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Behind the Lens: The Porn Industry’s Use Of Data Analytics and Technology

By: Alistair Bernhard

Pornography has become a cultural norm in our society, with recent statistics showing that 68% of men and 32% of women watch it daily.[1] In 2019, the website Pornhub was visited 42 billion times, with a 115 million visits a day. There was so much pornography uploaded to Pornhub in 2019 that “if you copied all that data onto hard drives it would reach 100km.”[2] Although it is hard to gather financial data from all the porn companies in the world and in the United States, estimates are that the porn industry annually  grosses 15 billion dollars. From this estimate, the porn industry pulls in more money annually than the National Football League, the most popular sport in the U.S. “Porn is therefore an economic contender in the US economy just as much as any other entertainment property.”[3] However, the porn industry has been under attack recently by many states claiming that the watching of such content leads to violence against women, sexual activity among teens and unplanned pregnancies.[4] While there is a lot of debate around the potential negative effects of watching too much porn, some healthcare professionals and even senators have weighed in on the issue, claiming that not only is porn far too easy to access, but it also caters to the user’s every wish. Through the misuse of personal data and AI innovation, it seems that the porn industry will stop at nothing to be a part of one’s life. We all know that sex sells, but what is the real cost? This blog post explores how the porn industry uses data and innovation to corrupt the minds of their consumers for financial gains. Furthermore, it discusses how an individual’s most intimate information can be stored and used without their consent.

Image result for porn stats 2019

Harmless Advertising

When Roger Mougalas coined the phrase Big Data in 2005, everything changed. Companies and entrepreneurs were looking to analyze as much as they could get their hands on to spot trends and make money. Fast forward to the year 2020 and Big Data is everywhere and is used by everyone, even the porn industry. For instance, MindGeek is the largest tech company that deals with pornography. It owns many websites including, Pornhub, YouPorn, RedTube and MyDirtyHobby. Companies like MindGeek take the user’s data and use it to advertise their pornographic preferences back to the viewer, to generate the greatest number of clicks, views and revenue from this consumer. In a sense, MindGeek is “selling the makeup of our sexual desires and automatically collecting data that could potentially be used to track individual users over time.”[5] Some perceive this as immoral. It leads to users continuing to consume the material that they enjoy, and now that it is easier to find and access, they are more likely to visit these sites…

“Well what is wrong with that? It is easier for me to get what I want; they have merely optimized their service to suit my needs. Amazon and other companies do this all the time.”

…This is a good argument, as Amazon and other companies do use data to understand a consumer’s preferences. But Amazon and other businesses are not creating chemical imbalances in your brain by using personal data — the porn industry is. For someone who watches pornography from time to time these problems do not occur. But overconsumption of this explicit material, and the constant advertisements creates harmful habits in a user.  Although porn addiction is not a mental health diagnosis, many experts have used the phrase to describe many people in society that view this explicit material too much. Some experts say that the brain activity shown in drug or alcohol addiction  – when circuits in your brain associated with reward, motivation, and memory get turned on – is the same as those who use pornography a lot.[6] It is evident that consumption of narcotics can damage brain function and thinking. So why do we allow the porn industry to affect our own minds so negatively, let alone a child’s.

Somebody Think of The Children

Are you concerned yet?  Well, one of the largest markets for the porn industry is children from 8 to 17 years of age, as 90% of this demographic have watched porn at least once.[7] These years are key to a child’s development, and what they consume during this time potentially could affect their thought process in the future. Since pornography is far more accessible than it has ever been, through laptops and phones. Moreover, with advertising adapting to the user’s preferences, it has created an alarming rate of overconsumption by children. The porn industry studies their demographics, and through surveys and digital fingerprints have found children to be a profitable market. With this information, the porn industry has been designing online video games that appeal to this demographic, games that are explicit and sometimes sexually violent, with the controllable character being dominant and women being portrayed as submissive. The outcome from this is boys having unrealistic expectations in the bedroom, and a skewed vision of women in society. A recent survey by The Opinium on 18 year old’s found that, “two-thirds said porn has led to pressure on young women to act a certain way and 68 percent said it has put pressure on girls to look a certain way.”[8] Furthermore, pornography is linked to social isolation, performing badly in school and behavioral issues.[9] You don’t seem convinced yet, so bear with me, there is more.

Image result for porn stats

Datagate

Another negative aspect that arises from the porn industry collecting user data is they are violating the user’s privacy, by storing personal and intimate information. Even though Pornhub’s data protection statement says, “We respect your privacy,” they clearly do not.[10] As a society we hold companies like Facebook and Google to such a high standard and expect them to treat our personal data carefully. So why, when it comes to porn sites, does one forgo common sense and allow them to abuse some of our most intimate information? There is nothing stopping porn sites from selling a user’s personal data to a third party for them to analyze and take advantage of. Furthermore, it does not matter if users delete their cookies or search through the incognito setting, the data is still being collected by the site; there is truly nowhere to hide. Data collection goes far deeper than just advertising based on user’s preferences to keep the customer on the site; privacy is being invaded by these porn sites. Some porn sites could use other digital databases to connect an IP address, browser fingerprint, or device to a named individual.[11] This may seem dramatic to some, but if a porn site were to share this personal data with the wrong person, it could lead to lives being ruined. The potential for blackmail increases, and if Russian collusion was bad in the 2016 election, then imagine how bad it would be if a foreign country blackmailed our whole senate over the release of their explicit searches. I am sure it would be a damning moment in American history.

