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Pornhub, Censorship and the New York Times

Posted at 15:00 on 27 Dec 2020 by Pandora / Blake



About a week ago, PornHub announced they were banning uploads from unverified users - meaning that only verified performers and content creators signed up to PornHub’s model scheme would be able to upload videos to the site.

In and of itself, this is a fantastic piece of news and something people in the industry have been calling for for a while. PornHub is a huge player, and it’s almost impossible not to engage with it on some level if you sell porn online. This change will go a long way toward ensuring that professional content creators are not in direct competition with people providing free porn (which was often pirated). It will also help massively in reducing the instances of uploads that are not porn so much as they are abuse, such as so-called “revenge porn” and content including people who have not (or could not have) consented. It’s good for performers, who will get paid more; it’s good for consumers, who will see a higher calibre of content; and it’s good for PornHub, who will have a less mammoth task ahead of them in terms of eradicating illegal and immoral uploads.

Or it could have been, anyway.

These changes were implemented as the result of a lengthy and extremely sensationalistic op-ed recently published by the New York Times. XBiz described the article as “emotional pornography”, and I can see their point - it’s extremely emotive, not particularly evidence-based, and ignores some basic facts about the dissemination of content depicting child abuse online. The sad truth is that this content isn’t a porn problem - it’s a people problem. There are more images of child abuse posted on Facebook than there are on PornHub. Anywhere that receives a large amount of potentially anonymous user-generated content (which is to say - the internet) will have to tackle this problem, but for some reason the anti-pornography campaigners never talk about that bit.

So now we get to the real issue: this change in PornHub’s policy isn’t the only impact that article had. Visa and MasterCard also decided to respond to it: they’ve launched an investigation of PornHub, to find out whether or not they are indeed facilitating the publication of illegal pornography. While this investigation is underway, they’ve frozen all card use on the site, both credit and debit. And if Visa and MasterCard both do it, that really is all card use: in much of the world they’re the only two kinds of cards anyone has, and as a result they’re the only two kinds of cards most places will accept.

The real kicker is that PornHub - and Mindgeek, the umbrella company who own them - are not the people most badly affected by this decision. Card payments aren’t their only source of revenue; they make money through affiliate links (when someone clicks through from PornHub to another site and eventually purchases something from that site, PornHub get a cut) and advertising (which they tend to put on pages containing free porn, ensuring those ads get a lot of views and are therefore extremely valuable). They definitely take a hefty cut of the card payments for PornHub Premium, but ultimately those card payments mostly go to pay the content creators, models and performers who publish on the site.

So once again - and as fucking always - it’s the little guys getting screwed over by this, not the massive conglomerate run by people who aren’t exactly broke. (I did have a go, while researching for this post, at finding out the rough net worth of the people who own Mindgeek. It’s not information that’s readily available online, indicating that they’re not on quite the level of the people on the Forbes 1000 or whatever. Still, though, I doubt they’re hurting for cash.)

The most worrying thing this highlights is just how much power Visa and MasterCard have. Whether we like it or not, the internet is operating under an unrecognised and unacknowledged form of global censorship that is outside of any kind of legislative process. It's not possible for any member of the general public anywhere in the world to vote on or influence it, and it's run entirely for the benefit of its own CEOs (and those CEOs really are on the Rich List). At any moment, Visa and Mastercard could effectively destroy the entire porn industry - and there’s nothing we can do about it. All it would take is for a few sensationalistic articles like the one recently published in the NYT to make them decide that they stand to gain more from being seen as anti-porn than they would lose in revenue from porn sites.

This is exacerbated by the fact that it’s not just PornHub affected by this. Other major players in the industry have already made their own changes out of fear that Visa and MasterCard will come for them next: Clips4Sale, for example, have silently deleted a lot of tags and categories that previously saw plenty of use. Some of them make sense: It’s obvious to us that things like ‘forced orgasm’ and ‘forced stripping’ are just roleplay, but I can see why they got the chop - especially as they were removed alongside many other categories including the word ‘forced’. But some are just bizarre - ‘limp dick’? Really? ‘Resting fetish’? Good grief. You can see a full list of the categories deleted here. (I'll confess to getting a small smile out of 'abused shoes' - those poor defenceless shoes!)

I’m all in favour of the recent decision made by PornHub to switch to verified content only, and it’s massively important to me - as a feminist, as a content creator and as a parent - to fight against pornography that is abusive, exploitative and unconsensual. But this isn’t about that. This is about the power held by a tiny number of unchecked companies and individuals over the freedoms of the entire world: sensationalist journalism that happens to be published in the New York Times, and the de-facto lawmakers in banking and billing institutions who can be influenced by it, to destroy hundreds of thousands of livelihoods on a whim.

