Pornhub recently had to make the difficult decision to block access to users in Virginia and Mississippi due to newly passed Age Verification laws. These states have joined Utah and Louisiana where, earlier this year, similar laws were introduced. While
these new laws claim to protect children from accessing harmful material online -- something we fully support -- they not only fail to do this, but also jeopardize user safety and privacy.
What does age verification mean?
In the context of these laws, age verification requires users to prove that they are 18+ to view adult content.
There are multiple ways that a user can prove their age, but any effective method requires
them to submit some form of personally identifiable information ("PII"). By assigning this responsibility to the platform(s) visited by a user, this means submitting private information many times to adult sites all over the internet, while
normalizing disclosure of PII across the internet. This is not a privacy-by-design approach.
It also creates a substantial risk for identity theft. Since age verification software requires users to hand over extremely sensitive
information, it opens the door for the risk of data breaches. Whether or not your intentions are good, governments have historically struggled to secure this data. It also creates an opportunity for criminals to exploit and extort people through phishing
attempts or fake AV processes, an unfortunate and all too common practice.
Age verification is a good thing, if done correctly
Safety and compliance are at the forefront of our mission. We firmly
believe age verification can make the internet a safer space for everyone, when it is done right. Unfortunately, the way these new laws are executed by lawmakers is ineffective and puts users' privacy at risk. Those seeking adult content will inevitably
end up on irresponsible sites that don't enforce safety, privacy, consent, or content moderation.
Back in January, we saw the outcome of this firsthand when Louisiana passed a similar law. Pornhub was one of a tiny handful of
websites to comply with the new state law requiring websites prevent minors from accessing them by employing age verification solutions.
The Louisiana law and other copycat state level laws have no regulator, only civil liability,
which results in a flawed enforcement regime, effectively making it an option for platform operators to comply. Consequently, traffic to Pornhub dropped by approximately 80% in Louisiana, but we know that people didn't stop consuming porn overnight
because of this new law. They just very easily moved to pirate, illegal, or other non-compliant sites that don't ask visitors to verify their age. Very few sites are able to compare to the robust Trust and Safety measures we currently have in place to
protect both the users viewing content on Pornhub from engaging with potentially dangerous content and provide a safe platform for creators to monetize their content and engage with fans. Most other sites unfortunately do not take these same extensive
measures towards community protection and without barrier to entry, is where viewers risk ending up. Therefore, these laws have not only failed at protecting children, but have introduced further harm by displacing traffic to sites with few or zero Trust
and Safety measures.
What you need to know -- a device-based solution
More of these laws are coming, and the safety of our users is one of our biggest concerns. However, the best and most effective
solution for protecting children and adults alike is to identify users at the source: by their device, or account on the device, and allow access to age-restricted materials and websites based on that identification. This means users would only get
verified once, through their operating system, not on each age-restricted site. This dramatically reduces privacy risks and creates a very simple process for regulators to enforce.
Who will these new laws affect?
These new laws will affect everybody differently. For example, Content Creators will get redirected to a separate login flow that will still allow them on the site to upload content. This is because, as verified users on Pornhub,
which is the required status for anyone wishing to upload, they have already verified their age with government issued ID using Yoti. However, for site visitors in Utah, Mississippi, and Virginia, they are greeted by a video featuring Cherie Deville who
explains why we had to make the difficult decision to block them from accessing Pornhub.
What is the ideal solution?
The only viable solution that will make the internet safer, preserve user privacy,
and stands to prevent children from accessing material harmful to minors is performing age verification at the source: on the device itself.
What can community members do?
To fight against
these haphazard and dangerous laws, we encourage all members of our community to stand up for your freedom to enjoy and consume porn privately. There are a few ways you can do this.
First, spread the message on social media. Using
your platform to raise awareness and to help your fans understand the implications of these poorly designed laws is the first step in making a change. Be loud, be vocal, and show how important it is for us to get this right. We believe the only way for
these laws to be effective is to have age verification on the devices used to access adult content.
Second, contact your local government and encourage your fans to do the same! Change begins when the public applies pressure and
contacts lawmakers. Write them letters or emails, call their offices, tweet at them, demand changes and demand answers. It is their job as civil servants to respond to concerned citizens. In your letters, you can request device-based age verification
solutions. By doing this, your safety and privacy, as well as the safety of your children, are protected much better than entering your ID every time you want to visit an adult website. In the meantime, share this blog widely to help spread the word!
And third, stay informed on legislative updates. Please check back often on the Free Speech Coalition AV page.
Don't give up! We know that normalizing sex work and sexual expression is an uphill battle, but it can be done. We must be vocal about it. Change begins with raising our voices, educating others, and engaging in these important
conversations on our socials to spread the message. For more information, visit the Free Speech Coalition