During the days of ICM Registry, the folks behind AVSecure got access.
“We were always dealing with regulators and governments and policymakers and all kinds of people like that, which put us in a very different place where we got access to some of the top thinkers,” Steve Winyard, the Chief Marketing Officer for AVSecure, explained.
“And I got invited in, probably about five years ago, to be one of the advisors for the Digital Policy Alliance that meets frequently in The House of Lords, Westminster which encompassed a group of experts in the adult industry and various areas of age verification. This was a think tank in essence that advised ministers and governments on the whole gamut of age verification.”
According to Winyard, this access is something that differentiates AVSecure’s age verification services.
“We’ve just years had years of time to think about how age verification would work and the many concerns and challenges about it,” he added. “It’s not just a tech platform that’s being put together to have a go. This is a very seriously built technology on blockchain that does the job exceptionally well and was designed from the ground up with the pure focus of being the primary solution for industry and consumers globally.”
As part of this month’s in-depth exploration of age verification, we corresponded with representatives from the three major existing service providers — AVSecure, AgeChecked and AgeID. Here’s what Steve Winyard, the Chief Marketing Officer for AVSecure, told us via Skype audio interview. (Transcription edited for length and clarity.)
YNOT: What are the similarities and differences between AVSecure and other age verification services?
Steve Winyard: There are some similarities and then some significant differences. The similarities are, when somebody from a U.K. IP address lands on an adult site, that adult site will have to display an age verification solution by law. Now, assuming they display AVSecure, which we already know most of the industry will, we will offer a choice of verification methods to the consumer.
If anybody chooses to use a credit card, debit card, passport or anything like that, [AVSecure] never has that data. We never save it. It’s all done by a third-party company. So, if somebody puts the information in, the third-party data agency checks that that data is valid and that person’s 18 or above. All we get back is a yes or no.
That is similar to the other companies. Where it becomes very different is, over and above conventional fraud methods, which everybody has to use, we don’t use email addresses. Emails are very dangerous as you may or may not know, and we don’t use them at all.
The other thing about other systems and their technology is that when you’re using an e-mail and a password as your log-in, those are centralized databases. In other words, somebody has to store that data. So, we’ve avoided all of that. None of that happens with AVSecure.
We built this on blockchain. It’s the most advanced technology platform that works brilliantly with this kind of application. And if AVSecure got hacked, one of the nodes on our blockchain will just release a random series of numbers, and it’s impossible to link it to anybody’s identity. So, from that perspective, it’s incredibly secure.
We’ve also got an idea that’s unique and exclusive to us, which is the age verification card. This is something that you can go and buy from one of up to 60 thousand retail outlets in the UK and it’s a bit like buying alcohol or cigarettes. You walk into the store, you ask for your age verification card and the person on the till will visually check your age. So, if you look under 18, they’ll ask you for ID and you might have to show your driver’s license or your passport — exactly as you do in [the U.S.] for buying alcohol.
If you’re like me – I don’t look 18 — I would get issued one and I can pay 10 pounds in cash for one of these. They each have a unique 16-digit number and that number can only be used once. So, I come out of the store with my unique number, I go to AVSecure, I enter my number in and that is my proof of age without ever linking to my identity. This is anonymity at its finest.
Those are the three main things: No email, the fact that if it was hacked, it’s just random numbers and the fact that we can’t track.
What about cost? Who’s paying for this?
Probably, the other most important thing for us was the economics. Everybody else is charging the industry, and we’re not. AVSecure is completely free to the global adult industry, and all of the methods of verification are also free to the consumer. The only time people will ever spend any money is if they wanted to buy the age verification card, then they’ll spend 10 bucks doing so. And apart from that, the whole system, the millions we spend developing it, it’s all completely free. It’s all self-funded, and we are fortunate we put a very heavy war chest behind this.
What about all the people trying to get around age verification, specifically tricky teenagers?
