Protect the Digital Peepshow
*epilepsy warning*|Hatemail: Newsletter and Intel from the LaBac Hacker Collective
CONTENT WARNING: This week we’re looking at the digital porn industry – a topic that intersects with a lot of our work as an anti-cyber abuse collective. Please be aware that this issue of hatemail contains references to the following: nonconsent, sexual assault, abuse, child abuse, and violence.
What’s the Best Way to Consume Adult Content?
We’re fairly porn-positive here at LaBac, but it’s undeniable that the rise of adult “tube sites” has created a clusterf*ck (pun intended) of internet-age concerns, sparking conversations around what it means to engage with digital porn responsibly.
This conversation is important to us, as a collective, because we actively fight online abuse, invasive user-data collection, cyber sexual assault, and support sex workers and creators. But to fully explore the question “How do I ethically consume porn?” is a large task, much too large for the typical size of our hatemail editorial.
For one, there are ongoing debates over the phrase “ethical porn.” Is it even the best term for this conversation? Is “ethical porn” turning into a marketing tool for porn sites that perhaps don’t fully adhere to best practices? Another growing concern is the co-option of anti-”Big Porn” rhetoric by anti-porn advocates, namely right-wing fundamentalist Christian groups who are more interested in shutting down access to porn for good than creating equitable markets and safe workplaces in the industry. With so many aspects to porn in how it’s produced and distributed, it’s a tricky topic to discuss in terms of ethics.
Needless to say, we won’t be able to provide all the answers when it comes to ethics and porn but we do feel confident enough to say we’re not the biggest fans of consuming adult content on large tube sites like Pornhub. Actually, we kind of think Pornhub sucks – and not in a sexy way.
Here are three reasons why:
Pornhub Wants to be Your Data Daddy
MindGeek – the massive, Montreal-based parent company of popular tube sites like Brazzers, Pornhub, and Reality Kings – dedicates a significant amount of their workforce capacity to compiling user data which, in turn, makes money from online advertising. Not unlike many other free online platforms, “Big Porn” (which these days specifically refers to large digital outlets) profits off of advertising revenue and selling user data.
With few consumers actually paying for porn on the tube sites, the data miners tell the studios to film content catered to the viewers who do pay. This is why very specific porn tropes, like ‘step-sisters,’ can sometimes feel unusually more popular than you might expect. It goes without saying, we don’t think that bots and spreadsheets should be in control of our kinks, fetishes, and desires.
What is also notable about user data collection in the porn industry is how it represents a massive shift in the production and consumption of porn and has led to some unexpected outcomes: Data scraped is more often than not sexist and/or racist and in equal measures, imprecise – and it will ultimately train the algorithm to pump out content that reflects this.
This means MindGeek’s monopolistic hold on the digital porn industry doesn’t bode well for the general creative health of adult content. It’s worthwhile to consider what the future of data-driven porn could look like if only one large entity is collecting data, creating content, and distributing it all on its own.
Pornhub Steals Content at the Expense of Sex Workers
The original concept of Pornhub and similar tube sites was to aggregate content (presumably that contributors owned) all in one place, but the current reality of porn conglomerates like MindGeek is that they often profit off of content stolen from small creators and indie performers. With so many different operating websites under one corporation (in the case of MindGeek), it can be difficult for creators to track their stolen content.
Creators and performers have been vocal about how Pornhub regularly pirates material from other sites, forcing well-established professionals out of the industry. The result is that the company ends up exploiting sex workers’ labor while hiding behind a veneer of pro-sex work and sex-positive rhetoric. Meanwhile, performers have to work longer hours for less money to make up for the profit drain that sites like Pornhub are creating, or spend a lot of time and energy trying to get their own content taken down.
LaBac does what it can to help workers identify their content on the web, and help get it taken down where it’s being misused. We actually have an OnlyFans page to help us stay in contact with clients and take in requests for assistance, but can also be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter at @labacdotdev.
Pornhub Has a History of Hosting Illegal Content and Videos of Abuse
Pornhub has gained a disturbing reputation over its past handling of non-consensual content and real assault videos that are uploaded to the site. In January 2020, Pornhub was at the center of a lawsuit over non-consensual content from the amateur “production company” GirlsDoPorn – content that the plaintiffs say was largely distributed on Pornhub.
Individuals who’ve found videos of them being assaulted on Pornhub have consistently reported that it was difficult to get them taken down. This was even true for those who were underage at the time that they were filmed, like in the case of Rose Kalemba, who has written about having to impersonate a lawyer to get underage and nonconsensual footage of her removed from the site.
Pornhub has since announced major changes to its moderation process and in December said it would ban and remove unverified uploads which has amounted to deleting 80 percent of all videos on the platform. These changes were announced following backlash from Visa and Mastercard after reporting that the website was hosting child abuse and non-consensual content. As part of this overhaul, Pornhub also created a program where trusted child safety organizations have direct access to moderators, allowing them to swiftly address flagged content.
Tech platforms have made and broken these promises before. As Pornhub implements its reforms, we’ll be keeping an eye on whether or not the company follows through.
Bottom Line: If you have the means, and your goal is to consume adult content in a non-shitty manner, you should pay for your porn and do a little company research before dropping your dollars.
