Age Verification: Pornhub Blocks Utah, Wikipedia Threatens to Leave the UK

Age verification laws are wreaking havoc on the internet with large websites leaving, or thinking of leaving, certain jurisdictions.

A common refrain we’ve heard from those pushing anti-internet laws is that large websites would never leave a country – or at the very least, pull certain services from a given country. In recent days, however, we have been graced with two good examples that websites would do exactly that around the world.

Specifically, numerous countries are contemplating so-called “age verification” laws. Generally speaking, age verification laws require websites to demand personal information from its users. This can include drivers licenses, state ID cards, or other forms of personally identifying information. This before users can proceed to browse websites on the internet.

Such laws have been rightfully blasted as a privacy nightmare because in an age where tracking tends to collect far too much information on people, the last thing we want to be doing is putting even more personal information onto the wide open internet. Often, such information is then stored in centralized databases, making it ripe for black hat hackers to break in and steal that information. Afterwards, people can be held at ransom by malicious actors. All this while really solving nothing as anonymous tools and stolen credentials can easily thwart these blockades in the first place. A long time rebuttal in all of this that it’s not the job of the state to determine what people can or cannot see online.

Yet, those with this moral superiority complex who have declared war on all things “icky” don’t really care and will stop at nothing to make sure that every dirty picture, impure thought, and crude drawing of genitalia has been blinked out of existence. So, breaking the internet and making everyone’s lives substantially worse is but a minor inconvenience to them.

Indeed, Canada is not immune to the whims of this backwards thinking that the government should be demanding age verification from everyone who wants to browse the web. An attempt was made to shoehorn age verification laws into Bill C-11 – a move that was mercifully shot that down while rejecting the critical senate fix of protecting user generated content. The problem, however, is that it is widely expected to be part of the forthcoming online harms bill which, rumours have it, is expected to be tabled later this year.

Of course, you don’t have to wait for the bills tabling to find real world examples of the damage such bills can do on the free and open internet. For example, Utah passed legislation demanding adult websites to have age verification in place. The move didn’t sit well with PornHub, the largest known adult website on the internet. In response, they decided to block the entire state of Utah. They also called for residents to change the laws. From Techdirt:

In a move that was no surprise whatsoever, Pornhub has officially blocked all IP addresses registered in the state of Utah. Fellow adult industry journalist, Gustavo Turner of Xbiz, first reported the block for the adult industry business news media. Having tested it out myself through this handy little tool that Utah seems to forget that exists (a VPN), I was able to confirm this.

Though I’m based in Colorado, my socially conservative neighbors to the West are now victim to the incongruent beliefs of zealous politicians who have no understanding of the internet or online free speech.

Porn superstar and The Daily Beast contributor Cherie Deville appeared in a safe-for-work explanation video that Utah-based users will land on when visiting. In the video, Deville delivers a stern message to the fine people of Utah by telling them that one of the world’s most popular websites, in general, has blocked the entire state due to a controversial anti-porn law.

(video link)

What’s more is that Deville’s video doesn’t mention Utah by name, and is clearly a broad-form video that Pornhub produced in anticipation for other U.S. states about to block legal adult entertainment websites for one reason or another. The foundation of the Holy and Great Firewall of Utah (I mean Zion) was established by Senate Bill (SB) 287. State Sen. Todd Weiler and Rep. Susan Pulsipher introduced SB 287 as a means to require age verification for users to view porn sites.

Interestingly enough, this is not an isolated incident in recent days. The UK is moving forward with their own age verification laws. In response, Wikipedia threatened to leave the UK. From the BBC:

Rebecca MacKinnon, of the Wikimedia Foundation, which supports the website, says it would “violate our commitment to collect minimal data about readers and contributors”.

A senior figure in Wikimedia UK fears the site could be blocked as a result.

Neil Brown, a solicitor specialising in internet and telecoms law, says that under the bill, services likely to be accessed by children must have “proportionate systems and processes” designed to prevent them from encountering harmful content. That could include age verification.

Lucy Crompton-Reid, chief executive of Wikimedia UK, an independent charity affiliated with the foundation, warns some material on the site could trigger age verification.

“For example, educational text and images about sexuality could be misinterpreted as pornography,” she said.

But Ms MacKinnon wrote: “The Wikimedia Foundation will not be verifying the age of UK readers or contributors.”

All of this highlights just how wrong things can go just with age verification laws. When you put onerous laws on the internet, larger websites can very easily just choose to block the country, state, province, or whatever else, rather than just opt to comply with the law ‘because the market is too lucrative’. What’s more, users can easily circumvent these blocks by using anonymous tools that are widely available today. Smaller websites, however, may simply choose to shut down and call it quits altogether because they have no hope in even having the resources to comply with something even the big players know they can’t comply with.

All of this damage because someone out there found the concept of something “icky”. It’s ridiculous, but it is important that actions do have consequences. In this case, the action of trying to demand ID’s of every user out there has the consequence of websites just blocking that location altogether. In the end, everyone suffers as a result of such an ill-conceived idea pushed by those who have no idea how the internet even works in the first place.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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