Friday, 4 April 2014

Action to protect children online

Last Friday ATVOD, the regulator of television-on-demand, published the results of its research into children’s access to online pornography.

Using a similar methodology to that used to estimate TV viewing habits, the study found that last December 6% of children aged 15 or under had accessed an adult website. If scaled up nationally, the research suggests that 44,000 primary school children had accessed pornographic material – and 200,000 under-16s. One site, Pornhub, was visited by 112,000 boys in the UK aged between 12 and 17.

ATVOD added that the survey probably underestimated the scale of the issue since smartphone and tablet use was not included in the figures. 

In recent years pornographers have taken inspiration from the likes of You-Tube and now offer hours of free content, making their revenue from advertising and encouraging users to ‘trade-up’ to premium paid for services.  This changed business model makes it easier for children to access explicit material.

ATVOD presently forces pornographic websites based in the UK to carry out age verification checks before customers can view explicit content; this is done by requiring credit card details or personal information which can be cross-reference with the electoral roll or other ID database.  However the vast majority of online porn is hosted overseas and beyond the reach of UK regulator.

To tackle this ATVOD wants all adult sites to request a licence that would only be granted if age checks were in place with banks and other payment processors not allowed to handle fees for services from UK citizens to unregulated sites.  Payment firms say they will act if shown that sites are breaking the law and the regulator accepts that this means new legislation.

ATVOD’s chief executive explained: “We’re a very substantial market and to access the money that’s flowing from the UK would be quite a powerful incentive to introduce restrictions.”

He called on the government to act to protect children and said that the matter was so urgent it is ‘critical the legislation is enacted during this Parliament’.   The government has indicated that it needs time to consider the request.

This proposal has been criticised as ineffective and unworkable – not least by Jerry Barnett of the pro-porn Sex & Censorship group who previously ran an adult website and was fined for failing to prevent children accessing its content.

However, as ATVOD’s chief executive explained, “We’re not saying this will stop all children from seeing all pornography online.  But our argument is that even if you reduce the number of children who are accessing hardcore pornography online by 10% that would be a significant win.”  We can only concur with his analysis!

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