Australia Shelves Mandatory Age-Verification for Adult Sites, Pivots to Parental Education and Online Safety Measures

In a surprising reversal that has ignited debates on personal privacy and online safety, the Australian government announced that it had shelved plans to enforce age verification on adult websites, opting instead to pursue parental education. Most people will agree that nobody wants children looking at porn online. Nobody in the adult industry wants this either. But what's the best way to protect children from seeing things they shouldn't? The answer is simple ... it has to start at home. And after a two-year study, it turns out the Australian Government realized this as well. Australian Government Communications Minister Michelle Rowland released the long-awaited roadmap from the eSafety commissioner, citing a myriad of concerns over privacy, security, and the nascent state of the requisite technology. Australia Shelves Mandatory Age-Verification for Adult Sites, Pivots to Parental Education and Online Safety Measures
"Each type of age verification or age assurance technology comes with its own set of dilemmas, from privacy to practical implementation," the government explained in its official response to the roadmap, which had been in their possession since March 2023.
The Australian federal government has reassigned eSafety commissioner, Julie Inman Grant, to liaise with the industry to create a new code. This pivot aims to educate parents about software that limits children’s access to inappropriate material instead of focusing on a broader, more controversial policy change. Notably, any functional age-verification system must not only be circumvention-proof but also applicable to content hosted outside Australia's borders, and not introduce the risk of personal data leaks for legal adult consumers, the government outlined. "The roadmap makes clear that a decision to mandate age assurance is not yet ready to be taken," it added. The Australian government's decision to defer to the industry to craft new codes of conduct comes ahead of an independent statutory review of the Online Safety Act in 2024. The Australian government also revealed it would keep a keen eye on the UK's strategy towards age assurance, identifying the UK as a "key like-minded partner." In a stunning revelation, the eSafety's report found that of the 75% of 16 to 18-year-olds who reported exposure to online pornography, almost one-third had seen it before the age of 13. Nearly half encountered it between the ages of 13 and 15. Furthermore, the report pointed to an apparent gap in sex education, particularly among LGBTQ+ individuals, noting that online pornography often serves as a stand-in for formal education in these cases. "Lack of inclusive sex education in schools leaves a vacuum that online pornography fills," it stated. In response, the government announced a $83.5 million funding plan over six years for age-appropriate, evidence-based sex education. While the roadmap considered a pilot trial for age-verification technologies, the government decided against it. It also acknowledged the ongoing development of a digital ID following the data breaches at Optus and Medibank but stressed that government IDs would not be used for age verification on adult websites. Minister Rowland emphasized that the roadmap highlighted the industry's role in developing safety standards. "While we await the outcome of this process, the digital industry is on notice: We will not hesitate to take further action should it fail to keep children safe," she warned. As the world watches, Australia's decision underscores the tension between privacy concerns and the urgency of online safety in a digital era. By putting the industry on notice and focusing on parental education, the government is sending a clear message: The onus is as much on families as it is on technology to safeguard the next generation.
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