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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 

Keep reading »

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

71 comments

How the word "kinky" helps tackle BDSM stigma

Posted at 09:50 on 18 Nov 2020 by Pandora / Blake

As I'm revising my manuscript, I'm cutting out the sections that don't quite fit and posting them here. Become a Patron to get access to cut sections about my personal kink, and excerpts from what I'm keeping.

 


The word ‘kinky’ is a useful one. It sounds reassuringly harmless: playful, quirky and unthreatening. It’s my preferred term when I’m discussing my fetishes with people who don’t share them. (We can move on to the question of whether or not we want to reclaim ‘pervert’ later.)
 

I never imagined I’d talk about my kinks outside of my close-knit fetish community - let alone write a book about them. It’s an endless source of surprise to me that I find myself doing this.

 

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Tags: advocacy, BDSM, book, cut section, fetish, freedom of expression, kink, sex, sex positivity, sexual freedom, sexual liberty, sexuality

62 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

87 comments

Response to the BBFC consultation on age verification

Posted at 07:00 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.

Keep reading »

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

2 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

135 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

116 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.

Keep reading »

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

35 comments

Written evidence submission to the Public Bill Committee on the Digital Economy Bill

Posted at 11:29 on 28 Oct 2016 by Pandora / Blake

Digital Economy Bill

Written evidence submitted by Myles Jackman and Pandora Blake (DEB 61)

 

Who we are

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Tags: age verification, BBFC, classification, Digital Economy Bill, freedom of expression, Myles Jackman, obscenity, politics, porn, privacy, R18

43 comments

The Adult Provider Network discusses problems with the Digital Economy Bill

Posted at 11:29 on 28 Sep 2016 by Pandora / Blake

The Adult Provider Network

Last month I attended the second meeting of the newly reinstated Adult Provider Network - an adult industry trade association formed last month to co-ordinate responses to the Digital Economy Bill. It was an absolutely fascinating meeting, and I learned a lot. Read on to discover how this will actually affect your business if you run a UK porn site, why the bill potentially discriminates against the visually impaired, and how the bill risks creating a new trade barrier between UK industry and overseas.

Who are the Adult Provider Network?

Keep reading »

Tags: Adult Provider Network, age verification, ATVOD, AV consultation, AVMS, BBFC, BBFC guidelines, censorship, child safety, civil liberties, Digital Economy Bill, digital rights, freedom of expression, freedom of speech, health and disability, MindGeek, obscenity, Ofcom, politics, porn, privacy, sex education, surveillance, technology, young people

1 comment

Age verification: The Digital Economy Bill and what it means

Posted at 21:30 on 30 Aug 2016 by Pandora / Blake

The government have published their reply to the consultation responses we submitted earlier this year on their proposed policy to enforce age verification for UK viewers of online porn. These proposals are not evidence-based, are classist to the core, and have worrying implications for privacy and freedom of speech. Along with many of you, I submitted a response to the consultation in April, which you can read in full here (it's split into six parts - turns out I had a lot to say). My response was also submitted to the Liberal Democrat policy committee, as well as to the Department of Culture, Media and Sport in the civil service. 

Since then I've attended meetings with representatives from DCMS, the UK Adult Producer trade association, and the Adult Provider Network to discuss the age verification proposals. In these meetings the civil servants I spoke to worked hard to come across as reasonable, open-minded, and interested in listening to our concerns and improving the proposals. But now they've published their official response to the consultation, it's clear that this was a performance purely for our benefit. The Digital Economy Bill reproduces the original policy proposal pretty much unchanged; which in turn is drawn straight from a Conservative party manifesto pledge. It seems that the consultation was a mere box-ticking exercise, paying lip-service to the of listening to experts, industry and the public, but without any intention to actually take the responses into account. Despite seeming open to criticism when we met in person, the official response makes it clear that they don't care what we think, and intend to go ahead with the proposals as if the consultation had never taken place. 

Keep reading »

Tags: age verification, ATVOD, AV consultation, AVMS, BBFC, BBFC guidelines, censorship, child safety, civil liberties, credit cards, Digital Economy Bill, digital rights, freedom of expression, freedom of speech, obscenity, Ofcom, politics, porn, privacy, surveillance, technology, young people

21 comments

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