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Tech Shock: John Carr on pornography and the Online Safety Bill

In this week’s episode of the Tech Shock podcast, Vicki and Geraldine speak to John Carr, writer, campaigner, and adviser to the British government and the EU. They discuss the belated decision to bring pornography into the scope of the Online Safety Bill.

The latest revision of the Online Safety Bill includes all pornography, whereas the first version of the Bill would have covered only user-generated pornographic content. 

Carr stresses that the move is not limited to commercial pornography. “Some of the big commercial pornography sites could have switched their business model,” he says, welcoming the decision no longer to exclude pornography either on the basis of who created it, or whether for money. 

“From my perspective, what matters more is whether or not the content in question is likely to be harmful to a child,” he says. 

Vicki, Geraldine and John also discuss how age verification will work. Pornography sites will stipulate how they will protect children and lay that out in their terms and conditions. Ofcom (the UK’s communications regulator) will be responsible for oversight – but there are fears that it may have to take offenders to court, leading to delays.

“Does the site have effective age verification in place to stop a child accessing porn?” Carr says. “The answer to that question is either yes or no. If they [Ofcom] decide that the site doesn’t have effective age verification in place, they should be able to issue an administrative notice.”

Carr is optimistic that the Bill will help set the tone for internet safety in liberal democracies. Other legislation is being developed elsewhere, particularly in the EU. But convergence will take time, and there will doubtless be many arguments about privacy, free speech, and what constitutes legal but harmful content. 

“In the end, a body of practice, of precedence, of knowledge and experience will accumulate that will act as a guide to the future behaviour of companies,” he says. 

Listen to Series 3, Episode 9 to hear the full podcast.   

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