Scranton, Pa

Student Blog Series: How Pornhub Built Its Brand on Exploitation

Posted: April 27, 2023

With the advent of the internet, porn producers and studios had an alternative way to distribute content. Instead, they were quickly faced with the challenge of videos appearing on YouTube-like websites where they could be viewed for free. Four college students founded one of the most prominent tube sites, Pornhub, in 2007. The group quickly positioned Pornhub to be one of the top websites for online porn by driving traffic to the site through search engine optimization. Pornhub’s success triggered other porn companies to complain about losing revenue due to their content appearing on the site. Meanwhile, Pornhub’s founders profited from the stolen videos.

Pornhub’s model was simple. Users could upload and download whatever videos they wanted. Over time, people started reporting uploads of nonconsensual porn, private images and videos, and child sexual abuse material. Pornhub’s successful encouragement of user participation in adult content creation and the revolutionization of adult content publication contributed to the rise of revenge porn, with some users uploading personal videos without the consent of other people in the videos. Because Pornhub did not require users to provide personal information to upload or download videos, users could essentially upload anything to the website with minimal oversight. Once a stolen or improperly shared video was uploaded, victims could take action to get videos removed, but it was almost impossible to prevent them from being reuploaded.

In 2020, Pornhub purged 80% of the content appearing on its website in order to combat the repeated claims that it fostered an environment that thrived on piracy and nonconsensual porn. The company also implemented a trust and safety policy that created new guidelines for publishing content on the website, content moderation, and noted that they planned to release annual transparency reports to detail the efficacy and impact of the new policies. Per this policy, only verified users can upload content to the website. The verified user program requires users to create an account, upload a clear photo of government-issued identification, undergo biometric scanning to confirm their identity, and submit an application detailing other personal information and their preferred form of payment. Verified users must also upload content release forms documenting their consent to be recorded and for their content to be released. While U.S. laws require producers to keep documentation of the identity of whoever appears in videos, Pornhub does not require uploaders to undergo the verification process for any third parties who appear in videos.

Another major change in Pornhub’s policies was a requirement that all videos to be reviewed by a combination of human and automated moderation systems prior to publication to ensure they comply with the company’s guidelines. As with many major tech companies, however, moderating content on Pornhub is a daunting task. Human moderators are expected to review hundreds of videos per day, only getting to spend around two minutes on each video, making it unlikely moderators can adequately judge the age of people appearing in the video or whether it was consensually produced. Nevertheless, the company stands by its efforts to moderate, but many are calling for more affirmative steps to ensure that websites supporting adult content can protect victims from continuing to fight these battles against nonconsensual uploads.

In March, former Pornhub owner, MindGeek, was acquired by Ethical Capital Partners. The private equity firm says it sought to acquire the company because it wanted to make MindGeek and Pornhub’s content moderation tools more widely available. But the acquisition is being met with skepticism. Ethical Capital Partners appears to be a new company and does not have any investments other than MindGeek. The acquisition was announced the day after Netflix released Moneyshot: The Pornhub Story which detailed several allegations into MindGeek’s failure to safely operate Pornhub. Further, in the month since the acquisition was announced, the firm has said very little about its plans for MindGeek beyond a desire to utilize its tools for undisclosed ends. While MindGeek’s new owners have to overcome over a decade of lax moderation policies, if they listen to victims and find a way to ensure content is actually moderated, the change in ownership may create a safer platform.

This piece is part of our first-year law student blog series. Congratulations to author Sydney Sanders on being chosen!

All views expressed herein are personal to the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Villanova University Charles Widger School of Law or of Villanova University. 

Category: News

« Back to News
  • Learn More About The CSE Institute

    We welcome contact from organizations and individuals interested in more information about The CSE Institute and how to support it.

    Shea M. Rhodes, Esq.
    Tel: 610-519-7183

    Prof. Michelle M. Dempsey
    Faculty Advisor
    Tel: 610-519-8011

    Contact Us »