U.K. Bill Could Push Porn Fans to 'Dangerous Parts' of Web, Killock Says

Feb 10, 2017 10:14 AM PST

LONDON — A new survey from Broadband Genie says that 81 percent of Britons support the age-verification requirement as part of the U.K.’s Digital Economy Bill, but that only 8 percent would be willing to share personal information on adult websites.

Results of the Broadband Genie survey has offered a peek into what the future holds for the Digital Economy Bill, according to Jim Killock, executive director of the Open Rights Group, a London-based digital rights group.

Killock said that the proposed changes could inadvertently push more users towards “dangerous parts of the web,” depending how much material gets blocked.

“The British Board of Film Classification’s power gives them the ability to block thousands of websites, but they say they will choose to block a smaller number,” Killock told Broadband Genie. “Either way it would mean people using smaller, less well-known sites, and that of course comes with dangers.

“P2P sites could also find themselves with more traffic, and that is a riskier activity, given that shared files could include malware.”

Killock noted that once there is a system for blocking websites without court orders, it will be much easier to use it for other legal content. He cited, for example, material that is legal but considered political.

“This could set a dangerous precedent, where political content is being censored without any recourse,” Killock said. “Politicians have already discussed other kinds of material that ought to be banned because of the risks posed to children.”

The Digital Economy Bill’s proposals follow other methods the government has introduced to curb the amount of adult content children are seeing online — most notably the ISP web filters that were implemented in 2013.

Broadband Genie found that 28 percent of those surveyed were currently using the filters, up by 4 percent from a similar survey run in 2015.

As part of the Digital Economy Bill, which now is in its report stage in the House of Lords, adult websites worldwide could be blocked by ISPs if they fail to meet the new age-check requirement.

Rob Hilborn, head of strategy at U.K. tech company Broadband Genie, said: “The robust age- verification system the government is proposing is tricky to implement, as ideally we don’t want people putting their personal information into potentially risky adult websites.”

“The high-profile hack of Ashley Madison has shown such sites to be a lucrative target for hackers,” Hilborn said. “There are already plenty of tools available to parents to block this type of content if they wish to, so the focus should instead shift to educating and improving children’s awareness of surfing the web safely.”

In the study, Broadband Genie surveyed 2,651 people from across the U.K. through late December and all of January. It reported its findings in its blog post, available here.

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