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German child-protection regulators are on the verge of blocking one of the world’s largest pornographic websites. The officials are set to issue a blocking order to the country’s biggest internet service providers saying a pornographic website, believed to be xHamster, should be made inaccessible to Germany’s 83 million people.

The blocking order, which may be issued in the coming weeks by the Commission for the Protection of Minors in the Media (Kommission für Jugendmedienschutz in German, or KJM), follows a failure by xHamster to introduce age-verification checks to stop under-18s from accessing pornography. The order is the latest salvo in a two-year campaign by regulators to compel all pornographic websites accessible in Germany to implement age-verification checks.

Legislators around the world—including in Canada, France, the UK, and some US states—are looking to introduce more measures aimed at stopping children from accessing adult material online. But the move by Germany is one of the most sweeping measures taken so far, with critics comparing it to censorship.

German officials are taking action against four major pornography websites, says Marc Jan Eumann, chair of the KJM. The group, which represents the country’s 14 state media authorities, is responsible for enforcing a broad treaty agreed upon by all states around the protection of children. It is in addition to other German laws on child protection. Eumann refuses to confirm the four websites the KJM is taking legal action against. However, German reporting says the cases are against xHamster and three websites, YouPorn, Pornhub, and MyDirtyHobby, all of which are owned by MindGeek.

The regulators have been trying to force pornographic websites to introduce age-verification checks—which can involve the uploading of identity documents—since September 2019. Much of this has been pushed by one state regulator, Tobias Schmid of the State Media Authority of North Rhine-Westphalia, who has been criticized for his views on sex, but the matter is now also being handled by the KJM.

Eumann says companies should put in place age-checking systems to make sure their visitors are not children. The law says pornographic content should be accessible only by adults, Eumann says. In all four of the cases the pornography websites, which have German-language versions, are accused of not introducing age-verification systems.

One pornographic site, thought to be xHamster, was first contacted by regulators in March 2020 and then the others by June 2020. The requests for age verification have now turned into a legal tussle, and three cases are waiting for hearings in one of Düsseldorf’s administrative courts, Eumann says.

In the case of xHamster it is believed there was no response from the website’s owners. As a result, the case is thought to be the most advanced and could result in the order issuing the site to be blocked in Germany in the coming weeks. At the end of June 2021 the KJM identified the company that hosts xHamster and asked it to make the website unavailable. “We have a blocking order for the hosting provider, which is based in the Netherlands,” Eumann says. “If the host provider does not comply, we will take the last step.” That order expired at the start of this week, the KJM has confirmed. “The last step is taking actions, a blocking order, against German access provider,” Eumann adds.

In reality this means issuing a blocking order to Germany’s biggest web providers—including Vodafone, Deutsche Telekom, O2, and 1&1—demanding that they block the website for people trying to access it in Germany. The largest providers will be targeted first, with smaller ones following, and it is likely a block would happen at the Domain Name System (DNS) level. When you are browsing the web, the URL that you type into your browser’s address bar is converted to an IP address by DNS. Imposing a DNS block would mean anyone typing the pornography site’s address into their browser wouldn’t be able to see the page.



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By Editor