The age verification requirements in the UK’s new Digital Economy Act present a unique problem for anyone with a global audience for their content. The details are still sketchy, leading to speculation being passed around the internet as if it adds anything useful to the conversation.

It would be helpful for the UK government to get in front of these stories but with Prime Minister May’s colossal miscalculation re: the snap election and Brexit looming on the near horizon I expect it’s not top of mind for anyone on her government’s side. Given the fact that people are casually throwing around possible fines of up to $250,000 for failure to comply I can see why the lack of details has people unnerved.

Sadly we all have to wait for anything official, so in the meantime I will add my take to the rampant speculation. I’ll leave aside the fact that this, like most laws passed to the chorus of “think of the children”, is poorly thought through and even with an excellent implementation would fail to do much to protect children from adult content online. Can we expect a good implementation of this flawed plan readers? I think not. I see two primary paths that the UK government could take:

  1. Create a database of all UK citizens with their date of birth and government ID number and make this database publicly available so that adult or gambling or any other industry selling age restricted services or products online can check that you really are you and that you are over 18 before providing the service or product. This is such a stupid idea that I can’t believe it’s even being discussed. The privacy issues are myriad. The potential for hacking and blackmail are obvious. It’s just a dumb idea. The only reason that we haven’t crossed it off entirely is because this is the same government that is slowly strangling their economy re: the EU and just shot itself in both feet with a snap election.
  2. Assume that if a person has a credit card they are 18 and ask website owners to check for this number before providing you with any age restricted service or product.  This is far from a perfect solution. The adult industry has a very dark history of requesting a credit card number as age verification for “free” content and then maxing out people’s credit cards. But the idea looks positively spiffing compared to option 1. The government doesn’t need to do any real work. They can just hold a press conference, tell everyone that they’ve protected the children, and chalk it up as a win. This is a politician’s dream and therefore the most likely option in my opinion. Website owners will be left to add a verification step when a surfer arrives at their site, but otherwise business will go on as usual. This option could cause serious problems for tube sites and traffic brokers, especially if it catches on in additional countries, but it is doable.

So what is my position today? We are preparing for both while expecting option 2. If it turns out to be option 1 we are exploring creating blockchain records of the ID verification as a way to protect personal data and prove that verification took place. There will be trust obstacles to overcome either way, the customer should be confident that their personal and credit card information are protected and their buying habits are private.

Until the UK’s government decides to share some more information about their plans we are left with our best guesses, but I don’t think that anyone has ever gone broke betting on politicians to take the easy solution that gives them a chance for a good photo op.