Why the world’s biggest porn company is backing the UK’s new age law

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In 2011, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) announced the debut of a new high-level domain oriented to the adult industry: .XXX. Operated by a company known as the ICM Registry, .XXX was announced as a way to allow adult companies to explicitly advertise their explicit nature and potentially make it easier for parents to protect their children from accidentally tripping over adult content. On the surface, it seemed like a pretty good deal, however, many in the adult industry were firmly against it.
The complaints about .XXX were nuanced. It was not that people were against being honest about the contents of their website (pornographers are not known for subtlety), and it was not that someone wanted to trick children into accessing their content. Rather, the fear about .XXX was that it created the potential for adult sites to be easily censored and suppressed, and the fact that ICANN had given control of this powerful domain to a single company did not sit well with it either. no one.
At that time, one of the strongest opponents of .XXX was the adult industry giant Manwin, which filed a lawsuit against ICANN and the ICM registry, arguing that the unilateral control of the ICM of the domain amounted to an unfair and anti-competitive environment. that potentially left the adult industry dependent on the vagaries of ICM. ICM could effectively force companies to register .XXX domains at the price they deemed appropriate, Manwin said, and companies that did not take a .XXX domain risked diluting the brand (or worse) if someone else took that domain first. Many in the industry applauded Manwin's suit, announcing it as a blow against the forces of censorship and monopoly. (The lawsuit was resolved in 2013.)
Now, the adult industry is facing a different kind of threat
Almost a decade later, the adult industry faces a different kind of threat: from April, the UK will demand that anyone wanting to access online pornography be registered in an age verification database. Although the creation of a massive age verification database is quite different from the introduction of the .XXX domain, the arguments for and against are similar. Proponents argue that the age verification database will help protect vulnerable children from access to pornography, while opponents see nothing more than an opportunity for censorship, excessive regulation and anti-competitive practices.
"When we talk about age verification, it seems very simple, it seems that, well, we should prevent children from accessing porn, we can all agree with that," says Michael Stabile, spokesman for the adult industry lobby. Free Speech Coalition. She fears that what begins as an attempt to keep children safe can quickly expand to include other content, including educational information on sexual pleasure, health and LGBTQ lifestyles and alternative identities. "What is classified as pornography varies tremendously from person to person and from regulator to regulator," Stabile said.
But this time, Manwin, now known as MindGeek, has not opposed the verification of age, as it has moved from the proposal to legislation to a reality for the citizens of the United Kingdom. On the contrary, it is actively in agreement with the idea: a request for freedom of information for the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sports of the United Kingdom revealed a correspondence since the autumn of 2016 in which MindGeek representatives expressed enthusiasm for the age verification of the United Kingdom. plan. And now that the proposal has gone from reality to reality, MindGeek has established its own age verification platform called AgeID.
This time, Mindgeek is on board with the idea
MindGeek, a company that has dominated the adult industry since the early 2000s, has never been particularly transparent about its business practices, a habit that remains as it branches into age verification. When I asked MindGeek spokeswoman Catherine Dunn why the company had decided to break with groups like the Free Speech Coalition and enter the age verification business, her response was opaque, denying the organization's support for the verification efforts of the United Kingdom. "We firmly believe that parents are in a better position to monitor their children's online activity, and this law is in danger of conveying a message that parents no longer have to," Dunn said via email. "The orderly and proportionate approach to regulation (starting with the top 100 sites and decreasing) will not achieve the child protection goals of the law, since unmonitored children will still find content for adults who do not comply with a simple search query Having said that, as a responsible company, we are committed to complying with the law and we hope that the regulator will have sufficient resources to carry out its function successfully. "
MindGeek has not always shown the same commitment in other areas. The company built its fortune in piracy, capturing its initial audience by distributing the content of the competitors, free of charge and completely, in its network of tube sites. And for a long time he has adopted a laissez-faire attitude towards verifying the age of the actors seen on his site: when someone is allowed to upload porn, a site may not have all the required documentation from the content companies for adults.
Unlike combating piracy, age verification offers a commercial opportunity
But unlike the fight against piracy and compliance with federal recordkeeping requirements, age verification offers a commercial opportunity, one that MindGeek is uniquely positioned to take advantage of. MindGeek is not the only organization that has set up an age verification store: "AgeID is one of the many age verification platforms," ​​Dunn told me, noting that "its use is likely to be split in the adult industry, with some sites implementing multiple solutions. "But given the dominance MindGeek already has within the adult industry, it's hard to see where other platforms really have a fighting chance. It's costly enough to ask consumers to sign up for an age verification database, let alone expect them to sign up for AgeChecked, AVSecure, AVYourself and Yoti in addition to AgeID. And if Pornhub, Youporn, RedTube, Tube8, Thumbzilla, XTube, GayTube, Babes.com, Brazzers, Digital Playground, Reality Kings, Twistys, Wicked Pictures, Playboy.com and Men.com (all properties belong to or are affiliated with MindGeek ) are all committed to AgeID, will give that platform a significant advantage.
If MindGeek is positioned to become a leader in the world of age verification technology, then its decision suddenly makes sense, especially if, as many people in the adult industry fear, the UK is only the first market in legally require consumers to participate in an age verification database Giving away free porn has never been the most profitable business model, but charging producers of pornography for age verification services could generate a decent amount of cash, especially if those services become a requirement to manage an adult business.
"They are a negative force in the industry."
In theory, it might be preferable for the adult industry to have its own one at the helm of age verification; few people were thrilled with the idea that this task is supervised by outsiders who do not understand the realities of what it means to make a living in porn. But the idea that MindGeek, specifically, has positioned itself as a guardian among porn fans and porn producers, has some industry members feeling nervous. "If it were any other company except MindGeek, it would probably try to find more altruism on the spot, but … they are such a negative force in the industry," said one interpreter who asked to remain anonymous, noting that the promotion of MindGeek of sites driven by piracy has led to a dramatic decrease in the income of performers. "How much do we really care?"
Another source said that the "sliding scale" pricing model promised by MindGeek could be an opportunity for abuse. According to Dunn, merchants registered with AgeID would be charged using "a sliding scale based on UK traffic," which some have interpreted as meaning that merchants would pay a small fee per verified visitor. What happens if MindGeek, whose sites receive millions of daily visits, decides to drive large amounts of traffic to an indie competitor site, which can not afford the cost of the resulting age verification? What does it mean for a company that used piracy and ruthless commercial practices to consolidate power within the adult industry to gain control of age verification as well?
The answer, ironically, may lie in the arguments that MindGeek once made against .XXX and ICM. In its legal arguments, the company painted a grim picture of what could happen to a single company in charge of a resource with the .XXX domain impact, noting that ICM now had the power to extort companies that sought to register domains defensively to avoid brand dilution "ICM has reacted to these circumstances with the anticompetitive behavior expected from a monopolist," the suit argued. For now, the adult industry can only hope that MindGeek's AgeID behaves differently.

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