QotD: “Pornhub and other X-rated sites face French court ban to protect children”

France has taken the first step towards banning some of the most popular pornography websites, with the state regulator seeking a court order because of their failure to prevent access by children.

Roch-Olivier Maistre, head of Arcom, a new audiovisual and digital communication authority, acted after Pornhub, Xvideos, TuKif, Xhamster and Xnxx failed to respond to a final warning in December to act on a 2020 law that requires age verification to access their material.

If the judges issue the order, internet service providers must prevent access to the sites and search engines must ban them from listings.

Attempts by the firms, registered in Cyprus, the Czech Republic and the Portuguese island of Madeira, to open “mirror sites”, offering the same content with different addresses, also would be blocked, Arcom said.

Since the French rules took effect, Pornhub and other X-rated services that account for five of the fifty most popular websites in France have merely asked users to confirm with an anonymous click that they are 18 or over.

The French move is part of a crackdown across the European Union and in Britain against sites that give children access to free pornography and other damaging content. Three French-based porn sites, including the popular Jacquie et Michel, have complied with the government rule by requiring users to obtain passwords after providing credit card imprints to validate their ages. They do not have to confirm their identity by other means.

Earlier attempts to impose age verification have fallen foul of privacy rules in France, Britain and elsewhere. France’s data protection watchdog warned that age verification by publishers of pornographic content must not enable them to collect data on users derived from their identities such as their sexual orientation and tastes.

President Macron’s government has promoted a bill that requires the installation of parental controls in computers, phones, gaming consoles and tablets sold in France.

Over 80 per cent of children aged 10 to 14 say that they regularly go online without parental supervision in France. On average, 70 per cent of children of all ages say that they watch online videos alone, the parliamentary group of Macron’s République En Marche party said.

The bill, passed by parliament, could yet be rejected for breaching EU laws. This is because the mandatory controls could be deemed to breach single market rules since they impose French standards with which other EU manufacturers would have to comply.

TuKif, French for “You Fancy”, has contested the court action, saying that it would be ready to comply, but only if the state pursues 2,000 other porn sites that have not been targeted.

Child protection groups that began the legal action with the regulator said that they were starting with the biggest sites but legal action would reach all of them. “The idea was not to issue injunctions to all sites but to signal that the party is over,” Olivier Gérard, a spokesman for the National Union of Family Associations, said.

France is the sixth biggest user of Pornhub, the world’s most popular pornography provider. Britain is the second, after the United States. Pornhub said last year that the French law infringed the privacy of adults and “leaves large areas of the adult industry completely unchecked”.

The Times, 10 March 2022

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