CreditCards.com

Living with credit, Protecting yourself

Credit card checks for online porn? Been there

Jay MacDonald

Could lack of a credit card prevent children from accessing Internet pornography? Puzzled parents in Great Britain are about to find out, but brace yourself, Bambi, we already tried that in the U.S.

Been there, done that, and it didn’t work in the states.

Policing the digital red light district in the U.S.
In 1998, Congress passed the Child Online Protection Act (COPA) to keep online adult content out of the eyes and minds of those under 17, after its predecessor, the Communications Decency Act of 1996, was struck down as an unconstitutional affront to free speech.

COPA aimed to outlaw the commercial posting of material “harmful to minors” unless the merchant restricted access by requiring a credit or debit card, an adult-access code or PIN, or a “digital certificate that verifies age.”

COPA was immediately challenged by the American Civil Liberties Union and others on several fronts, including:

  • First Amendment: What is deemed harmful to 6-year-olds may not be harmful to 16-year-olds. Courts found that applying a single standard to all sub-17 children was too widely focused and hence violated free speech.
  • Online age verification: The trial court found that there was “no evidence” that online age verification is reliable, given there is no way to prove that the information being entered belongs to the party requesting access.
  • Privacy: Many things might happen to the card information being entered, none of them good.
  • Limited protection: COPA only covered U.S.-based websites, effectively leaving a whole world of porn sites to harm impressionable kids.

After 10 years of litigation, the U.S. Supreme Court put a fork in COPA in January 2009, agreeing with lesser court rulings that it violated the First and Fifth Amendments to the Constitution.

Since then, the task of protecting U.S. children from the pernicious postings of porn sites has returned to its historic home: responsible parents.

Credit cards as no-brainer verification tools
Under the well-intentioned new Digital Economy Act, United Kingdom-based commercial porn sites will – starting in April 2018 – be required to verify the age of their customers in order to prevent access to those under 18. Sites that fail to age-verify could face fines, lose their third-party payment service or be blocked by the DEA watchdogs.

Lawmakers suggest that commercial porn sites use the one system they already have in place – credit card acceptance – as the most logical verification tool because U.K. youths must typically be over 18 to apply for a card of their own. No card? No porn.

Internet child safety advocates such as Childnet applaud the move. A 2016 study by the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) found that 48 percent of 11- to 16-year-olds it questioned had viewed online pornography.

“Protecting children from exposure, including accidental exposure, to adult content is incredibly important, given the effect it can have on young people,” says Childnet CEO Will Gardner.

How to teach your kids they won’t get away with it
While age-checks using credit cards are unlikely to make their way to U.S. websites anytime soon, the number of kids having access to credit cards is on the rise. It never hurts to let them know there are consequences to hormonal card use:

    • You may be stopped before you start: American Express’ global policy, for example, prohibits “card acceptance for digital adult content,” wrote in an emailed response to questions Molly Faust, AmEx’s Vice President of Public Affairs, Global Merchant Services. Online pornography is one of many things you can’t buy easily with a credit card.
    • Even if you do succeed, we will find out: Walk them through a credit and debit transaction, show them how those payments appear on your monthly bill and instill in them a healthy fear about the financial risks of randomly sharing card information.

Will U.K.’s DEA go the COPA way?
Across the pond, opponents to the Digital Economy Act cite the same concerns that crushed COPA here in the U.S., as well as new fears that porn sites might use customer card information and viewing preferences to build databases of user habits that could make them vulnerable to hackers.

Dr. Victoria Nash, who prepared a report analyzing online pornography viewing among young people, holds limited expectations for DEA.

“While I don’t have a problem with asking these companies to act responsibly, I don’t see it as a solution to stopping minors seeing pornography,” she told the BBC. “It may make it harder for children to stumble across pornography, but it will do nothing to stop determined teenagers.”

See related: Payment privacy tools swap benefits for security, Tips for travelers after another Trump Hotels breach

Join the Discussion

We encourage an active and insightful conversation among our users. Please help us keep our community civil and respectful. For your safety, we ask that you do not disclose confidential or personal information such as your bank account numbers, social security numbers, etc. Keep in mind that anything you post may be disclosed, published, transmitted or reused.

The editorial content on CreditCards.com is not sponsored by any bank or credit card issuer. The journalists in the editorial department are separate from the company's business operations. The comments posted below are not provided, reviewed or approved by any company mentioned in our editorial content. Additionally, any companies mentioned in the content do not assume responsibility to ensure that all posts and/or questions are answered.