Pornhub under investigation by Visa, MasterCard amid abuse allegations
December 7, 2020
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Pornhub under investigation by Visa, MasterCard amid abuse allegations

Paying for adult entertainment may become more challenging in the near future, as both Visa and MasterCard are investigating Pornhub following allegations that the site allows and profits from content depicting rape and child sexual abuse and exploitation.

Visa and MasterCard on Sunday each issued separate statements saying they were investigating Pornhub and its parent company, MindGeek, in the wake of a new report.

“We are aware of the allegations, and we are actively engaging with the relevant financial institutions to investigate, in addition to engaging directly with the site’s parent company, MindGeek,” Visa told the Associated Press on Sunday. If the investigation finds Pornhub to be in violation of the law or the company’s existing banking agreements, it will be prohibited from using Visa for payments.

MasterCard similarly said it was investigating the allegations “and [is] working with MindGeek’s bank to understand this situation, in addition to the other steps they have already taken,” adding that it has “zero tolerance for illegal activity on our network” and that it would take “immediate action” if the claims are substantiated.

Pornhub said Sunday that allegations that it hosts child sexual abuse material are “irresponsible and flagrantly untrue,” adding that it screens for and removes unlawful material from its platform.

American Express already prohibits Amex cards from being used for “digital adult content websites,” according to the AP, and PayPal halted payments to performers on Pornhub in 2019.

In the news

The investigations follow a feature by New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof that the paper published on Friday. The report alleged Pornhub “monetizes child rapes, revenge pornography, spy cam videos of women showering, racist and misogynist content, and footage of women being asphyxiated in plastic bags.”

Like many other sites, Pornhub accepts user-generated videos for sharing—about 6.8 million new videos a year, according to the Times report. While a majority of that content features consenting adults, an unknown number of those millions of videos depict exploitation, abuse, or rape, including of children under age 18. Kristof interviewed several young women who had videos of them uploaded to the site without their knowledge or consent when they were children or teenagers.

One feature of the site also complicates matters: users can download material from Pornhub fairly easily, so even when the company removes content, it can be easily re-uploaded countless number of times. (Individuals who file takedown requests with Pornhub can have digital fingerprinting applied as part of that process, though it may not be fully effective for future uploads.)

“Pornhub is unequivocally committed to combating child sexual abuse material and has instituted a comprehensive, industry-leading trust and safety policy to identify and eradicate illegal material from our community,” a company spokesperson said in response to Kristof’s report. “Eliminating illegal content is an ongoing battle for every modern content platform, and we are committed to remaining at the forefront.”

The New York Times story, however, was far from the first to assert that Pornhub profits from non-consensual pornography, rape, or exploitation. Earlier this year, for example, the BBC interviewed a woman who was violently raped at age 14, and later found out several videos of the assault were available on Pornhub. Pornhub also hosted the GirlsDoPorn channel, which has been offline since January after its founders faced a fraud lawsuit and criminal charges (including child pornography charges) after investigators found women in the videos were defrauded and coerced into their participation. Three site operators were arraigned on criminal charges in 2019; site founder Michael James Pratt fled the country. The FBI is now offering a reward for information leading to his arrest.

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