YouTube announce that physical proof of identity might now be required to watch age-restricted videos in Europe.
When people celebrated the demise of Britain’s age verification plans for viewing porn sites – with all the privacy issues that such a scheme entailed – we cautioned that this was not the end of the story. Right now, the government in the UK is pushing through a much wider ‘internet harms’ bill that will not only impact on free speech and the spread of unpopular ideas but will also once again offer the opportunity for further restrictions on the availability of adult material – some politicians and lobby groups are seeing this as a way of imposing age verification or even something stronger by the back door.
But while we’ve been pondering the threat posed by having to give your ID to assorted opportunist verification companies that sprung up (and even now are agitating in court over the failure to pursue the legislation, thus costing them the much-anticipated vast profits), YouTube quietly announced on its blog (which I’m guessing few people read) that it will be imposing hard ID checks across Europe. For the avoidance of doubt, a hard ID check means verification of age through physical ID like a passport or driving licence, or a credit card. Basically, the same forms of ID that the adult industry age verification companies were going to use.
This comes as part of a YouTube expansion of age restrictions on material that is unsuitable for children, which will be increasingly automated – because everyone knows how well that works. This will include embedded videos like the ones you’ll sometimes see on The Reprobate – any age-restricted videos on third party sites will now redirect to YouTube and insist on the viewer signing in.
And to sign in to be able to see age-restricted videos, you may – if you live in Europe – now have to provide proof of age. To quote the blog:
In line with upcoming regulations, like the European Union’s Audiovisual Media Services Directive (AVMSD), we will also be introducing a new age verification step over the next few months. As part of this process some European users may be asked to provide additional proof of age when attempting to watch mature content. If our systems are unable to establish that a viewer is above the age of 18, we will request that they provide a valid ID or credit card to verify their age.
Whether or not you trust Google to keep your information any safer than you would the age verification companies is a matter of debate. But where YouTube lead, it’s likely that others will follow. The fear with porn age verification was that it would just be the first step to a legislated internet, where everything required proof if ID – something the British government is fully in favour of. Anonymity and privacy look as though they will increasingly be a thing of the past, and while that might stop some of the more outrageous and illegal abuses (though it probably won’t), it feels like a sledgehammer to crack a nut.