Porn sites are not doing enough to protect children, warns Ofcom

Regulator publishes first report into video-sharing platforms and says few put child safety before profits

Porn sites are not doing enough to protect children, Ofcom has warned, with few bothering to do more than ask for visitors to self-declare that they are over 18.

Among the 19 video-sharing sites that the regulator has oversight of, OnlyFans is the only adult-focused site to have responded to regulation by adopting age verification for viewers, using a series of tools to keep children from signing up.

The concerns accompany a report on the regulator’s first year in charge of video-sharing platforms. Melanie Dawes, Ofcom’s chief executive, said it was a “world first”, adding: “We have used our powers to lift the lid on what UK video sites are doing to look after the people who use them. It shows that regulation can make a difference, as some companies have responded by introducing new safety measures, including age verification and parental controls.

“But we’ve also exposed the gaps across the industry, and we now know just how much they need to do. It is deeply concerning to see yet more examples of platforms putting profits before child safety. We have put UK adult sites on notice to set out what they will do to prevent children accessing them.”

The new powers, introduced in 2021, expanded Ofcom’s oversight from traditional broadcast-style video sites to services that have a UK presence and host user-generated content, including TikTok, Snapchat and BitChute.

Many of the sites covered have responded by increasing their efforts to fight online harms, with TikTok introducing a categorisation system to prevent younger users from viewing unsuitable content, and Snapchat launching a parental control feature that allows caregivers to review, in a privacy-friendly way, their child’s conversations on the app.

But, the regulator warned, some smaller sites are rejecting attempts to implement age verification because they are concerned about the effects on their business. In addition, one site, the UK-based “adult chat and entertainment platform” RevealMe, is now being investigated for its failure to provide information to Ofcom, or even respond to requests.

Under current legislation, Ofcom’s powers to regulate video-sharing platforms are limited, but the organisation is expected to greatly expand its reach and remit when, and if, the online safety bill passes. On Thursday, the culture secretary, Michelle Donelan, told parliament the bill would be passed “quickly”.

“We will lead the world in this area,” Donelan said, “and bring back the online safety bill imminently, ensuring the social media platforms finally prioritise protecting children, remove illegal content quickly, including hate crimes, and that they keep their promises to their own users.”

Contributor

Alex Hern

The GuardianTramp

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