If you can’t be confident that the platform you’re consuming adult content on cares about the individuals featured on its site – that it validates their ages, can confirm their willing participation in recorded activities, has their consent in content distribution, and ensures that they’re being properly compensated for their work – you might want to consider fapping to something else.
Not sure where to start? Here’s a shortlist from LaBac, curated with love. <3
Pink & White Productions (pinkwhite[.]biz): San-Francisco-based Pink & White Productions focuses on exploring queer sexual dynamics and is committed to empowering performer agency. Check out their extremely popular Crashpad series.
Afourchamberedheart (afourchamberedheart[.]com): Producer Vex Ashley and her team have built a striking, high-art collection of sexual content on their independently-produced website. An extreme amount of care is put into the craft, work, and ethics behind it; everything from the shots to the soundtrack are incredibly well designed and executed.
OnlyFans (onlyfans[.]com): Performers get to directly engage with their audiences on OnlyFans and tap into a different type of control over their content. As writer and performer Rain DeGrey has said, it’s “the farmer’s market of porn. The creator is selling directly to the consumer.”
SPIT (spit[.]exposed): This Montreal-based queer collective creates a range of delightful scenes, varying from bondage play to casual nude readings.
Patreon: One of our editors WHO WILL REMAIN UNNAMED recommends the 18+ Patreon tier of Refrainbow’s poly + queer Boyfriends webcomic as well as DaZa’s softcore porn illustrations of the sapphic cartoon duo Bea&Gió.
Union Busting and Tech Overreach
[Payday Report] [Vice] [The Verge] A historic election in Alabama on March 30th will determine whether employees in Amazon’s warehouse facilities will organize a union. Amazon has poured millions of dollars to deter and disrupt the vote, including ad campaigns, bonuses for employees, and even changes to traffic light infrastructure around the warehouse facilities.
[Vice] McDonald’s is reportedly deploying corporate security resources to track employees who are proponents of the Fight For $15 movement. McDonald’s claims this is because the employees have been deemed a security risk; the activists say they’re disappointed that the company is spending money on investigating activists rather than listening to them.
[ProPublica] [NBC News] Facebook continues to face scrutiny around the globe for its relationship with handling information. A new report from ProPublica unveiled emails from executives showing that they bowed to Turkish government pressure against their own corporate policies. In Australia, Facebook responded to the country’s escalating regulation by outright blocking their new services on the platform.
[Protocol] A vivid telling by a former ByteDance analyst tells how content is monitored, processed, and managed by a team that very much follows the rules and regulations you’d expect from a company with close ties to the Chinese government.
Disinformation Wars and Racial Bias in AI
[BuzzFeed News] A major criticism of content moderation on the main social media platforms is that platforms often regulate and enforce their own policies inconsistently. BuzzFeed News reports, in detail, the particular dichotomy Facebook played when handling conspiratorial content – as in the case of InfoWars – and how executive leadership was involved in changing content moderation rules.
[Axios] Sara Fischer and Alison Snyder argue that memes are the predominant vehicle of misinformation. Moderating their spread is uniquely difficult as machine learning algorithms do not pick up on the satire and cultural contexts in which they are produced.
[Internet Health Report] [Machinevision] Two excellent resources that more or less capture the biggest problems on the cutting edge. Mozilla put together a comprehensive “Internet Health Report” (which includes a direct report on racial bias) that highlights some of tech’s biggest gaps in creating a truly equitable internet. Meanwhile, a piece by Luis Bermudez caught our eye this week. It does a great job detailing bias in machine learning.
On Our Radar...
[Wall Street Journal] The technological race between the United States and China continues as the Biden administration seeks foreign alliances to coordinate against Chinese development in fields such as semiconductors, 5G, and artificial intelligence. As America rallies its usual clique of G7 countries behind joint R&D and cooperative trade policies, Beijing positions itself for self-sufficiency and retaliation.
[PCMag] Far-right social media site Gab was breached by hackers this week after it was discovered how public and vulnerable Gab’s code was. The world’s smallest violin plays.
[Reuters] Cryptocurrency takes on a new form as investors clamor for non-fungible tokens (NFT). NFTs are digital assets that can vary from online sports cards to parcels of virtual land. Ownership is authenticated through the blockchain. OpenSea, a marketplace for NFTs, had $86.3 million in monthly sales in February. Buy your own NFT gifs now before the hype disappears.
Hate speech website: gab[.]com
Who hosts: Cloudflare
Today’s site is gab[.]com. Long before the recent data breach, Gab had the reputation for providing a safe haven for hateful individuals motivated to commit acts of violence.
Cloudflare protects Gab and shields its infrastructure / hosting providers from being held accountable.
Collectivism and Community Design (Wednesday, March 10 - 5 pm ET) -This chat with Tricia Wang and Ari Melenciano will examine trends in collectivism and collaboration as the pandemic in the U.S. reaches the 1-year mark. [RSVP at New Museum]
Can't Pay, Won't Pay: The Case for Economic Disobedience and Debt Abolition (Tuesday, March 16 - 3 pm ET) - Authors Hannah Appel and Astra Taylor will discuss debt and the financialization of life, and how technology and data facilitate a regime of debt. [RSVP at Data & Society]