventually filter all internet access à la the “Great Firewall of China”. Maybe too expensive.

    In one of your links, Pandora Blake, probably correctly, writes, “The likely outcome of this law will be to … put large numbers of porn industry workers and site owners out of work.” The actual volume of porn downloaded probably won’t change much but since it seems that saving underage UK citizens from the dreaded porn menace is one of the new government’s political promises, cutting the number of porn sites will do as a proxy.

  • Bhala Sada says:

    Yes I agree. I wrote a bit about this on my blog. wouj.com

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