LOS ANGELES—More than a year after the United Kingdom scrapped a law that would have required a nationwide “age verification” system to block online porn sites for any users unable to prove their age of at least 18, Germany is attempting to succeed where the U.K. failed, according to a report by the tech news site Gizmodo.
The U.K. spent the equivalent of $2.8 million in its attempt to put a national age verification system in place, but finally called off the plan in July, 2019, in a morass of technical problems and privacy concerns. Civil liberties advocates raised fears that the system could be used to gather potentially compromising information on porn viewers, and keep tabs on their preferences and habits.
The German initiative is being spearheaded by Tobias Schmid, state media director for the state of North Rhine-Wetsphalia. Under Schmid’s plan, German regulatory authorities are now trying to force the country’s largest internet service providers, including Vodafone and Deutsche Telekom, to block Domain Name Service (DNS) access for popular “tube” sites such as PornHub, xHamster, and YouPorn.
Schmid has been quoted in the German media as saying that his effort is directed at “protecting” children from viewing “abnormal sexual practices,” such as, according to Schmid, gangbang videos.
“When children get the impression that gangbang is a normal sexual practice in which women are used and humiliated, then that is certainly an extreme problem,” he said, as quoted by the German publication Panorama.
DNS is the system used to convert any internet url, such as “AVN.com,” into a numerical string known as an IP address, which locates the targeted site in cyberspace, allowing users to access that site. If the DNS blocking system goes into place, major porn sites such as PornHub would become, essentially, invisible to German fans.
The DNS blocks would come without any age verification system, and apparently are instead being used by authorities to strong-arm the sites into adopting age verification systems on their own, according to the Gizmodo report.
“We’ll drill to the end,” Schmid said. “Either we can enforce the protection of minors, or we have to ask the legislature whether they really want to leave the situation that way.”
But as the U.K. found, simply blocking DNS access is only a minimally effective method of restricting access to porn. By using Virtual Private Networks, or simply typing in the numerical IP address, users could easily circumvent to DNS blocks.
Germany is the latest country to consider the “age verification” systems. In addition to the U.K., Australia, Poland, Ireland and New Zealand have all proposed — but not yet implemented — similar systems.
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