UK Proposes AI-Based Age Checks for Online Pornography


   On December 5, the UK introduced new age-check guidance to protect children from accessing online pornography, proposing the use of AI-based technology to determine if a viewer appears to be of legal age. The recently passed Online Safety Act mandates that sites and apps displaying or publishing adult content take measures to prevent children from encountering such material. The legal age to access porn in the UK is 18 or over.

According to a 2021-2022 study by the Office of the Children's Commissioner for England, children on average first encounter online pornography at the age of 13, with nearly a quarter exposed by age 11 and one in ten as young as 9.

Media regulator Ofcom CEO Melanie Dawes emphasized the expectation for all services to provide robust protection for children against unintentional exposure to pornography while also safeguarding the privacy rights and freedoms of adults to access legal content.

Ofcom's proposed guidance includes the use of facial age estimation through AI analysis of a viewer's features, potentially requiring the submission of a selfie for verification. Other suggestions involve photo identification matching, credit card checks, and open banking, where users consent to their banks sharing information with online porn sites to confirm their age.

However, the Institute of Economic Affairs, a free-market think tank, raised concerns about mandatory age verification, arguing that it poses a threat to user privacy and could lead to breaches and abuse by increasing the amount of sensitive data held by third parties.

Ofcom expects to publish its final guidance in early 2025.