In addition to the global brands Google, Facebook and Amazon, there is Mindgeek, the shadow power of the Internet. The company is controlled out of Montreal, has its legal seat in Luxembourg and operates several of the largest porn websites in the world. The best known among them is Pornhub, in Germany the site is the 27th most visited website.

Since the weekend, however, an important flow of money to this side could be eliminated. The credit card companies Visa and Mastercard are checking whether they want to continue processing payments for the site – or not. Paypal decided a year ago to block payments to the platform.

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The trigger is the article “Pornhub’s Children” by journalist Nicolas Kristof in the New York Times. He describes the trauma of several women he interviewed: For years they have suffered from men posting videos on Pornhub showing them naked or having sex as minors. If they were reported to the site operators and deleted, they would soon reappear on the website. In addition, hundreds of thousands of strangers would have the opportunity to download their videos from the sites. The company makes hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue rape minors, writes Kristof.

Besides Pornhub, other porn sites belong to the Mindgeek empire. You have transferred the platform principle of social networks like Facebook and online retailers like Amazon to pornography: Every user – whether with commercial interests or without – can upload and distribute videos. Before the millions of videos, Pornhub places advertisements or offers a subscription with even more videos for a fee. As a result, Mindgeek almost single-handedly destroyed the business of classic porn companies and agents who made good money with videos and DVDs until shortly after the turn of the millennium.

By collecting data on the preferences of millions of people, hardly any company has more data on people’s sexual fantasies than Mindgeek. Extensive keyword systems, which assign each video to several categories, serve every interest.

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Kristof found out how prominent pornography is under the keyword “teen” on the site. It is unclear how many of the women filmed are actually under 18 years of age, but such keyword search options attract people who are looking for criminal material. In addition, US police officers arrested adults in several cases who had uploaded videos of abused children to Pornhub.

Pornhub defends itself against the allegations

Actresses have been reporting for years that the world of platforms, sorted according to preferences, leads them to shoot ever harder scenes. There’s something for every demand – or, if Pornhub has its way, for almost everyone. With child pornography one shows zero tolerance, explains the provider in a statement and rejects Kristof’s allegations as “irresponsible and obviously untrue”. Supposedly “clean” platforms like Facebook or Instagram would have found millions of cases of material showing child abuse every year, but Pornhub only found 118. This low number – which comes from the NGO “Internet Watch Foundation” – is also mentioned by Kristof in his article – but as proof that something could not be right with the control mechanisms on Pornhub.

Pornhub also states that moderators would review all uploaded videos and remove illegal recordings. The company does not reveal how many moderators there are. Kristof says it couldn’t be enough to sift through the million-plus hours of video that is uploaded every week. The business model offers the company an incentive to let through as many videos from the gray area as possible.

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According to its own information, Pornhub also uses automated control systems such as PhotoDNA from Microsoft or technology from the company Vobile. They access archives of already known photos and videos of child abuse, recognize them when they are uploaded, in order to delete them again immediately. A research by Vice but showed in the spring how easy it is to outsmart at least the Vobile system with small changes in videos.

Kristof’s article now also provoked criticism. Sam Thielman, technology reporter at Guardian, wrote that Kristof had packed as many shocking details into his text as possible – including tips on which search queries could be used to get to the problematic videos: “It’s as if he had published instructions on how to make bombs.” Kristof has also become the stooge of Christian fundamentalist groups who shot themselves in at Pornhub in their anti-pornography campaign.

Dispute over the legal basis of the social web

In the United States, there have been attempts by religious groups to censor pornography showing adults having voluntary sex for decades – even if this is protected by the First Amendment on Free Speech. Kristof’s article from the opinion section of the New York Times consists not only of his research, it also contains demands: Not only banks and search engines should sanction Pornhub, but also Justin Trudeau, the Canadian Prime Minister responsible for the Montreal company.

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In Germany, meanwhile, Tobias Schmid, Director of the State Agency for Media in North Rhine-Westphalia, State Agency for Media in North Rhine-Westphalia, is trying to force Mindgeek websites to introduce access restrictions so that children cannot access them.

In the US, the debate about the responsibility of online platforms is highly political and extends far beyond the porn industry. MPs from both major US political parties and future Joe Biden have plans to Section 230 abolish that passage of law that exempts platform operators from liability for content that their users publish there. It is generally considered to be the one rule that the Internet in its current form has made possible. If it is tilted, the business model of Facebook, but also of sites like Pornhub, is in question.

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