Ofcom investigates OnlyFans over children’s access to adult content

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UK regulators are investigating OnlyFans, a streaming platform used by sex workers, over concerns the site’s age verification process is failing to block children from accessing pornography.

Ofcom said on Wednesday that OnlyFans, the largest UK-based site to host adult content, may have “failed to provide complete and accurate” information to the media regulator of its internal measures to prevent under-18s from using the platform.

The investigation comes under its regulation of video-sharing platforms. The watchdog has been gathering details from the leading companies, including TikTok, Snapchat, Twitch and OnlyFans since 2021. It has the power to punish companies for non-compliance with fines of up to 5 per cent of qualifying revenue or £250,000, whichever is greater.

When people sign up to use OnlyFans, their faces are scanned by technology provided by a government-approved service, Yoti, which estimates their age.

OnlyFans had erroneously told Ofcom that the threshold for access to view content on the site had been set at 23 years old, which would offer a buffer of five years in case users appeared older than their age. The technology, however, had actually set the threshold at 20 years old.

London-based OnlyFans, owned by Fenix International, said it amended its report to Ofcom when it discovered the error, which it blamed on Wednesday on a “coding configuration issue”.

The regulator on Wednesday said “available evidence suggests” the information provided was inaccurate and incomplete and “the age assurance measures [OnlyFans] had taken may not have been implemented in such a way as to protect under-18s from restricted material”.

The probe will determine whether OnlyFans has failed to comply with the law, and the regulator expects to provide an update in August. Ofcom is also investigating TikTok in a similar case where inaccurate information was supplied regarding parental controls, which the Chinese-owned app said was due to a technical issue.

OnlyFans said it worked closely with Ofcom “to implement and develop best practices on online safety, including the use of age-assurance technology”.

“In addition to requiring that all users provide their name and payment card details, OnlyFans uses the government-approved age-assurance provider Yoti,” it added. 

This investigation is related to UK-based “fans” who consume content on the site, rather than creators of content, who provide their date of birth on their government-issued ID as part of identity verification.

Next week, the regulator is expected to release codes of practice on platforms that should protect children online and comply with the UK’s new Online Safety Act.

The legislation is widely recognised as one of the most stringent online regulations globally. It grants Ofcom greater powers to hold tech companies accountable for violations of the law, especially when under-18s are at risk of harm, including criminal liability for named executives.


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