Tech firm spin is reaching new lows

A new law in the state of Utah has the operators of adult content streaming services turning to their users to solve the problem.

As of Monday Utahns (yes that is the correct term) have been unable to access Pornhub. When somebody from the state visits the website they are instead met with a video message as well as a wall of text.

“As you may know, your elected officials in Utah are requiring us to verify your age before allowing you access to our website. While safety and compliance are at the forefront of our mission, giving your ID card every time you want to visit an adult platform is not the most effective solution for protecting our users, and in fact, will put children, and your privacy at risk,” reads the message.

The issue in play here is regarding Senate Bill 287 in Utah which was passed unanimously earlier this year. This bill comes into effect this week according to Fox 13 Salt Lake City and it requires that purveyors of adult content verify the age of users when they visit an adult website. The problem is that Utah’s digital ID system doesn’t allow for online verification meaning Pornhub would likely have to implement its own system to comply with the law.

As you might imagine, the alternatives are choosing not to operate in Utah and trying to get irate users to influence lawmakers to change their mind. Pornhub appears to have opted with the latter with a lashing of the former for good measure.

“The safety of our users is one of our biggest concerns. We believe that the best and most effective solution for protecting children and adults alike is to identify users by their device and allow access to age-restricted materials and websites based on that identification. Until a real solution is offered, we have made the difficult decision to completely disable access to our website in Utah,” reads Pornhub’s note to Utahns.

“Please contact your representatives before it is too late and demand device-based verification solutions that make the internet safer while also respecting your privacy,” the note concludes.

While the website claims this law will push users to sites that don’t verify age or identity, it fails to acknowledge that blocking access will have that exact effect as well. We have to hand it to Pornhub though, we weren’t expecting it to pull the “think of the children” card regarding access to its website. A website, we will remind you, features no warning nor a pop-up asking the user to confirm they are an appropriate age to view the content.

Not the first, not the last

While Pornhub’s stance is attention grabbing, it’s just the latest in big tech firms using users to ultimately get their way.

Back in 2021, Meta threatened to restrict Australians from sharing news on Facebook ahead of a new law that was in the process of being passed.

That law sought to give publishers a larger share of advertising revenue from the likes of Facebook, Google and others. The reasoning was that because publishers brought users to social media platforms and the web, they ought to enjoy a larger payday.

At the time Facebook said this proposed law fundamentally misunderstood the relationship between the platform and publishers and it chose to ban Australians from posting local or international news content on the platform.

That ban lasted a day before the Australian government caved and amended the law.

The widely discussed TikTok ban in the US is also worth mentioning. While US lawmakers showed off some A-class buffoonery during hearings about the safety of the app, it distracted from the very real problem of data collection from all big tech firms.

While the US is concerned about China hoovering up the data of US citizens and potentially weaponising that data, that venture betrays the underlying problem of big tech as a whole siphoning up data.

As Cory Doctorow wrote recently, “If the Chinese state wants to procure data on Americans, it need not convince us to install Tiktok. It can simply plunk down a credit card with any of the many unregulated data-brokers who feed the American tech giants the dossiers that the NSA and local cops rely on.”

In all of the instances above the users are being used as the pawns to push the changes big tech firms want through the halls of governments.

Granted, if the people want unfettered access to Pornhub, or for Facebook to stop allowing the sharing of news, that should be their right. However, when the messaging from big tech firms is touched by a public relations team that is well versed in using emotional language to manipulate an audience, that’s when the line between rigging the vote and being the voice of the people starts to blur.

Pornhub’s note to the users in Utah makes no mention of the specific law being cited which would help users be informed about the problem, furthermore what are “device-based verification solutions” supposed to mean to the person in the street?

The platform appears to hoping that users will simply contact Senator Todd Weiler in an angry fit that they can’t get access their favourite website and we suspect that hope may be misplaced.

We say this because Utah is home to around 3.3 million people of which 2.2 million are Mormons. We very much doubt that those who choose to follow a religion that teaches its followers to abstain from pornography will be shouting down the lines at a senator on behalf of Pornhub, but lets see how this works out for Mindgeek.

[Image – Samuel Regan-Asante on Unsplash]


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