Image result for Trump and stormy daniels

Rechargeable Love

The porn industry doesn’t just study consumer data for growth; many companies have started to use artificial intelligence (AI) to change the future of intimacy. For some people the explicit videos and photos aren’t enough, as it does not feel real. New markets are emerging from the porn industry with new gadgets and gizmos to better satisfy the needs of the consumer. When once an individual would buy a sex toy and hide it in their bedside table, now one can buy a sex bot that will greet the ex-wife when she drops off the kids. Although this may seem weird, nearly half of Americans believe that having sex with robots will be common practice within 50 years.[12] Bots are already so realistic and adaptable, as one robot can assume several different characters and personalities. Not only can they talk, but they can show expression and respond to touch and pleasure in a way that mimics humans. Moreover, these bots are highly intelligent and attentive to their partner. They will listen to learn and become better at conversing, by collecting real-time data from their owner.[13] While one could argue that sex bots will be a solution to ease loneliness and give companionship to individuals who may find it hard to make strong connections, experts speculate that these new AI bots will lead more people to become more isolated and be uninterested in finding a partner. For instance, Japan is dealing with a birth rate crisis, and many Japanese women are blaming porn and sex robots. Although mild sex toys can increase intimacy in partners,[14] Dr Kate Devlin, a senior lecturer in social and cultural artificial intelligence at King’s College London, has warned that sex robots could exacerbate the crisis.[15]

A Dark Reality

Furthermore, virtual reality has also become another facet of the porn industry. “It is expected that by 2025, pornography will be the third-largest virtual reality sector behind video games and the NFL.”[16] Many companies have invested millions to make virtual reality movies for their users. This type of viewing allows the consumer to become immersed, giving them a greater experience…

“Wait! So, virtual reality is the same as watching pornography, it is just taking advantage of new technology. That seems great!”

…Maybe, but making pornography more real with sex bots and virtual reality strips away the connection and intimacy of intercourse. A study was done involving men and women, ages 18 to 34,  who were in romantic relationships and compared those that watched porn to those that didn’t. It found that people who didn’t view any porn had lower levels of negative communication, were more committed to the relationship, and had higher sexual satisfaction and were better at relationship adjustment.[17] While once pornography was just entertainment, now for some it is becoming part of an everyday lifestyle.

Conclusion

So, is the porn industry evil? Should we be grabbing our pitch forks and lighting our torches? Well, it is no saint, that’s for sure. But this doesn’t mean our society and pornography can’t coexist together…

“But weren’t you just talking about how bad it is?”

…Yes, and the first step in solving a problem is recognizing there is one. It is important to not try and label pornography as bad, because if we start to do that, where would it stop? We know cigarettes are bad for us, we do not need to be told. We know airplanes are bad for the environment; should we put a label on them and tell everyone to never travel again? No. A recent study showed that just 22% of 18-year olds said their parents were their main source of information about sex.[18] It is things like this that need to be improved on. We need to be better at educating our children on pornography, that it should be seen as entertainment rather than real-life. If parents and schools provided more than 50% the source of a child’s information about sex, perhaps this could make a big difference. We need to be more knowledgeable about data, and how it is used so we don’t fall for the advertising gimmicks that the porn industry creates. We need to protect our information by reviewing the data privacy contracts on sites. While AI and new technologies have the capability to create a better society, it is important to use these tools correctly, and to not create a culture that is isolating. Go about your life, and be free to do as you wish, but know that the porn industry is willing to take your money and health. Not because they can, but because you allowed them too.


[1] Year in Review, Pornhub, 2019

[2] Year in Review, Pornhub, 2019

[3] Porn Could Have a Bigger Economic Influence on the US than Netflix, Yahoo Finance, 2018

[4] States Call Pornography a Public Health Crisis; Porn Industry Decries ‘Fear Mongering’, USA Today, 2019

[5] Here’s How Much Pornhub Knows About You, Vice, 2019

[6] Pornography Addiction, Web MD

[7] Internet Crime and Abuse Statistics, Guard Child – Protecting Children in the Digital Age, 2019

[8] Online Porn is too Easy to Access, say 80% of 18-year-olds: Survey Warns Explicit Material is Wrecking Adolescence for Many Young People, Daily Mail, 2014

[9] Children as Young as * Admit addictions to Internet Porn as Smartphones and Tablets Make Sexual Images Easier to Find, Daily Mail, 2012

[10] Here’s How Much Pornhub Knows About You, Vice, 2019

[11] The Truth About Porn Sites and Personal Data, Men’s Health, 2019

[12] Robot Sex Will be Common in 2067, Cnet, 2017

[13] How Robots Iot and Artificial Intelligence are Changing How Humans Have Sex, Forbes, 2019

[14] How Sex Toys Impact Relationships, Psychology Today,

[15] Robots Could Lead to Population Crisis as Men opt for Virtual Girlfriends, Mirror, 2019

[16] How Robots Iot and Artificial Intelligence are Changing How Humans Have Sex, Forbes, 2019

[17] What Porn Can do to Intimacy, Psychology Today, 2014, 2017

[18] Online Porn is too Easy to Access, say 80% of 18-year-olds: Survey Warns Explicit Material is Wrecking Adolescence for Many Young People, Daily Mail, 2014

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