Porn watchers will have to prove they are over 18

The biggest internet pornography company in the world insists it will not snoop on the sexual preferences of 25 million people in the UK under new age verification laws.

From April, as part of the Digital Economy Act, anyone wishing to view pornography online will have to prove they are over 18 years old.

The mechanism for age verification is being left to the private sector. Among the companies developing solutions is MindGeek, which bills itself as a leader in ‘Web Design, IT, Web Development and SEO [search engine optimisation]’.

MindGeek also runs some of the most viewed pornography sites in the world, including PornHub, YouPorn and RedTube – the so-called ‘tube’ sites – as well as production studios including Brazzers.

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Image: MindGeek also runs some of the most viewed pornography sites in the world, including PornHub, YouPorn and RedTube

MindGeek anticipates signing up 25 million users in the UK to its age verification system, AgeID.

The system will require users to sign up with an email address and password, then use a third party mechanism to prove they’re over 18. User will then use AgeID to access pornographic sites around the web; AgeID will log which sites are visited.

MindGeek will charge other pornography sites to use its solution. But because of its market dominance, campaigners fear it will end up the de facto age verification standard, handing even more power to the biggest porn provider around.

A spokesperson for MindGeek told Sky News: “AgeID has been built from the ground up with data protection, data minimisation and the principles of privacy by design at its core, whilst also complying with the GDPR.

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Image: The Age ID system is causing controversy within the industry

“This is why we do not store any personal data entered during the age verification process.

“Due to the encrypted nature of AgeID’s login credentials, such data cannot be exposed in the unlikely event of a hack.”

MindGeek has suffered high profile hacks in the past, with millions of people’s personal information being stolen. A database of pornographic sites visited across the web for 25 million people in the UK would likely be a target for hackers.

Independent producer Pandora Blake says the bigger companies are rushing in to make a profit

Image: Independent producer Pandora Blake says the bigger companies are rushing in to make a profit

Independent pornography producers in the UK are concerned about MindGeek’s potential dominance.

Pandora Blake, a producer of queer pornography, told Sky News: “MindGeek already have a monopoly on production via having bought out a lot of different production studios and distribution via the tube sites. And now the government has handed them a golden cheque and they’re going to have a monopoly on age verification, being the gatekeepers of online porn at this point.”

The UK will be the first democratic country in the world to require users to prove their age to view pornographic content. The British Board of Film Classification has been designated as the regulator for age verification but has not yet been confirmed by Parliament.

This month the Department of Digital, Media, Culture and Sport laid out its guidance for age verification solutions. It did not suggest requirements for people’s identity not to be tracked across the internet, merely suggesting it should be “good practice”.

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Image: The company’s policy says it will take some personal information

And the DCMS’s own impact assessment report notes that age verification solutions could increase the risk of online fraud, as well as push children “to illegal and extreme material that they otherwise would never have come into contact with”.

The DCMS refused repeated requests from Sky News for an interview. In a statement it said: “A wide variety of online age verification arrangements currently exist and so we expect that providers of online pornography will be able to choose the appropriate solution to meet their specific needs.”