What is age-verification and how does it work?

Age-verification is a child protection measure introduced by the UK government as part of their ambition to make the UK the safest place to be online.

UK adults accessing pornographic services are required to demonstrate that they are 18 or over using age-verification solutions. If a child stumbles upon a pornographic website that has age-verification controls in place, then they won’t be able to see any pornographic content.

There will be a number of age-verification options available and these are normally provided by third party companies, so there is no need to share personal information directly with a pornographic website.

Age-verification solutions range from low-tech options such as buying a card over the counter in a shop where the verification is face to face, to the use of traditional ID documents online. There are digital ID apps and people can use their mobile phone if the adult filters have been removed.

What is the Digital Economy Act 2017?

The Digital Economy Act 2017 (DEA) is a law introduced by the UK Government that includes measures to help prevent children from accessing pornographic content online.

Part 3 of the DEA requires providers of online commercial pornography to ensure that their content is not normally accessible to under 18s in the UK by using age-verification, and also that they don’t make extreme pornographic content available to people in the UK.

Why is the BBFC involved?

The Government appointed the BBFC as the Age-verification Regulator because of our acknowledged expertise in regulating pornographic content and our longstanding experience of online regulation. We are independent and not-for-profit and are the go-to, trusted guide for online as well as offline audio-visual content. For more information about our role and other work click here.

What is the BBFC's role?

As the Age-verification Regulator, the BBFC is responsible for making sure that online commercial pornography services carry age-verification controls. We provide guidance on what kind of age-verification arrangements will ensure that these services comply with the law, and can take enforcement action against online pornographic services that don't carry effective age-verification and/or those that contain extreme pornographic material which is illegal.

When will the BBFC start regulating?

The UK government will decide the date for the law to start, and we support the government in allowing a period of up to three months after the guidance is formally approved before the law comes into force. This will give the industry time to comply with the legislation.

Where can I find the BBFC's Guidance?

You can read the BBFC's Guidance on the Guidance page on this website.

How will the BBFC know which services to investigate?

All commercial online pornographic services must comply with the law. We are required to act proportionately. So we will primarily investigate sites with high volumes of traffic, but also carry out spot checks on less visited sites. Additionally, we’ll consider investigating sites that are reported to us by charities, stakeholders and individuals.

Does the Digital Economy Act 2017 only cover websites?

The DEA covers more than just websites and other online services such as apps are within its scope. Our primary focus will be on commercial pornographic websites with high volumes of traffic.

What about pornography on social media and search engines?

Under the current Online Pornography (Commercial Basis) Regulations, social media and search engines are not defined as ‘online commercial pornography’ and so will not be required to carry age-verification.

Social media and search engines are ancillary service providers, and the BBFC can notify them and request that they take action against non-compliant pornographic services - for example by removing accounts on social media.

What will the BBFC do about non-compliant pornographic services?

If a service is non-compliant because they don’t have effective age-verification or they are providing extreme pornography, the BBFC has a number of enforcement powers.

These include notifying ancillary service providers like social media and search engines of non-compliant services and requesting that they withdraw their services; notifying payment service providers and requesting that they withdraw their services; and instructing internet service providers to block them.

Do you have to use your powers in a particular order?

No. The BBFC will issue preliminary notifications to a non-compliant site before taking any enforcement action against them. After this, we can choose the most effective course of enforcement action on a case-by-case basis.

How long will it take to block a non-compliant porn site?

Blocking a site is not the BBFC's objective and it's important that we allow enough time for a non-compliant site to comply. Where blocking becomes necessary, this will be carried out in the shortest time possible.

What about data privacy? Could personal information be hacked?

Data privacy is so important that it has its own regulator – the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) – which has the expertise and powers to apply strict data protection standards that pornographic services have to adhere to. We have a Memorandum of Understanding with the ICO, but we don’t duplicate their work.

Because age-verification is nothing new, there are existing solutions that we know work securely, including those for UK hosted Video on Demand (VoD) pornography and other age-restricted products and services.

Additionally, to make sure that age-verification providers maintain high standards, including on privacy and data security, we are developing a voluntary certification scheme for them.

This involves a third party audit and includes an assessment of an age-verification solution’s compliance with strict privacy and data security requirements - and the results will be reported on the BBFC’s website. We’ll be publishing more details about this initiative in due course.

I want to age-verify. Which solution should I use?

As the Age-verification Regulator, the BBFC can’t recommend individual solutions, but we will be publishing information about certified solutions here.

I’ve seen some pornography online which didn’t have age-verification/ contains extreme pornography, can I report it?

Yes. When the law comes into force, you will be able to report a non-compliant website to us using Report a Website.

How can I find out more information about child safety online?

The resources section of this website contains links to our charity partners and the CBBFC website.

Are education and parenting better ways to protect children online than age-verification?

The BBFC agrees with the importance of parents talking to children about staying safe online, and age-verification works alongside education and digital tools to help make the internet a safer place for children.

The BBFC is working with child protection charities to help educate parents and children about safe and secure use of the internet. For a list of resources click here.

Is age-verification censorship and an infringement on free speech?

Age-verification is about preventing children from being able to easily access pornographic content online. It's not about restricting adults watching legal material.

What about circumvention - won’t people get around the controls?

Age-verification is not a silver bullet. Some determined teenagers will find ways to access pornography. However, children will no longer stumble across pornography on commercial pornographic websites. Research carried out on behalf of the NSPCC and Office of the Children’s Commissioner (OCC) shows children are as likely to stumble across online pornography as to search for it.

I'm 16/17 and can legally have sex and get married. Why can't I watch pornography?

In the UK, a person is not legally an adult until they are 18. There are several restrictions on a person under 18, including that a person cannot legally enter a licensed sex shop until they are 18.

I am an age-verification provider/ an online commercial pornographic service - where can I find out more about age-verification requirements?

Click here to see our industry FAQs.