And so it begins

At last! Today sees the release of the UK Government’s consultative document on how to bring the publication of pornography on the internet into closer alignment with real world standards. In other words the Government is initiating a discussion about how best to age verify people who visit and view material which the overwhelming majority of porn publishers agree was never meant for them in the first place and which, in the real world, it would be illegal for them to buy.  In making this move the Government is doing two highly commendable things

  • It is honouring a Manifesto pledge given during the last General Election campaign
  • It is embarking on a brave experiment never before attempted in the democratic world

I was part of the working group that helped draft the proposals the whole world can now view and comment upon but I have to say straight away that all the heavy lifting was done by the civil servants. I was hugely impressed by their care and attention to detail. They gathered in evidence of harm, consulted an expert group of academics, engaged with representatives of the online payments industry, the Gambling Commission, age verification solution providers and, of course, the porn industry itself.

The initial reaction from the porn industry has been good. The world’s largest porn provider – Pornhub – said they

will comply fully with any robust legislative and relevant local measures that emerge from this consultation

Pornhub commented further that they were already engaged with trying to create a workable technical solution.

The focus of the consultation is very much on commercial porn providers. These are, after all, the industry leaders.  And the so-called “free” sites? Define “free”? But here we hit up against an issue of proportionality. The long tail matters but the great bulk of online porn is NOT being made in garages and  bedrooms in suburbia by enthusiasts. Online porn is about money not art, free expression or sex education. It is being produced by an industry that hitherto has been careless of the harm they do, in particular to young people. The UK Government has acted because the porn industry wouldn’t.

Where does Facebook fit into this? It doesn’t. It is true that porn sometimes appears on a great many sites that expressly forbid it. The material is removed as soon as it it is drawn to their attention. The idea that every site should be subject to the same regime because porn might occasionally appear on it – well it’s not even a counsel of perfection. It is either naive or, to revert to Parliamentary language, it is a wrecking amendment. We must not let the best be the enemy of the extremely good.





About John Carr

John Carr is one of the world's leading authorities on children's and young people's use of digital technologies. He is Senior Technical Adviser to Bangkok-based global NGO ECPAT International, Technical Adviser to the European NGO Alliance for Child Safety Online, which is administered by Save the Children Italy and an Advisory Council Member of Beyond Borders (Canada). Amongst other things John is or has been an Adviser to the United Nations, ITU, the European Union, the Council of Europe and European Union Agency for Network and Information Security and is a former Executive Board Member of the UK Council for Child Internet Safety. He is Secretary of the UK's Children's Charities' Coalition on Internet Safety. John has advised many of the world's largest internet companies on online child safety. In June, 2012, John was appointed a Visiting Senior Fellow at the London School of Economics and Political Science. This was renewed in 2018. More:
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