Is Online Verification The Right Thing for UK Internet Users?

The internet has always been a place for anonymity, and it’s something that governments have massively struggled with when trying to balance respecting citizens’ privacy and protecting those who need it.

Talks about Online ID Verification

Over the past few months, there have been increasing talks about adding online ID verification to a number of websites, including social media and adult websites. The legislation has been incredibly controversial, with some users supporting the need for ID verification on social media to minimise the trolls and make it easier for police to find account owners when they need to. However, others have claimed that it would be too much of an invasion of privacy and could also cause issues for those who don’t have any forms of identification, such as new residents, stateless people or minors that are the correct age to use social media but can’t prove it.

Although there are no hard and fast rules about what online ID verification would look like, it is likely that Yorkshire internet users would have to show some form of photo ID in order to access a variety of sites – in a similar way to gambling websites and apps (For example, when using a strictly 18+ site like a PayPal casino in the UK) which already have this in place. Although many can see the need for it with regards to accessing adult content, whether it should be in place throughout the rest of the internet is a hotly debated topic.

Accessing Adult Entertainment Online

One of the most hotly debated topics is that of requiring ID verification to access adult websites. In the UK sex has always been quite a taboo subject and, while people are more open to discussing this in recent years, porn remains a very private subject that most people wouldn’t want to talk about. The issue with requiring verification on adult websites is the combination of the website having verified details about a user’s age and location, matching this to the type of content they like to consume and then selling this data or using it to place targeted adverts.

One place where the age verification for pornography legislation was passed is in France. The legislation was passed two years ago with the government suggesting a number of different methods for age verification but leaving it up to the companies to decide. A year later, the French government decided that some companies weren’t being strict enough and threatened to block the websites from French territories unless they changed the verification system. Despite the age checks being rolled out two years ago there are no follow up studies or articles to see if the use of age verification has had a positive effect, or even any effect at all, compared to the government’s reasons for introducing the checks in the first place.

So far, France is the only country to have written age verification into law for adult websites. The UK have been discussing the same legislation since around 2014 and it’s always thrown out of parliament.

Age Verification for Social Media Platforms

So far there isn’t a single country that has made it a legal requirement to check a social media user’s age. For decades the minimum age required to be able to sign up to a profile on social media has been 13. The reality is that a lot of children sign up much sooner than this, simply providing a fake date of birth when signing up. The date of birth is never checked so it doesn’t matter; but could this be something that is about to change? There are arguments for the fact that anyone can post anything online, which means that teenagers could have access to content that their parents would not be happy for them to see. The debate comes when you start to question whether there should be legislation in place to stop this or whether it is something that parents should be dealing with in the majority.

A Change in Internet Regulations

The UK government have been discussing a reform of internet regulations over the past few months – the laws haven’t been updated since the internet first became mainstream and they’re very much out of date. One of the main points in the reform bill dubbed the “children’s code”, focuses on protecting children from harm, including the ease of accessing adult websites and the ability for younger children to sign up to social media.

The new regulation would see social media users unable to access the platform until they had verified their age. This could be done by providing a state-issued ID like a passport, driving licence or birth certificate, or by linking a credit or debit card to your account.

The use of age verification for social media would be the first law of its kind around the world, and critics have so far been incredibly sceptical.  The Financial Times called age verification technologies “impractical, ineffective and at risk of being intrusive”. The UK government had discussed using a credit or debit card to verify that someone was of legal age to use social media, but this prompted fears around data protection.

There is some merit in the fact that having to prove your identity before you can join a social media platform would stop a lot of the abuse and trolling that more popular social media influencers seem to be subjected to. However, the argument could be that it is down to social media platforms themselves to regulate and deal with this abuse and that it shouldn’t be something that means everyone has to prove their ID and lose their privacy, even if they would never dream of acting in such a way.

Ultimately the reason that only France has implicated an age verification check so far and the UK government is still discussing it is because there are so many complications and potential pitfalls. Realistically, with so much to discuss it’s unlikely, we’ll see age verification any time soon.

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