In a decision that shows the challenges of implementing age verification online, the Australian federal government has decided not to mandate age verification for adult websites this year, citing concerns about privacy and the current limitations of the technology.
The decision, which does not eliminate the possibility of mandated age verification down the road, was announced on Wednesday by Australia’s Communications Minister Michelle Rowland. Also announced on Wednesday was eSafety Commissioner Julie Inman Grant’s long-anticipated plan for age verification for online adult content, a plan that has been with the government since March 2023.
Instead of enforcing age verification technology now, the Australian government has instead assigned Grant the task of collaborating with the adult industry to create a new code that aims to educate parents on how to use filtering software to restrict children’s access to inappropriate websites or content.
The government’s response to the plan highlighted that each form of age verification or age assurance technology currently has its own set of issues related to privacy, security, effectiveness, or implementation. The government emphasized that the technology must function effectively without being circumvented (which is no simple task with the availability of VPNs), must be applicable to adult content hosted outside Australia, and must not pose a risk to the personal information of adults who choose to access legal pornography.
The implementation of the first set of industry codes is scheduled for December of this year.
In addition, the Australian government plans to conduct an independent statutory review of the Online Safety Act in 2024 to ensure its relevance. The government will also keep an eye on the UK’s approach to age assurance, as the UK is considered to have similar goals around adult content.
eSafety’s research claims in its report that three out of four 16 to 18-year-olds reported seeing online pornography, and nearly a third had seen it before the age of 13, and nearly half between the ages of 13 and 15. While the report also mentioned the government’s development of a digital ID, it did not propose using that government ID for age verification on adult websites.
While Pornhub remains the most popular pornographic site among Australian users, the report noted that local creators are prevalent in the Australian-based adult industry.