I was talking to a friend this week, and he told me that Facebook has now become a synonym for “data harvester” rather than a “social network” it is meant to be. That was a bit harsh, but it was hard to argue against. Facebook has been collecting data from users in a way that has left them frustrated.  It’s almost as if from the word go, all they were after is the information. But let’s deal with that in another day. And now there are similar fears after the UK government passed a law last year requiring all porn sites to use age checks or risk being blocked. Critics and ‘experts’ are arguing that this could put users’ privacy at risk and give the world’s biggest porn publisher a power similar to that of Facebook and Twitter regarding harvesting user data. How so? Read along…

MindGeek

As you may or may not know, MindGeek, the company that controls the majority of online porn traffic, has introduced its own age verification service. Critics have warned, that it could allow the company to corner the market and become “Facebook of porn,” collecting huge amounts of data about users porn watching habits. Now that sounds scary, doesn’t it?

All porn websites have to start using age verification later this month, but in what will definitely come as a reprieve for users, the policy will not be enforced until later in the year. This delay is to officially give the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) regulator ample time to consult with the public on the same issue. So, don’t get scared just yet.

Privacy risk

There has been a public campaign against the policy, which has been led by Open Rights Group. A lawyer Myles Jackman, working with the group says the delay in implementation of the policy is illustrative of a failure to understand the implications of such a strategy by the UK ministers, just days to its implementation.

Genuinely the privacy risk was so severe that if all that data were to be hacked, they would never be taken seriously again when it came to holding private citizens’ data, whether covertly or otherwise,” Jackman said.

Many porn sites have been trying to come up with age verification solutions, with MindGeek leading the pack. It is the biggest porn publisher and owns sites such Pornhub, YouPorn, RedTube, Tube8, and SpankWire, among others. Between them, these sites account for the majority of the porn viewed on the internet. Also, it owns premium sites including Brazzers, Reality Kings, Mofos, and Bromo. Being a user of at least one of the sites above, I cannot begin to imagine what would happen if anyone’s porn watching habits were to be leaked one way or the other.

According to Jim Killock, the executive director of the campaign body Open Rights Group, the law gives MindGeek the opportunity to establish a digital monopoly, much like Facebook. On his part, lawyer Jackson argued that existing data protection rules (which also apply to age verification) were simply not strong enough to secure sensitive data that may be collected by any service policing users’ porn viewing habits. What this means is, that data might as well be hacked and made public and this could leave users with an egg on their faces is the biggest understatement of the year.

AgeID

AgeID is an age verification platform by MindGeek. According to James Clark, a spokesman for MindGeek’s AgeID product, “It’s important that users have the option to select the age verification platform that suits their needs best and offers a seamless experience,” he said. He added that the company expected more than 25 million users to sign up to the age verification platform.

Another company looking to compete for the age verification market, AV Yourself, also believes that the policy could hand MindGeek’s AgeID product a monopoly. However, company CEO, Warren Russell says he doesn’t believe that would happen. He said whatever strategy MindGeek chose to employ; they decide to make before adding, “But lots of the merchants we have spoken to, including MindGeek brands, have shown interest in using more than one (solutions).”

It is high-volume traffic they are dealing with. What they are interested in is disaster recovery: you don’t want all your traffic going through one product because if that breaks you lose all your traffic.”

Critics of the policy have argued that the age verification process gives the providers an opportunity to accrue vast data regarding users’ porn watching habits. This could make them ripe for hacks and leaks and even imagine what would happen to the data if a hack/leak was to occur is bone chilling.

There is no specific date for the policy to come into force. A Department for Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport only said that “We are making age verification compulsory for commercial pornography sites, as part of our work to make the internet a safer place for children. But we need to take the time to make sure we get it right, and it will come into effect later this year.”

Conclusion

All we can do for now is cross our fingers and trust that consultations will be conducted to ensure all opinions are put into consideration before implementation of the policy. The last thing ThePornDude would want is for your porn watching habits to be at risk of exposure. There may be tough times ahead although somehow I believe there is always a way out.