Mindgeek may be the most powerful company that you’ve never heard of, or at least, a company you’ll claim never to have heard about in polite company. It’s the conglomerate that owns some of the world’s most visited porn sites, including Pornhub, RedTube and YouPorn. Far from simply being a popular and free way for people to consume adult content, it may soon have a powerful political role in the UK that will ensure its dominance for decades to come. That’s because, within the next year, Mindgeek may become the principal gatekeeper between the country’s internet users and their porn.

In April, the UK passed the Digital Economy Act 2017, legislation that mandated that any website showing adult content must verify the ages of its visitors. It was pushed through in response to concerns that children were being corrupted by easy access to and exposure to adult content at an early age. Section 15(1) of the bill requires that “pornographic material” not be published online, on a “commercial basis,” unless it is “not normally accessible by those under 18.” The bill has several flaws, not least the number of vague proposals it contains, and the ad hoc definition of what pornography actually is.

Section 17 of the same act outlined the creation of an “age-verification regulator,” the digital equivalent of a bouncer standing between you and your porn. This gatekeeper will have the right, and duty, to demand you show proof of age, or else refuse you access. In addition, the body will be able to impose fines and enforcement notices on those who either neglect or circumvent the policy.
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Mindgeek’s discussions with the UK government are a matter of public record, as are some of the documents relating to the discussions. In one email, an unnamed Mindgeek representative proposed the gray-listing — essentially a temporary block — of more than four million URLs that (British ISP) Sky has cataloged. Each one of these sites, including Twitter, would then be contacted and told to sign up to the age verification system — like Mindgeek’s nascent AgeID — or face blacklisting. A Mindgeek spokesperson confirmed to Engadget that it believes up to 25 million Britons could sign up to its system.
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