MindGeek is a global IT company active in content delivery, streaming media, and online advertising. Its operations are primarily related to Internet pornography, but also include other online properties such as the comedy video and meme websites.
MindGeek owns and operates many popular pornographic websites, including video sharing services Pornhub, RedTube, and YouPorn, as well as adult film producers Brazzers, Digital Playground, Men.com, Reality Kings, and Sean Cody, among others.
MindGeek became involved in the policy-making process for age verification for pornographic websites introduced in the Digital Economy Act 2017. They attended several meetings with the Department for Culture, Media and Sport as outlined below during the passage of the Bill in Parliament.
Proposal for mass blocking of porn sites by UK ISPs
MindGeek have been heavily involved in the evolution of UK policy towards age verification and blocking of legal adult content, which was introduced to the Digital Economy Bill (now Act).
A response to ORG’s Freedom of Information request  revealed MindGeek’s position on the age-verification policy and what their preferred solution would be to its problems. The email exchange occurred on 1 March 2017 when the Digital Economy Bill was debated at the Report stage in the House of Lords.
In an email  to a DCMS official, a MindGeek representative stated that they would like to show their support for “hopefully an effective Bill”.
An attachment includes a note on the effectiveness and proportionality issues posed by the age-verification policy.
In their opinion, this policy cannot be both effective and proportionate. The note says that the DEAct will only stop children from seeking out the known porn websites and will not prevent them from stumbling on porn online.
MindGeek quote the policy goals of the Conservative Party's 2015 manifesto to protect children and argue that the policy goal should, therefore, be efficacy rather than proportionality.
"Removing proportionality fixes some of this … but serious thought should be given as to whether this Bill will actually do what it sets out to achieve, as … stumblers remain totally unprotected."
Proposed targeting of 4.6m webpages for blocking
In their proposed solution MindGeek pointed out that Sky is currently blocking 4,653,074 pornographic web pages. To improve the effectiveness of the age-verification policy, their representative suggested that these websites should be greylisted.
"From the law passing to enforcing, let’s assume that’s 12 months. A greylist of 4M URLs already exists from Sky, but let's assume that’s actually much smaller as these URLs will I suspect, be pagelevel blocks, not TLDs. The regulator should contact them all within that 12 months, explaining that if they do not demonstrate they are AV ready by the enforcement date then they will be enforced against."
Benefits to MindGeek of website blocking
The approach advocated by MindGeek directly encourages blocking of pornographic sites that do not employ age verification.
MindGeek are creating their own widely available and cheap age-verification tool. Age-verification regulator (BBFC) blacklisting non-compliant websites would, in essence, tag the market for the new MindGeek’s age-verification tool, and push many providers towards adopting it.
Those sites not participating in age verification would also find their access to the UK market much reduced, which would benefit MindGeek's already dominant share of the UK pornography market.
AgeID provided by MindGeek
MindGeek intend to respond to the Age Verification requirements by providing their own AgeID system.
While there is little documentation, MindGeek has confirmed to ORG the main parameters of their proposal.
Users will be asked to sign up to AgeID, and provide a username and password. MindGeek says these will be 'hashed' so not stored, but matched against when a user signs in.
At sign up, the user would choose a age verification product in order to verify the user's age. Once verified, the age of the user would not be stored, but they would be flagged as 'age verified'.
MindGeek expect 20-25 million UK users to sign up to their system, so it would become the predominant Age Verification platform. Other pornographic publishers would be obliged to use it to access customers with greatest ease, or else use competing systems where users may have to re-verify their age through a new process.
MindGeek would over time be able to find out the shape of the UK porn market. They would also be able to levy a rent on access to UK customers as they would have a near monopoly through AgeID.
While privacy protections may exist, there is still the potential for pseudonymous tracking across Internet platforms. The system will aim to stop users from having to sign into different websites, when driven by links or advertising. This would require some level of individual user tracking across participating websites, which may also be persistent, to prevent the need for regular log ins.
As has been seen with other platforms, new means to use data may come forward, such as linking AgeID to payment credentials, or “recommending videos” (user profiling) and may well be added, as commercial needs tend to be more important than promises over time.
Legislators may also be unhappy with the potential for sharing of AgeID credentials with minors, as it appears to be a simple log in.
For these reasons, alongside their patchy record on data security, ORG supports the amendment put forward by Lord Lucas to allow the AV Regulator to regulate privacy and user trust.
MindGeek data breaches
- WDTK Department for Culture, Media and Sport FOI response, 10 May 2017
- WDTK Digital Economy Bill Effectiveness and Proportionality", Email from MindGeek to DCMS, 1 March 2017
- PDF “Digital Economy Bill Issues with Effectiveness and Proportionality", PDF attachment from MindGeek to DCMS 1 March 2017
- Amendment 71ZA, Regulations relating to the processing of personal data under Part 3 of the Digital Economy Act 2017