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Generation Z wants a ‘porn block’ to protect children online: biometrics could present the answer

January 2020 by David Orme, Senior Vice President at IDEX Biometrics ASA

In November 2019, the UK Government dropped its planned ‘porn block’ regulation – internet ID checks through credit cards, designed to protect children from adult content online. This was due to regulation obstacles but also the belief that the system could be easy to circumvent by “persistent teenagers”.

Yet our recent research shows that teenagers and those in Generation Z (born 1995-2010) are actually craving more, not less, protection online. This is highlighted by the six-in-ten (62%) of those in Generation Z who don’t think the Government is doing enough to protect children from accessing adult content.

This likely stems from their own experiences. More than half (56%) of our respondents over the age of 18 admit to accessing adult sites or apps while they were underage and of those, nearly a third (30%) were less than 14 years old when they first accessed porn.

Guarding the next generation

However, according to our findings, despite being able to easily access this content while underage, Generation Z has concerns about viewing pornography while still so young. More than one-in-ten (11%) of those who viewed adult content while underage now regret accessing those sites, while a further 10% say they were traumatised by what they saw.

At our recent focus group of 18-24-year olds, Wawee, a 20-year-old, shared his regret at visiting adult sites while underage. “I wish I probably hadn’t gone down that route of watching adult content while I was younger, to be honest,” he said. “Because it gives you a skewed version of life. Now I’m older and meeting girls, I know it’s not real. But even though you know it’s not real, it’s like an addiction thing. It’s easy to get sucked in.”

This view is leading young people to want to shield the next generation from repeating this experience: 70% believe it’s important to protect children from accessing porn. Notably, under 24s aren’t just concerned about the potential for individual trauma among young people who watch explicit content underage. They are also worried about the wider social impact this is having on the next generation and the effect it will have on children’s lives in the future. Another focus group attendee, Charlotte who is 18 years old, shared a common response that reflects this view. “I feel there should be a ‘porn block’ because porn is creating false expectations,” she said. “Kids in secondary school, they’re believing that’s what it’s like while they’re young. But it’s not like that.”

Generation Z is embracing new technology

One of the most important findings from our study is that Generation Z expects the Government to do more to protect young people from potentially harmful content. Our study found nearly two-thirds (64%) of respondents believe the Government needs to do more to improve ID verification online to solve this issue.

Notably, this generation is also embracing new technology to keep themselves safe while on the internet. More than half (53%) of all respondents believe biometrics, such as fingerprints, should be used to protect underage children from accessing online porn - this is even higher among 16-17-year olds (80%). Interestingly, this generation feels very strongly about the potential for biometrics to protect them online, so much so that they are willing to pay for it. Two-in-five (40.1%) would pay for an identity card with fingerprint protection. By incorporating fingerprint authorisation into a national ID card scheme, this would enable content providers to ensure their users are over 18. This authorisation can be done without having to rely on existing credit cards which, unlike biometric ID cards, aren’t tied to an individual. A biometric age-authentication method would also put a check in place to protect the 12% of Generation Z who stated they first accessed sexual content while underage by accident without realising what it was.

How to protect your security and your identity

This isn’t the first time a biometric age restriction solution for explicit content has been considered. Earlier this year, the Australian Department of Home Affairs proposed using facial recognition scans to verify the age of internet users seeking to access pornography.

But this, of course, highlights one of the main concerns that saw the end of the anticipated UK Government ‘porn block’ — being personally identified by the registration system. This is very obvious with facial recognition and many Australians pushed back against the proposal for fear of being recognised. There is also the worry that your personal data would be stored in a central database where there is the possibility that your details, and the sites you have accessed, could be hacked or leaked.

But with a digitally-enabled fingerprint biometric ID card, there is no central database. At card enrolment, the owner’s age would be verified, and their fingerprint image immediately transformed into an abstract biometric template. This is then matched and held in the secure element of the card. Therefore, the full fingerprint image isn’t stored anywhere remotely, and the data never leaves the card – meaning user details can’t be leaked.

Investing in a secure solution

This research clearly shows that Generation Z, which will soon be the biggest sector of the global population, is demanding more be done to keep inappropriate online content from children. Notably, they welcome biometric technology as a solution. Therefore the Government should listen to these concerns and reconsider the porn block regulation.

Fingerprint authorisation offers a secure and convenient way for consumers to verify their age and make sure they can browse the internet safely. Investing in an ID solution with more advanced, biometric technology will provide young internet users, and their parents, with greater online security. Through fingerprint biometric ID cards, children can be protected from explicit content without worrying about being identified or having their data leaked.




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