The UK will age-block porn from July 15. This 'porn pass' is one way you'll be watching it in future.

Woman finger on lipsWoman finger on lipsGetty

  • It's about to become much more difficult to watch porn in the UK.
  • Porn in the UK will be age-blocked as of July 15, with porn sites having to bring in age-verification.
  • One of the proposed age-verification systems is called Portes. It involves going down to a physical shop and buying a voucher, which is then uploaded via an app.
  • Business Insider spoke to Serge Acker, the CEO of the company that owns Portes, to find out exactly how it will work.
  • Visit BusinessInsider.com for more stories.

It is about to become much more difficult to watch porn online if you're in the UK.

From July 15, porn sites will need to check that their British viewers are over 18, thanks to the UK government's decision to implement a "porn block."

The argument is that it's too easy for children to watch porn online and it's affecting their sexual and mental health - so now anyone who wants to watch porn on the internet will have to prove that they're old enough.

There is backlash from critics who say that the ban amounts to censorship, and ultimately that a ban won't have the desired effect. The UK is pressing ahead anyway.

The law makes it incumbent on the porn providers to put in place a "robust" age-verification system, or else face having their sites blacked out in the UK.

Read more: Porn is being age-blocked across all of the UK in July. Here's why people think it's a terrible idea.

And how will the ban work in practice? The police won't be knocking on people's houses to snoop through their internet histories.

The government has been woolly on the detail, but it has placed the burden of verifying people's ages on porn site operators. The system will be policed by the the British Board of Film Classification, an organisation that has historically decided what films are suitable for particular age groups. It isn't clear how the BBFC will detect sites that don't implement an age-verification system.

Now porn sites must come up with a way of verifying people's ages.

Various solutions have been proposed by multiple companies, but many involve uploading a form of ID, such as a driving license or a credit card.

One solution has a particularly analogue feel to it.

Its official name is the Portes Card, although it has been popularly dubbed the "porn pass." The idea is that people will be able to go to a shop where the person behind the till will check their ID, and then provide them with a pass which can then be uploaded via an app to give them access to pornographic content without handing over any personal data.

Business Insider spoke to Serge Acker, CEO of the company behind Portes, to discover a bit more about how this will work in reality.

Portes' musical roots

OCL, the tech startup which created the Portes Card, was not originally geared around letting over-18s watch porn.

Its focus was on the music industry and how to get more money for artists whose work is being used on apps like TikTok and Snapchat. When Acker came onboard, the company was focused on micro-licensing for music.

"TikTok, Snapchat, all those companies have grown on the ability for their users to create user-generated content, that very often requires the use of third-party content - music typically. And none of that music is really paid for."

TikTokGetty

The music industry itself leant a helping hand in setting up OCL. Indie record label Beggars Group provided the startup with roughly $100,000 in seed money.

OCL's microlicensing business is still active, but following the UK government's announcement in 2017 that it would be bringing in the porn block, the company expanded its operations to age-verification. It named this arm of the company Portes.

"When the UK government brought in the Digital Economy Act, we thought it was an interesting problem to solve because at the time the only game in town in terms of age-verification relied on identity," said Acker.

What will the "porn pass" look like?

The Portes Card won't be a plastic card. Instead it's more of a printable voucher, which works in tandem with Portes' bespoke app.

Portes sent Business Insider an image of a prototype.

OCL Portes Voucher prototypeA prototype of the 'porn voucher'OCL

The process of buying a pass will be a little like paying for your gas bill or mobile top ups at the newsagents.

Portes has partnered with two payment companies,PayPoint and ePay, which are collectively installed in around 90,000 retailers. That includes newsagents and major supermarkets such as Tescos - although it is not certain yet which outlets will choose to make the pass available in their shops.

Anyone wanting the pass will need to download the Portes app first. This features a barcode, which the retailer will scan. They will then ask for proof of your age and payment. For use on a single device, the pass will cost £4.99 ($6.50), and £8.99 ($11.80) across multiple devices. Once you've paid, you will have a printed voucher with a 16-digit code.

That code can then be entered via the Portes app. For use on a laptop or desktop, the user visits the porn site of their choice where they can hit a "Portes" logo, then enter the code, and wait for verification from the app.

Read more: Snapchat admits its age verification safeguards are effectively useless

To prevent under-18s from simply obtaining a code from an older person- a sibling for example - Acker says parents will be able to install the app on their kids' devices and then activate a "lock" it so that any code entered on that device is immediately burned.

The biggest online porn company in the world has partnered with Portes

Portes has also partnered with AgeID, an age-verification company owned by MindGeek, the conglomerate which owns PornHub, YouPorn, and RedTube.

AgeID itself will offer a few options to users apart from Portes, including verifying their age via SMS, credit card, passport, or driving licence.

As the subsidiary of an umbrella company with a dominant market position in online porn, AgeID has drawn a lot of ire from privacy activists claiming it shouldn't be trusted with reems of personal data. Portes saw this as an opportunity.

PornhubPornhub, a popular pornography site, is one of the most visited websites in the US.Shutterstock

"AgeID at the time and still now is seen as the 800-pound gorilla, that... because it is the emanation of a porn company it's hard to trust that they will do the right thing," OCL's Acker said. "Whatever you do can never be enough to misspell people's mistrust [namely] the minute you create an account, that creates a point of weakness."

He said Portes' pitch gave AgeID the "perfect solution" for giving an option for accessing a website without having to create an account. "For them it's an additional opportunity to prove to people that they're not in this game to collect data," he added.

Acker said that Portes' deal with AgeID is not exclusive, so it will be able to partner with other, smaller sites.

Most people still don't know there's a porn ban coming

The UK porn block will kick in on July 15, more than a year later than it was supposed to - it was originally slated for April 2018.

Acker says Portes' tech is ready to go, but notifying people about the block will be another challenge entirely. A YouGov poll from March 2019 showed 75% of Brits weren't aware that the porn block was on the way.

He said that Portes is engaging in a fair amount of online marketing ahead of time. "We're trying to be as guerilla as we can, being a startup," he said. He also said that ideally MindGeek will flash up some information on its various sites warning people ahead of time.

"Obviously Mindgeek control their user experience, but I think we both recognise the need to get people ready and not be caught out," he said.

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