Age Verification Could Be Coming To Australian Porn Users And Gamblers

Age Verification Could Be Coming To Australian Porn Users And Gamblers

Porn, online gaming and even video game loot boxes could all fall foul of a proposal by a government committee to mandate age verification for online services in Australia.

A more robust system of age verification could be about to become policy in Australia for online betting and porn in Australia, based on the findings of a House of Representatives Standing Committee on Social Policy and Legal Affairs report.

The report has been some time in preparing with submissions open up until October 25 last year, and its title does rather give away the position that the committee took in terms of its approach.

The report, titled “Protecting The Age Of Innocence” deals with recommendations based on more than 3000 public submissions around issues relating to access to potentially controversial material online by minors.

Or, in other words, young people having access to porn and gambling and, as it turns out, all those fancy FIFA Unlimited Team Loot Boxes.

What Happens Now To My Porn?

Enacting age verification for pornography in Australia is perhaps going to be harder than the committee realises, given that a very similar scheme mooted in the UK collapsed late last year because no basic element of verification could be decided upon.

The committee at least appears to recognise that there are significant issues around that kind of verification, with chair Andrew Wallace MP noting that

“╦ťWhile age verification is not a silver bullet, it can create a significant barrier to prevent young people”and particularly young children”from exposure to harmful online content. We must not let the perfect be the enemy of the good.’

However, it looks like the committee is going down the exact same route that derailed the UK’s efforts, which collapsed due to no real central authority around how a given site had to implement standards. The Age of Innocence report summary thinks along similar lines:

The Committee recommended that the Digital Transformation Agency lead the development of standards for online age verification. These standards will help to ensure that online age verification is accurate and effective, and that the process for legitimate consumers is easy, safe, and secure.
The Committee also recommended that the Digital Transformation Agency develop an age-verification exchange to support a competitive ecosystem for third-party age verification in Australia.

A “competitive ecosystem” sounds like an absolute nightmare for any legitimate citizen wishing to view material that may well be perfectly legal for them to view. Plus, frankly, have the committee ever actually met a horny teenager?

What Happens Now To My Bets?


The committee’s recommendations around gambling follow much the same lines, although for younger Australians who may also be keen gamers there may be an added level of complexity.

Given the vast earnings (and local business status) of the likes of the TAB and Sportsbet it’s entirely to be expected that they would fall in line with government legislation when and if it’s enacted, but the report also has this section in its recommendations:

The Committee recommends that the Office of the eSafety Commissioner or other relevant government department report to the Australian Government on options for restricting access to loot boxes and other simulated gambling elements in computer and video games to adults aged 18 years or over, including through the use of mandatory age verification.

It’s not the first time there’s been a call into whether or not Loot Boxes constitute gambling in Australia, but again there are not-insignificant challenges to how age verification might be built into game systems for use in Australia only.

Will I be simply able to bypass this with a VPN?

Good question! Given that the standards have yet to be written, and it’s not an absolute certainty that the government would pursue it into legislation either, it remains to be seen, but it seems pretty likely that this is an approach that could more or less kill age verification out of the gate.

Tax-paying gambling operations and maybe some of the bigger players in the video game space might come into line with anti-VPN measures, it’s true.

However, it would be tricky enough to get every porn provider on board with even the age verification part of the scheme, considering how many of them are not in fact Australian companies, let alone get them implementing systems that also detect VPN usage.

It very much depends on how such a proposal was to be enacted. One solution that the committee examined (and that was said to be very accurate) was photo verification, with proponents of the scheme only able to state that it would be “quite difficult” for younger people to fool such a scheme.

That ties into a Department Of Home Affairs submission to the committee which suggested its facial verification service could be used to provide such a capability.

Again, I’m left wondering if the committee has ever met a hormonal teenager, and especially one who might know where mum or dad’s verification file or password was lurking anyway.

The committee did consider VPN usage, but included in its published submissions the claim that “only 14 per cent of 11- to 13-year-olds claim that they know a workaround like the dark web or like VPN.”

There’s always the possibility that other tracking methods could trip you up, however; recent research does suggest that users of porn sites are often tracked a lot more than they actually realise, and if some of that tracking was also used as part of an age or identity verification scheme, you might want to clear your browser’s cache before you (ahem) commence your evening’s activities.

Finally, I’m not the only one picturing this when a government body releases a report called “Protecting The Age Of Innocence”, am I?

[APH]