El Reg deep dive: Everything you need to know about UK.gov's pr0n block

Some foreplay: Dark web, smut monopolies and moral outrage

Who's going to end up on top?

Tangled up in the debate is the effect the legislation will have on pornographers, especially on the dominance of MindGeek and AgeID.

"I do worry about further homogenisation of the porn industry," said Nash. "I also worry a little bit about the incentives that are created around the age verification providers and the pornography companies themselves."

Although concerns about smaller providers being unable to meet the costs of compliance led MindGeek to make AgeID free for independent UK-based sites, Girl On the Net said using their tool would be a "bitter pill to swallow" for many independents.

"Handing them more power is a wildly unhelpful thing to do, and an absolute joke for any government that claims to care about competition," she said.

There are, of course, other options. For instance, Edwin de Boer, of adult biz Manica Media, said his firm had chosen AgeChecked because there wasn't such a conflict of interest and it had good privacy credentials. And Yoti is trying to win over customers by offering free integration to BBFC-regulated sites.

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CEO Robin Tombs said that the biz would be providing age gating "to a range of adult websites, including some of MindGeek's websites" and that "in each instance people will only transfer the fact that they are 18 or over, nothing more".

Another possible solution mooted at a Digital Policy Alliance event last week by crossbench peer Merlin Hay, chair of the Digital Policy Alliance, was that the regulator could require sites to use two AV providers.

But Jackman countered that although this would "clearly expand consumer choice, it would not protect consumer or user privacy and security".

That has to be the regulator's ultimate priority, he said: "Not the illusion of choice: actual, tangible protection."

Lust pointed out that because AgeID will be single-sign-on, it might not stop the insidious creep of MindGeek anyway.

"With MindGeek dominating the porn and age verification market, more customers will be persuaded to watch content from their websites," she said. "If I'm not using AgeID, users who have watched content on a MindGeek-verified site may be less likely to watch our films as they will have to go through the verification process again."

This possible loss of traffic is a huge problem for smaller providers – many of whose lives, if not their livelihoods, revolve around making porn for kinks and communities that aren't served by MindGeek sites. And it isn't just competition that might cause a drop-off.

"It will put off a lot of people who don't trust their details are going to be safe, and it's going to cause a massive loss of traffic from the UK market," Blake said. "Most porn providers are only breaking even, if that, so we're going to see a lot of people put out of business, and it will disproportionately affect the niche, feminist, queer, DIY, small providers."

Basking in the afterglow

It's hard to say what the overall effect will be on porn-viewing habits in the UK. Some might opt for text-based porn (which isn't covered in the legislation), or cut it out entirely – arguably a backwards step for a society that is only just starting to accept people's sexual choices and desires.

At the same time, the rules aren't going to stop all kids from finding porn if they want to. As Brown said: "The proposed measures will be little more than a speed bump in this regard – whether a site operator implements age verification, or a UK ISP does site blocking, those looking for circumvention mechanisms are unlikely to need to look far."

Enterprising tech-savvy ones might dip a toe into the murky waters of what the mainstream press wants to brand the DARK WEB in screaming all-caps – although the jury is out on whether this would accidentally expose them to all manner of ills.

And while more than one man of a certain age has joked that it might lead to an increase in kids scouring the hedgerows for abandoned copies of Penthouse, there are less low-tech approaches, like peer-produced porn or social media.

The government initially considered regulating online platforms like Twitter but ultimately gave up. At the Digital Policy Alliance event, Hay said that asking ISPs to block Twitter would be seen as an "overreaction" that "would not go down well in public".

Nash agreed that it wouldn't be appropriate for social media to be brought into legislation that was aimed at companies whose primary source of income is from publishing porn.

Instead, the BBFC can only ask nicely for inappropriate content to be taken off social media sites, which are classed as ancillary service providers (ASPs). "The BBFC can notify ASPs of non-compliant pornographic services and request that they withdraw their services to them," the regulator told The Register, adding that draft guidance for this would be issued at the same time as the wider AV guidance.

Throughout this, though, there's an underlying frustration that the government has chosen to fork out – according to its own estimates(PDF) – between £1m and £7.9m on the regulator alone, while failing to deliver on long-promised improvements to sex education in schools.

"Parents and schools need to be having discussions with their children about pornography, explaining that it is not a representation of real life and it is often a fantasy that can take things to extremes," said Lust, who has created a site that aims to help do this.

"Instead of trying to fix a social problem with technology, children should be educated and given a safe space to explore their sexuality."

Girl on the Net agreed, saying that young people have been crying out for "properly funded sex ed, which doesn't just cover the very basics like pregnancy and STIs, but which is broad and covers issues such as consent, self identity and pornography as well".

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