I think there are numerous options that people can take. You know, some will be looking to use VPNs, some will be looking to bypass [age verification]. The older generation of under 18 year olds — in other words, the fifteen, sixteen and seventeen-year-olds — will probably do anything they can to avoid this. They’ll steal daddy’s credit cards, they’ll do everything they can — we know that. The reality is that this law is saying that there are really young children — like five to twelve-year olds — who stumble across porn every day, and it’s aimed at making it extremely difficult for them to see this.
There are so many laws in place across the world at the moment where you need to be of a certain age to do something. All that’s happening at the moment is that the internet is just catching up, that’s all. You know, you could be looking at a system [for age verification on a] gambling website where you need really deep information and they really need to know who you are. This is not the case here. This is quite a light touch of age verification, but it a really good place to start.
It’s not designed to be perfect. Perfect doesn’t exist. It’s just designed to make it difficult enough so that a nine-year-old that clicks on a porn site won’t get through. That’s absolutely the right thing to do.
What about adults who accidentally (or, on purpose) create opportunities for underage access?
I think a lot of this is common sense. If you look at the real world at the moment, a person who is over 21 can buy vodka – and then they could walk out of the store and give it to a fourteen-year-old in the car park. Now, that’s the same way someone could buy an age verification card and you could give it to a 14-year-old. It won’t happen many times, but it may happen and, therefore, you know, “perfect” doesn’t exist — but if it works 99 times out of 100, fantastic.
You can argue it’s the same as using a credit card. Well, hey presto, my kids know where my credit card is. And if one of my children was under 18 and wanted to log on and thought, “Oh, this is clever, no one’s going to know. I’ll go and steal daddy’s credit card and quickly use that to prove it’s me.” You know, these things will happen. We will, however — and again, I think it’s unique to us — we’re going to be re-verifying our userbase every year. And we’re happy to do that because AVSecure isn’t just going to be for adult content. We want to use this for lots of other industry sectors — the gaming market, the sale of knives, the sale of solvents, alcohol, online games that you get for your Xbox, things like that. So, you know, there’s an awful lot of a bigger world for AVSecure.
Is it going to be confusing for the consumer when they go to different websites and have to be verified by different service providers, one of which is a porn company itself?
There are several aspects to this. The reality is many consumers don’t care, they’ll do whatever they need to get to their porn. Mindgeek, because of who they are, bear the burden of that reputation, and the British press have been tremendously negative about AgeID as a system because it is run by a porn company. It doesn’t matter how nice the guys are that are running it, the reality is there’s very little trust from the industry because even if they say they won’t track anything or do anything — and they might very well not, and you can’t question their technical capability because they’re brilliant technically, so their system is probably going to be fantastic – however, an adult company has to consider what their attitude to risk really is. So, from that point of view, I don’t think it’s a slam dunk for [Mindgeek’s] AgeID.
We are in very friendly conversations with them still as we always have been and always will be to try and make the journey easier for the consumer. There are conversations going on behind the scenes to see whether we can let an AVSecure user into AgeID or an AgeID user into AVSecure. There’s a lot of conversations going on. So, believe me, the people are very willing and we’ll always work with Mindgeek to try and make this as easy as possible.
Finally, how are you pitching this to the public? What does your public outreach process include at this moment?
We’ve been waiting for an official date. Once we get the official going live date, we’ve got a variety of messaging and marketing and PR strategies in place, and this covers everything — adult industry and public. This goes from mainstream media to television to newspapers, and also websites. Don’t forget, AVSecure is going to be on most of the adult websites across the world and, therefore, there’s 25 or 30 million people who need to age verify who will see AVSecure, will read about it and will be able to look on the website.
On top of that, the regulator is also putting in place an appraisal system. One of the big four companies that are like auditors, like PricewaterhouseCoopers, will be doing an audit of age verification solutions. Now, we can’t wait for that. We’ve been pushing hard for this to happen because it will allow a consumer that does have a lot of concerns to be able to see just how impressive our approach to privacy is.
It’s a very multifaceted, heavily nuanced and tremendously complicated process. And even we don’t have enough money to advertise to very consumer in the U.K. — nobody does – but the word will spread. We’ve also got some of the very big partners, other big deals we’re working on to add some great credibility to what we do.
Image courtesy of JFK.