Links

PornHub's updated Commitment to Trust and Safety 

XBiz: PornHub Removes All Unverified Content 

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Tags: censorship, corporate censorship, freedom, freedom of expression, MindGeek, PornHub, pornocalypse

3 comments

Age verification faces ongoing delay

Posted at 11:30 on 22 Jun 2019 by Pandora / Blake

According to the Guardian, age verification "faces indefinite delay" due to bureaucratic incompetence:

"It is set to be delayed for legal reasons after government officials failed to notify the European commission of key details."

I shouldn't laugh, but this is comedy gold.

The massive privacy failings of this policy should have been a deal-breaker. Legislators should never have tried to regulate the internet by force of law when they don't understand how it works. Thanks to the tireless efforts of campaigners such as myself, Myles Jackman, Jim Killock, Alec Muffett and the rest of Open Rights Group, Backlash UK, Misha Mayfair and others, the threat that age verification represents to the privacy of internet users is well attested, and is now mentioned in any news coverage about the issue.

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Tags: age verification, AgeID, BBFC, DCMS, Digital Economy Act, Dreams of Spanking, in the news, law, legislation, MindGeek, Myles Jackman, Open Rights Group, porn, privacy

20 comments

Age verification: Where do things stand?

Posted at 15:42 on 25 Mar 2019 by Pandora / Blake

After the Digital Economy Act passed in July 2017, implementation of age verification has been repeatedly delayed. We were initially told it would start being enforced in April 2018, but it was put back till the end of 2018. In November the Minister for Digital, Margot James, claimed that it will come into effect by Easter 2019, but as far as I know things aren't yet in place to enable the BBFC to begin enforcement.

This leaves website owners and viewers in a state of uncertainty, not knowing at what point they will need to start age verifying to access porn - or publish it. A recent YouGov survey showed that more than three-quarters of Brits have no idea this is even happening. Meanwhile, there are still irregularities and uncertainties with the policy, which I lay out in detail in my recent academic article: Age verification for online porn: more harm than good? My Patrons (at Ally tier and above) can access the full article here.

Which sites will have to comply?

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Tags: age verification, audio porn, Digital Economy Act, freedom of expression, in the news, media, Mindgeek, Open Rights Group, politics, porn, privacy, sex workers' rights

5 comments

Response to the BBFC consultation on age verification

Posted at 08:00 on 24 Apr 2018 by Pandora / Blake

I sent a response to the BBFC consultation on their draft guidance on age verificationon behalf of myself and obscenity lawyer Myles Jackman.

Table of Contents

  • Do you agree with the BBFC's Approach as set out in Chapter 2?

    • Child protection

    • The scope of the legislation

      • Out-dated classification guidelines
      • “Frequently visited”
      • Extreme pornographic material
      • Indecent images of children
    • Right of Appeal

    • Sanctions and disproportionality

    • Impact on low-traffic websites

      • Financial impact
      • Lack of technical resources
      • Social benefits of online sexuality communities
      • Impact on diversity and freedom of expression
      • Proposals
    • Impact on independent sex workers

  • Do you agree with the BBFC's Age-verification Standards set out in Chapter 3?

    • Privacy “recommendations” are unenforceable

    • Risk of social exclusion

    • Collection and retention of data

      • Conflict of interest
      • Risks associated with data breaches
      • Lack of redress
  • Do you have any comments with regards to Chapter 4?

    • Insufficient security standards

      • PCI-DSS
      • PAS 1296
      • Data protection
    • Regulatory oversight

    • Conclusion

Click here to read the full consultation response.

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Tags: age verification, AgeID, BBFC, freedom of expression, freedom of speech, ICO, MindGeek, Myles Jackman, privacy, security, sex worker rights

1 comment

Tell the BBFC age verification will do more harm than good

Posted at 12:34 on 19 Apr 2018 by Pandora / Blake

By the end of this year, the Government is planning to enforce new rules requiring anyone in the UK to prove their age before looking at pornographic websites. Young people deserve our protection and support, but there is no evidence that these measures will do anything to keep children safe - and meanwhile, the Government are reducing funding for sex education, schools, libraries and youth clubs, indicating that they are more interested in blocking access to pornography and controlling the Internet than in truly helping young people.

The Government is leaving it to private companies to handle age verification, enabling these companies to collect databases of the porn browsing habits of UK adults which could be leaked or hacked. Despite these risks, the regulations contain no strong requirements for age verification tools to protect user privacy.

