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Tech firms face greater scrutiny for improper age verification

Tech firms will be heavily scrutinised for improper age verification and algorithms suggesting “harmful content” to children, according to a new report from Ofcom.

The communications watchdog, which has been given extended powers to regulate digital content following the passing of the Online Safety Act, has published a list of 40 practical measures to protect children from dangerous content.

The measures include an expectation from tech companies that host content potentially inappropriate for children to implement robust age checks.

Last week, Ofcom launched an investigation into British content creation platform OnlyFans. The regulator said it had “grounds to suspect the platform did not implement its age verification measures in such a way as to sufficiently protect under-18s from pornographic material”.

OnlyFans’ age verification is handled by UK digital ID startup Yoti, one of several companies in its market sanctioned by the UK government to conduct Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) checks.

“The government assigned Ofcom to deliver the act and today the regulator has been clear; platforms must introduce the kinds of age-checks young people experience in the real world and address algorithms which too readily mean they come across harmful material online,” said Tech Secretary Michelle Donelan.

“I want to assure parents that protecting children is our number one priority and these laws will help keep their families safe. To platforms, my message is: engage with us and prepare. Do not wait for enforcement and hefty fines – step up to meet your responsibilities and act now.”

Another measure suggested by Ofcom was that content recommendation algorithms – used by many platforms including YouTube and TikTok – being required to filter out “harmful content” from children’s feeds.

Other measures outlined by Ofcom include better content moderation and greater accountability for senior tech figures.