Metro Weekly

Pornhub is Blocking Visitors in Texas

Pornhub has blocked visitors from Texas in response to age-verification laws that may infringe on users' privacy.

Image by Todd Franson. Laptop photo: Ben Kolde, via Unsplash

Pornhub is blocking visitors from Texas in response to an age-verification law that leaves adult websites liable if a minor is found to have accessed the content, even through deceptive means.

Under the law, passed last year, websites offering adult sexual content, or where more than one-third of a website’s content may be deemed “harmful to minors,” must require users to prove their age by providing government-issued identification to access the site.

Alternatively, a person could use a “commercially reasonable method that relies on public or private transactional data” to verify a visitor’s age, whether that means signing up through a digital third-party site that would verify a person’s age before granting access or potentially using a camera and facial recognition technology to verify that a user is an adult.

The law also requires websites with adult content to post a warning with dubious, yet-to-be-proven claims, such as pornography is potentially addictive, impairs “human brain development,” that exposure to pornography can result in body image or mental health issues, and that porn “increases the demand for prostitution, child exploitation, and child pornography.”

On March 14, Pornhub started blocking users from Texas in response to a February lawsuit filed by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton against Aylo, the Canadian-based parent company of Pornhub. Paxton accused Pornhub of failing to abide by the age-verification law.

A federal judge initially found that the law was likely unconstitutional and sought to block it from being enforced while the lawsuit made its way through the courts.

However, the conservative 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled, in a 2-1 decision, that the state can enforce the law, and has a “legitimate interest” in preventing minors from accessing pornography, as reported by Ars Technica.

Pornhub posted a message that now greets visitors from Texas.

In it, the company outlines its objections to the law on a philosophical and practical basis and echoes the legal arguments it has made in the ongoing lawsuit brought by Paxton.

“As you may know, your elected officials in Texas are requiring us to verify your age before allowing you access to our website,” the message reads. “Not only does this impinge on the rights of adults to access protected speech, it fails strict scrutiny by employing the least effective and yet also most restrictive means of accomplishing Texas’s stated purpose of allegedly protecting minors.

“While safety and compliance are at the forefront of our mission, providing identification every time you want to visit an adult platform is not an effective solution for protecting users online, and in fact, will put minors and your privacy at risk,” the statement continues.

According to Variety, following Pornhub’s decision to go dark in the Lone Star State, searches for the term “‘VPN’ jumped more than fourfold.”

VPN stands for “virtual private network,” a tool that masks the geographic location of Internet users and allows them to access websites that are prohibited in their jurisdictions by allowing them to appear as if they are located in some other state where Pornhub is not blocked. 

As reported by the libertarian magazine Reason, similar spikes in interest in VPNs have been seen in six other states besides Texas where Pornhub and similar sites have blocked users due to age-verification laws.

Those states are Arkansas, Mississippi, Montana, North Carolina, Utah, and Virginia. At least seven other states with Republican-led legislatures have proposed nearly identical laws this year.

Reason notes that Louisiana, despite having an age-verification law for adult websites, has not been blocked by Pornhub or other sites, because its law is crafted differently.

In Louisiana, porn sites are not required to directly collect user IDs. Rather, the state’s government helped develop a third-party service called LA Wallet, which stores digital driver’s licenses and can serve as an online age verification credential while also not requiring users to turn over their real identities to porn sites, where that information could be harvested and used to identify — and potentially punish, shame or “cancel” — adults who access porn sites.

Additionally, companies like Aylo have argued that restrictions on porn site access should be implemented at the device level, which may actually be more effective in limiting minors’ ability to access adult content

Under such a model, parents could enable a parental-control mechanism on devices that would alert websites — not just those with porn, but websites with non-pornographic content that parents may find objectionable — that a person using the device is under 18.

Alternatively, lawmakers could also pass a law requiring all smartphone or computer users to verify their age with the device provider and warn companies if children have access to the devices in question — though such an approach could be argued to infringe on individual device owners’ civil liberties.

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