France doubles down on age verification

France doesn't want to ban just porn but also mainstream social media platforms which include Instagram and TikTok. That means platforms from not only Pornhub but social media sites like Instagram could soon have to check their users’ ages. After a two and a half year battle between France and pornography websites, the French government and regulators are determined to finally put an end to the game. Last Wednesday, the culture committee of the National Assembly voted to extend age verification requirements to major social media organizations.
"In 2021, 63 percent of children under 13 had an account on at least one social network ... This is a violation of the general terms of use of the main platforms concerned, according to which registration is allowed from the age of 13," argued Laurent Marcangeli, a member of parliament from President Emmanuel Macron's allied party Horizons, who put forward the bill adopted Wednesday.
Verifying the age of those using the internet has been an ongoing challenge for both policymakers and tech companies in North America and Europe. Last December, Nick Clegg, the global affairs leader of Meta, called for a global system of standards in this area. France was one of the first countries to tackle the matter head-on in 2020 with legislation to force the porn industry to block online access to minors. (After an unsuccessful bid in 2019, the United Kingdom is now also trying to bring back age-verification requirements.) Last Wednesday, French legislators passed a law requiring social media services like Instagram, TikTok and Snap to stop minors under 15 from accessing their platforms unless they obtain permission from their parents. Organizations that do not abide by this law may be subjected to a fine of as much as 1 percent of their global annual turnover. The age verification systems must be approved by both Arcom and CNIL before implementation, with Arcom being allowed to take legal action against non-compliant companies. The bill is not a done deal yet and still needs to go through the plenary session and the Senate — but French Digital Minister Jean-Noël Barrot has repeatedly said that age verification for porn websites was meant to also be expanded to mainstream social media platforms. The 2020 legislation proved difficult to enforce because of privacy, technical, and legal hurdles — but the planets are now starting to align against the pornography industry. Adult websites have long argued, including in French courts, that the text cannot be implemented technically. Last week, Barrot told MPs that a system of "double anonymity" would be tested at the end of March with a few unnamed companies. Users prove their age on a yet-undetermined trusted third party — such as a telecom operator or a digital identity service provider — that would generate a token of sorts without the provider knowing the token's purpose. That token could then be used anonymously on porn websites. That system, Barrot added, is the best way to solve the age-verification stalemate for adult websites but also, "in the future," for other types of platforms.
A spokesperson for MindGeek, the parent company of Pornhub, RedTube, and YouPorn, said in a statement that "it is vital that any age verification measures implemented preserve user privacy and are easy to use. All regulation must be enforced equitably and effectively across all platforms offering adult material."
In France, the protection of minors online has become a priority for the government. Reports have indicated that 11 is the average age at which children first view pornographic content. As such, the country was the first to mandate that smartphone and tablet manufacturers provide parents with the ability to control their kids' internet usage. Be sure and follow @Fleshbot on Twitter to keep up with the latest news on the adult industry!  

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