Mastercard, Discover, and Visa Dump Pornhub [UPDATE]

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Following an opinion piece in the New York Times which called out both Pornhub for hosting nonconsensual and often illegal material, and the credit card companies for enabling the site to profit from it, Mastercard has terminated its relationship with Pornhub. For now though, Mastercard will continue to do business with parent company Mindgeek, which owns a spate of other porn sites.

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Days ago, Mastercard and Visa announced an investigation into the Times’ allegations, and Pornhub jumped to promise a sweeping change in moderation efforts and verification rules. This, on top of last year’s PayPal exit, is a blow, and it’s probably safe to assume that Visa’s fleeing next. [Update: It has suspended payments, for now.] (The story’s author, Nick Kristof, called out American Express by name as well, though the company appears to have stopped covering credit card transactions for porn sites over two decades ago.)

A Mastercard spokesperson shared a statement with Gizmodo that the company’s “investigation over the past several days has confirmed violations of our standards prohibiting unlawful content on their site.” Mastercard added that, in keeping with its policies, it has “instructed the financial institutions that connect the site to our network to terminate acceptance.”

The Times reported on various types of unlawful content, including child sex abuse material (CSAM), nonconsensual porn, and documentation of assault. While Pornhub has claimed that instances of CSAM are incredibly low, the site is filled with borderline content, and there’s no way to tell whether a person in an amateur video is of age. Anecdotally, many have said that the company hasn’t responded to takedown requests. Pornhub notoriously neglected to remove the page for “Girls Do Porn”; it only did so after numerous allegations that the production company lied to and coerced women finally resulted in federal sex trafficking charges.

After Visa and Mastercard announced their investigation, Pornhub announced with a policy overhaul. Yesterday, it said it would prevent unverified users from uploading videos—limiting that privilege to model program members and content partners. (The latter probably deserves another inspection, since Girls Do Porn was a “content partner.”) It also banned downloads (still, easy to circumvent) and announced that it’ll start rolling out Transparency Reports a la Facebook and Twitter. In place of to hiring additional moderators it instead promised to deploy a special “Red Team” to review its moderation systems and reexamine the site. It didn’t specify how many people are on the “Red Team,” and added that it already has “an extensive team of human moderators.” The company has told Gizmodo the policy changes will apply across parent company Mindgeek’s porn universe including other tubes like RedTube and YouPorn.

Mastercard is, at the moment, covering its ass pursuant to the Times report, which the company directly cited as the reason for the investigation. In an email, Mastercard told Gizmodo that the change will only apply to Pornhub and not other Mindgeek sites. In the statement, though, Mastercard said that it continues “to investigate potential illegal content on other websites to take the appropriate action.”

Pornhub was not immediately available for comment.

Update 12/11/2020 8:30 ET: Visa has suspended payments across the Mindgeek network until it concludes an investigation into illegal content. In a statement shared by a Visa spokesperson, Visa said that it is “suspending Pornhub’s acceptance privileges pending the completion of our ongoing investigation” and that it is “instructing the financial institutions who serve MindGeek to suspend processing of payments through the Visa network.”

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Update 12/11/2020 12:45 ET: Pornhub sent Gizmodo a statement expressing dismay at the credit card companies’ decision:

These actions are exceptionally disappointing, as they come just two days after Pornhub instituted the most far-reaching safeguards in user-generated platform history. Unverified users are now banned from uploading content — a policy no other platform has put in place, including Facebook, which reported 84 million instances of child sexual abuse material over the last three years. In comparison, the Internet Watch Foundation reported 118 incidents on Pornhub over the last three years.

This news is crushing for the hundreds of thousands of models who rely on our platform for their livelihoods.

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A UK-based CSAM tracker, the Internet Watch Foundation, confirmed to Gizmodo that it identified 118 instances of CSAM on Pornhub between 2017 and 2019. “The vast majority of child sexual abuse material we identify is not linked to mainstream social networks or mainstream adult content sites, but hosting companies based in the Netherlands,” a spokesperson clarified.

Finally, Discover, which Pornhub currently accepts, told Gizmodo that it generally severs ties with companies which facilitate illegal activity, though it did no specify whether it’s reevaluating its relationship to Pornhub. They write:

Discover requires our financial institution partners to monitor for and prevent card acceptance at merchants that allow illegal or any other prohibited activities that violate our operating standards. When Discover determines merchants are offering prohibited activity, we promptly terminate card acceptance through the offending merchant’s financial institution.

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Update 12/11/2020 4:55 pm ET: Discover tells Gizmodo that it has terminated Discover card acceptance at Pornhub.com.”

DISCUSSION

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The_Red_Mage

Missed opportunity for headlines:
MASTERCARD PULLS OUT
MASTERCARD FINISHES FIRST
MASTERCARD DOM’S PORNHUB