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The Government presents the design of its anti-porn app, which will force adults to process accreditations that expire after a month | Technology

The Government has presented this Monday its application design so that platforms and websites can ensure that inappropriate content is only consumed by adults. This application proposed by the Government is called Digital Wallet Beta and will be available at the end of the summer. Its operation is complex. Carmen Cabanillas, general director of Governance of the Ministry of Digital Transformation, has explained it with an example: “If …

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The Government has presented this Monday its application design so that platforms and websites can ensure that inappropriate content is only consumed by adults. This application proposed by the Government is called Digital Wallet Beta and will be available at the end of the summer. Its operation is complex. Carmen Cabanillas, general director of Governance of the Ministry of Digital Transformation, has explained it with an example: “If you are using Telegram and you are exchanging adult content, Telegram has the option of calling our application and verifying that you are of legal age before you broadcast or consume that content, it is voluntary.” The app will know that we are of legal age because we share the electronic ID or the Government itself consults administrative sources to verify. Then Telegram or the platform that contains that video or image will offer a QR code if desired so that, with our device, we can provide evidence of legal age.

The credentials that allow such access have, for security reasons, a limited number and an expiration date: “We will issue a pack of adult credentials to prevent anyone from tracing the person who is using that credential. Initially, we will issue a set of 30 credentials that will have a 30-day expiration date,” said Cabanillas.

If a user exhausts their 30 credentials before then, they can return to the app and ask for more: “At most, the same credential could be used three times on each platform to minimize the risk and ensure that the user is not traceable,” he explained. This operation is only one part of the process that Spanish adults who want to consume adult content will presumably need in the future. For the moment, only adult content exchange platforms established in Spain will be required to carry out this verification.

This complex digital structure is a pioneering Spanish proposal for when the day comes, in October 2027, when the EU forces platforms to comply with the requirement of being of legal age to consume “inappropriate content”, in the words of the Minister of Digital Transformation, José Luis Escrivá. Until then, the Government hopes to obtain “the good will” of the platforms: “Platforms that operate in the EU will have to incorporate these solutions. We are getting ahead of ourselves and we ask them to get ahead of us because what is at stake justifies it,” said Escrivá. This proposal is part of the eIDAS2 project, which aims to achieve a European digital identity, and which has its own security challenges.

The “serious problem” at stake is the protection of minors and access to pornographic content on the Internet: “This solution is within a broader context, which is the protection of minors. We have a bill that puts the protection of minors at a very high level,” said Escrivá. The minister expressed his concern because, according to the Public Prosecutor’s Office, in the last five years sexual assaults of minors “have more than doubled,” he said. The consumption of porn on the Internet could allegedly be one of the causes.

The technological solution to find out the age of someone accessing a particular page is very complex. Several countries have been trying to find a solution for years without success. Escrivá understands the difficulty of this challenge: “Addressing this is not easy, it is technically complex, and not only for that reason. It requires that public administrations work in parallel with families and all the actors in the digital world. There is every expectation that the solution we bring will have the maximum support from all those who have to influence it.”

This insistence on good wishes is due to the fact that the platforms are not under any obligation, at the moment, to incorporate the Spanish solution. The minister has said that he is in talks with some platforms. The challenge is enormous because outside the large platforms, there are thousands of websites available with adult content. Even for the most apps Messaging services like WhatsApp are not trivial in detecting what content their users exchange due to the encryption they use.

In addition to all these challenges with the platforms, the Government is faced with the added problem of ensuring the privacy of each user and that third parties, such as the companies that create the platforms, apps verification, do not have access to more data than strictly necessary.

In addition to the application itself, Cabanillas has announced that the Incibe (National Institute of Cybersecurity) will work on a “black list” of pages that, in his words, would serve “to check that browsers control access based on URLs and prevent access for minors,” he said, without offering further details. It is also unclear who will operate these future applications; the “white list” of apps Verification currently depends on the Secretary of State for Digitalization and Artificial Intelligence.

These solutions are currently being offered on national margins. And, as the government has admitted, nothing prevents users from connecting to the internet via a VPN, which allows access to the network from another country and bypasses Spanish controls: “We are going to hear that this is not enough, that there may be ways to circumvent this solution,” said Escrivá. “This is the most necessary and effective measure to address this problem,” he added.

The January announcement

In January, the government announced its plan to combat children’s access to porn on the Internet. “As a government, we cannot remain passive in the face of this reality that is of such concern to Spanish society, and especially to families,” said the government spokesperson Pilar Alegría. Part of this plan was this tool to identify who accessed a porn site, which the Spanish Data Protection Agency had announced in December, in a project in which the Fábrica Nacional de Moneda y Timbre was participating. Experts were already raising the issue of the difficulty of finding a viable and secure method to identify who accesses a particular site.

In an interview with EL PAÍS in April, Minister Escrivá already said that the objective was this summer: “We have set ourselves the goal of having it ready by the end of summer. The tool, which will have as its central point the standards of the European digital wallet, eIDAS2, will comply with these standards, especially those related to the protection of identity, so that age verification is safe and anonymous.”

Age control for accessing adult content has been a global battle for years. Several states in the US have tried to get porn sites to control who enters, with little success. PornHub, one of the largest sites in the world, shut down its content in these states to avoid fines: “The legislation that has been introduced across the country not only raises serious concerns about user privacy and freedom of expression, but also makes the internet more dangerous for adults and children,” says the company. Its complaint is that forcing large platforms to control by age, without being perfect, causes users to look for other sites that are less responsible and do not moderate their content.

In Europe, Germany, the United Kingdom and France have also tried various methods to limit access in what seems to be a cat-and-mouse race. Since 2023, France has been testing a solution from the Commission Nationale de l’Informatique et des Libertés (CNIL), the French equivalent of the AEPD. Its strategy consists of placing a digital intermediary (a program) between the age verification service and the website to which the filter is to be applied, as its promoter, Olivier Blazy, explained to EL PAÍS. In this way, the system does not have access to data that identifies the user and the verifier does not know which website the user is accessing.

Blazy himself admitted that his option is not completely anonymous and that it is ineffective due to its cost and the risk to privacy. Young people who know how to use alternatives to this filter will continue to access porn, although, in Blazy’s words, “it can prevent some young children from accidentally accessing adult content.”

The UK is rolling out legislation this year and in the next to try to control access as well. The government wants platforms to obtain proof of age using up to six methods: for example, with an ID card or through a bank or mobile network, or even by estimating age using facial recognition. All of these systems carry various privacy risks and unexpected costs of implementation. It is the second major British attempt to control access to adult content.

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