“ID please!” – Mandatory age verification for Pornhub and Co. 

The EU Commission decided on a “Digital Services Act”, which is intended to ensure greater security in the online environment. This law covers online intermediaries and online platforms – including Pornhub, XVideos and Stripchat. The law came into force on February 17, 2024.

The focus of the Digital Services Act is to prevent illegal and/or harmful online activities and the spread of false information. The central objectives are divided into four different areas – citizens, digital service providers, commercial users of digital services and society as a whole. It aims to ensure better protection of fundamental rights for citizens, more control and choice on the internet, and greater protection for children online.

In addition, less illegal content should be able to be consumed. For digital service providers, this law creates the advantages of legal certainty, an EU-wide uniform set of rules, and easier establishment and expansion in Europe. For commercial users of digital services, this approach includes access to EU-wide markets via various platforms and joint measures against providers of illegal content. The goals for society are stricter democratic control and supervision of systemic platforms, as well as the reduction of risks such as the spread of disinformation and manipulation.

This law applies to providers of intermediary services, hosting services, and online platforms that bring sellers and consumers together. However, the focus of this blog is on the “very large online platforms and search engines” – where the risk of illegal content being distributed is particularly high. Platforms that reach more than ten percent (45 million) of the 450 million European consumers fall into this category – including Amazon, Apple, Booking, Google and Zalando, for example. The three adult content sites Pornhub, XVideos, and Stripchat were subsequently added to the list.

Every year, Pornhub itself publishes statistics on the top search requests, performers, and demographic data about the users of the internet platform. The top five countries in which Pornhub was streamed the most are the United States of America, the Philippines, France, Mexico, and the United Kingdom. They also state that the average age of users is 37 – but this statistic is distorted because their age enumeration only begins with the age of majority. Officially, people over the age of 18 are allowed to use the platform – but independent statistics and surveys show that young people are also accessing and using the website.

According to a study by “Common Sense Media”, children see their first online porn at an average age of 12; fifteen percent of children are only 10 years old or younger. Half of these children find pornographic content unintentionally by clicking on various links – in other words, they do not actively search for it.

Three quarters of boys and 70 percent of girls stated that they had already consumed pornographic media – however, just over half of boys and only a third of girls had accessed it on purpose. Of the teenagers who intentionally search for sexual content, 71% said they consume porn at least once a week – three quarters of them are between 13 and 14 years old.

The same study also looked at what attributes teenagers learn from pornographic content. This included some potentially harmful lessons about sex and violence, as a majority of respondents consumed pornographic content that depicted various types of violence, rape, choking acts and/or a person in pain. Almost 80 percent of the surveyed group who had previously consumed pornography stated that they learned about the anatomy of the body and how sex works via porn. Almost three quarters of them also stated that they had learned from pornographic content which sexual behavior they find arousing and which their partner might find arousing. If these statements are combined with the type of porn consumed, young people learn an abnormal and false image of sexual intercourse. Many users are unaware that the majority of sexual acts take place without their partner’s consent. Psychological consequences can include a distorted image of sex, violence, and appreciation of the sexual partner. Regular consumption of violent porn also desensitizes the consumer. This results in the fact that with every activity, the video watched is supposed to be “more” than the previous one – more violent, more humiliating, etc. Porn consumption can lead to a wide variety of assumptions about sexual behavior and relationships. Examples can be: sex has no consequences; fidelity is boring; partners must always be ready for anything; violence/pain and sex go together, or men dominate over women, who are primarily intended for male satisfaction.

Porn consumption can also have physical consequences – excessive consumption and the accompanying masturbation can lead to erectile dysfunction. One of the more serious consequences is porn or sex addiction.

The law explicitly addresses the issue of the protection of minors. It obliges the providers of online platforms to ensure a high level of privacy, security, and protection of minors. On the part of porn platforms, this means, among other things, that they must provide suitable tools for age verification, carry out a risk analysis (remove/avoid illegal content) and are obliged to be transparent when moderating and dealing with complaints.

However, these measures only apply to platforms with over 45 million users – young people may be able to circumvent or falsify age verification or simply switch to another smaller porn platform without any obligations. In the USA, a legal age verification requirement has already ensured that the porn platforms Pornhub, Redtube, and Brazzers can no longer be accessed.

Accordingly, the DSA can be seen as a first step in the right direction, but at the same time, the law is only a drop in the ocean. Much more needs to be done in the area of child and youth protection.

Translated by Emily Schiffer

#Law #Internet #Pornography #Ageverification #EUregulation #Childprotection #AgainstHumanTrafficking #GegenMenschenHandel #EndExploitation #EndTrafficking #HopeForTheFuture #Austria