The regulator is holding a public consultation which is open until next Monday, April 23.  We need as many individuals as possible to respond to the consultation. Would you please add your voice using the resources below, and share these links with your networks? Even a quick response in favour of increased privacy requirements would be enormously valuable.

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Tags: age verification, AgeID, BBFC, MindGeek, Open Rights Group

1 comment

Behind the scenes with Myles Jackman

Posted at 09:32 on 21 Feb 2018 by Pandora / Blake

On Friday I got together with obscenity lawyer Myles Jackman and some like-minded friends to create a new campaign video for Backlash and raise awareness around age verification. Look out for the completed film coming in the next few weeks. We recorded this short and sweet video blog after the shoot to tell you what we've been up to. 

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Tags: age verification, AgeID, Backlash UK, Digital Economy Act, MindGeek, privacy, security

0 comments

Privacy threat posed by AgeID hits the mainstream news

Posted at 19:53 on 9 Feb 2018 by Pandora / Blake

Pandora Blake talks about age verification on Sky News

One of the difficulties of campaigning in the arena of sex and sexuality is how difficult it is to get mainstream attention. Even when issues potentially affect the privacy and freedom of a majority of adults, most publications will post stuff related to sex as a lightweight "lifestyle" feature rather than as serious news.

So it was ground-breaking for Sky News to feature a report on the dangers of mandatory age verification, in particular the threat posed to personal privacy if MindGeek successfully establish a monopoly with their AgeID software. I watched the video as it was first broadcast live on the bus on my phone with my headphones on. It features an interview with me and - somewhat to my surprise - excerpts from my film trailers I had posted on YouTube. It's a trip to see (fully clothed) snippets from your indie porn films used to illustrate a mainstream news story - even more so when watching it on public transport!

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Tags: age verification, AgeID, Digital Economy Act, in the news, media, MindGeek, porn, privacy, security

8 comments

I don't endorse age verification

Posted at 10:12 on 25 Jan 2018 by Pandora / Blake

So you'll have noticed that I've been spending a lot of time campaigning around age verification, and working to mitigate the harms threatened by Section 3 of the Digital Economy Act. I've been giving talks and interviews, meeting members of the DCMS, lobbying Parliamentarians and speaking with companies who are preparing age verification software, to advise them around privacy and security. (This work is funded by my Patreon supporters - and if you believe in what I'm doing, every contribution is appreciated.)

This work puts me in something of a conflicted position. I don't endorse age verification as a policy; I think it's poorly conceived, a solution looking for a problem. It rejects the results of the government's public consultation, in which more respondents answered responded against age verification than in favour. It's based on false claims - that young children regularly 'accidentally' stumble across online porn and suffer terrible psychological damage as a result - based on shoddy evidence that does not meet peer-reviewed standards.

On the basis of these arguments and more I've argued against age verification as a strategy since it was first proposed. Nonetheless, the Digital Economy Act became law last year and age verification will be enforced very soon – on 27th April in fact, if the announced deadline is upheld. In its current form, it's a hugely problematic policy. Not only is it poorly implemented, and full of ambiguities and inconsistencies, but there are well-documented concerns over privacy and security which must be taken seriously. I've outlined risks around data collection and storage, possible identity theft, data leaks or breaches, and malicious misuse of data for advertising or profiteering, to name a few – would you want a list of porn sites you have visited saved under your email address somewhere?

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Tags: age verification, AgeID, Digital Economy Act, freedom of expression, MindGeek, privacy, security, sex education, young people

7 comments

DCMS pass the buck on age verification

Posted at 16:00 on 9 Jan 2018 by Pandora / Blake

Queer porn maker infiltrating Parliament: Pandora Blake visits the DCMS

Before Christmas I met the DCMS to talk to them about age verification, and try and get some answers out of them. Here's what I learned.

Who will have to comply?

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Tags: age verification, audio, BBFC, DCMS, Digital Economy Act, freedom of expression, freedom of speech, MindGeek, privacy, security

8 comments

Questions for the DCMS

Posted at 17:00 on 20 Dec 2017 by Pandora / Blake

How to get a meeting with the DCMS

I was recently invited to meet with the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) to discuss age verification.

I've been trying for a while to make this conversation happen. I'd previously connected with a couple of different members of the Child Internet Safety Team, the group responsible for implementing age verificiation - and then they moved onto other roles, leaving me without any active contacts. I first met with different representatives in collaboration with the UK Adult Producers trade association (UKAP), with the Open Rights Group - and more briefly at events organised by UKAP and the Adult Provider Network. Twice I was given email addresses and told to keep in touch, only to then have my emails ignored. No doubt they're busy people.

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Tags: age verification, DCMS, freedom of expression, freedom of speech, MindGeek, privacy, security

3 comments

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