Experts argue age assurance technology will not stop teenagers from accessing adult content online.

The claim follows the Australian federal government announced last week that it would commit $6.5 million to an age assurance technologies pilot that will aim to prevent young people from being able to access pornography online.

Sexologist, PhD candidate, and Edith Cowan University researcher Giselle Woodley explores teenager perspectives on age assurance measures.

She said teens already know how to bypass age assurance technology.

“Teens said if [online pornography sites implemented] biometrics, digital identification or face ID software, they would point their camera to a photo of Nicolas Cage or use their parent’s credit card or driver’s license,” Ms Woodley said.

ECU Cyber Security at Practice Professor Paul Haskell-Dowland said teenagers have always found a way to access restricted items.

“We have still not got this right with drugs, alcohol and cigarettes,” Prof. Haskell-Dowland said.

“[Age assurance technology] will not be the perfect solution to the problem, but doing nothing is not an option.”

The eSafety Commissioner’s¬†Roadmap for Age Verification Report¬†revealed 75 per cent of children aged between 16 and 18 had seen porn, while one-third of minors were exposed before they turned 13.

The federal government is yet to confirm how the age assurance trial will work but Prof. Haskell-Dowland said it could take two approaches.

“The technologies fall into two categories – age assurance and age verification,” Prof. Haskell-Dowland said.

“Age assurance is something we’ve probably all encountered when visiting certain websites that have an age restriction.

“These websites elicit a request to self-declare that you are of the age to view the material.

“Sometimes that is in the guise of ‘how many years old are you?’ and sometimes it will ask for your date of birth, and in others, it may simply ask you to confirm that you are old enough to access the material.

“This is very easily bypassed.”

Age assurance tick-a-box method

The alternative is age verification, a more formal process that checks if a person’s age is legitimate by using documentation.

“Age verification is where we take that assurance from the individual and take it a step further,” Prof. Haskell-Dowland says.

“Adult websites, for example, may ask for your credit card to prove you are 18.”

 

Ms Woodley says teenagers believe age assurance strategies should focus on children aged 10 or 12 and below.

“Teens have recognised that [age assurance technologies] would protect the bulk of younger children but, for those more tech-savvy young people, there are so many ways to easily circumvent it like using VPNs or anonymised browsers,” Ms Woodley says.

Professor Haskell-Dowland says although there are ways for minors to bypass these measures, the technology will be effective.

“If anyone suggests that whatever approach is taken will solve the problem, then they are certainly living in some kind of unrealistic world because there will always be ways and means to evade these controls,” Professor Haskell-Dowland says.

“I’m not saying it is the best solution, but it is probably the only one we can implement that would have a level of acceptance and technical viability.”

The federal government is expected to begin work on the age assurance pilot after the May budget is released next Tuesday.