Anglophiles: Hang up your VPN; iPlayer isn’t for you anymore

Age verification systems may be something that the Tory government has been fixated on recently, but the BBC has yet to implement one to crack down on licence fee evaders. Instead, it will imminently force Brits to sign into its online iPlayer service before allowing them to view or listen to programmes.

E-mail addresses used to login to the iPlayer will be matched with records kept by TV Licensing to see if individuals are dodging the £145.50 fee to watch content, the BBC said. However, people still pay their telly licence in a variety of ways, including via debit or credit card over the phone, by post, or over-the-counter.

Presumably, the logic is that if someone is watching the iPlayer via a laptop or device, then they’ll also be paying their licence fee online. But the BBC is also seemingly relying on those individuals to use the same e-mail address for the iPlayer and TV licensing.

“You’ll soon need to sign in to watch and listen to things on BBC iPlayer and iPlayer Radio,” the BBC is now telling users via its iPlayer service. “And the same goes for some other parts of the BBC. This is so we can make the BBC more relevant and personal to you.”

The BBC tells people signing up to the iPlayer service that it automatically collects their data. It slurps a user’s IP address, browser and device type, and a unique identifier. It rather opaquely adds that “we share some of your personal data with TV Licensing, to see if you are using BBC iPlayer and to keep their database up to date.”

The registration page prompts the user to provide their date of birth, about which the BBC says: “This is so you can use the parts of the BBC that are suitable for your age. For instance, we don’t let adults post on children’s message boards. We won’t use this info to identify or pigeonhole you. It just helps us check we’re making something for everyone.”

It additionally asks users to enter their e-mail address, password, gender, and postcode. It seems that the BBC is relying on people to be honest about their identity, since it isn’t—at this point—attempting to verify the details.

Under a section about how the BBC uses personal data, it confirms that the broadcaster will track people around the Web:

Information about your gender, age, and location helps us see how different people are using the BBC and check we’re making something for everyone. Based on what we know about you, we may also show you adverts about BBC products and services on other websites, such as Facebook, Google, Instagram, Snapchat, and Twitter. For instance, to let you know about a new programme you might like.

The ads—switched on by default—can be turned off via the iPlayer’s “Your Account” settings. But the BBC said that nixing “personalisation” on the service will prevent users from picking up where they left off with programmes that they’re only partway through. It also means they won’t receive recommendations from the BBC based on their viewing and listening habits.

Trying to watch something on the iPlayer? You'll now be greeted with this popup box.

The Corporation’s myBBC launch director Andrew Scott said:

We’ve also been clear that we’re not going to use mass surveillance techniques or ask Internet providers for IP addresses. However, the information you provide us with can help TV Licensing ensure that people are abiding by the law and minimise licence fee evasion.

By matching e-mail addresses we may be able to identify someone who has told us they don’t need a TV licence while at the same time having signed in and watched iPlayer. So we will now use this alongside our existing enforcement techniques to help identify people who are watching licence fee-funded content without a licence.

Last year, a new law was brought in to fix what was described as an “iPlayer loophole” that allowed people to watch BBC programmes online without a TV licence. But a planned age verification system was kicked into the long grass. People who dodge the licence fees face fines of up to £1,000, plus legal costs.

Now read about the real scandal: that you still believe TV licence detector vans are real

This post originated on Ars Technica UK

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