fbpx Skip to main content
Blog

Can Using a VPN Keep Your Data Safe from Porn Sites?

Most consumers think that using a VPN is a foolproof way to prevent data collection and keep their porn preferences private. But is it really?

Is your data safe online?

Data privacy is a real concern for many people these days—and it’s still a confusing thing to achieve for most.

What about privacy when searching for or looking at something online you want to keep private? Considering that an estimated 91.5% of men and 60.2% of women consume porn, this is a common concern.Solano, I., Eaton, N. R., & O'Leary, K. D. (2020). Pornography Consumption, Modality and Function in a Large Internet Sample. Journal of sex research, 57(1), 92–103. https://doi.org/10.1080/00224499.2018.1532488COPY 

Related: Real Stories of People Finding Hidden Cameras in Bathrooms and Hotels

When it comes to porn, often times consumers try to cover their tracks, or at least follow adequate security measures to avoid being traced by their household members, internet service providers, or even the hotel WiFi. So how can you keep the porn you watch truly private?

Virtual private networks, or “VPNs,” are the go-to solution to do just that—but what is it, and is it as thorough as it seems?

Bark

Porn and privacy

Porn has long evolved from the days when consumers had physical versions and would sneak magazines out from under the bed or from a secret stash somewhere in the house.

The possibility of a parent or sibling walking in was enough to make anyone nervous and secretive.

Related: Report: 93% of Popular Porn Sites Leak User Data to Google and Facebook

The reality is, though, people’s porn consumption is much more scrutinized today than could be imagined even though consumers might not even realize it.

Porn sites know consumers’ name, gender, email, interests, the content they consume, when they consume it, their geographical location, and much more. While some consumers use incognito mode or a VPN as a source of protection, these tools may not be as effective as one might think.

A closer look at privacy policies

Let’s take a look at a summary of some of the main porn sites’ privacy policies.

They outline what information is collected from consumers and how it’s used. Just glancing through it might surprise you with this clear and undeniable fact: porn sites know everything about consumers’ habits.

Image credit to Right.ly

From payment information to the hardware/software being used, videos searched and time spent on videos, ads consumers interact with—even keyboard strokes—porn sites know exactly who is looking at their content.

While what is collected varies by location, porn sites collect a lot of data, very personal data, about what and how people consume pornography.

Related: Study Reveals Image-Based Abuse Victims Suffer Similar Trauma as Sexual Assault Victims

This is significant for many reasons, but let’s examine a couple:

First, the sheer number of data points porn sites deal with is huge. With an estimated 42 billion visits in 2019 (the last reported figure major porn site Pornhub reported in its annual review), the data they receive is a treasure trove of highly intimate information about consumers. The old saying “knowledge is power” can be transferred to today’s terms: data is currency.

This brings us to the second point: how is this invaluable data about very private moments of people’s lives being used?

BHW - General

How do porn sites use your data?

Porn sites’ privacy policies also outline this, and most of them state how it is used for customization of ads, customization of content, or even shared with third parties.

Why is this a cause for concern?

This requires a two-fold answer. First, consider how porn is an escalating behavior meaning that, biologically, consumers’ tendencies are to seek novelty, typically leading them to more extreme content in order to receive the same level of arousal and interest.Banca, P., Morris, L. S., Mitchell, S., Harrison, N. A., Potenza, M. N., & Voon, V. (2016). Novelty, conditioning and attentional bias to sexual rewards. Journal of psychiatric research, 72, 91–101. doi: 10.1016/j.jpsychires.2015.10.017COPY Koukounas, E., & Over, R. (2000). Changes in the magnitude of the eyeblink startle response during habituation of sexual arousal. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 38(6), 573–584. doi: 10.1016/s0005-7967(99)00075-3COPY  Secondly, porn sites’ business model, like many today, depends on getting consumers to go on the site and stay as long as possible. 

Related: 7 Things You Can Do If You’re a Victim of Deepfakes or Revenge Porn

Porn sites know who you are and your sexual preferences, and they have a host of data to understand your consumption patterns. Their primary motivation is to get you to consume as often and as frequently as possible on their site. They know much more about you if you create an account on the site, but they still pick up on important information without that.

To do this, they will offer consumers novel content in a way that is personalized exactly to their tastes—their profits hinge on offering increasingly “novel” content. In practice, “novelty” translates to greater levels of degradation or violence, sexist themes, and at times illegal acts.

Ultimately, not only do porn sites collect highly valuable data about a very intimate part of consumers’ lives, they then use that very data to keep them coming back time and time again by curating a more extreme sexual palette.

Can a VPN hide your info from porn sites?

So, back to VPN’s. Most consumers think that using a VPN is a foolproof way to prevent data collection and keep their porn preferences private. But is it really?

To answer this, let’s take a closer look at what VPN’s do, and if they can bypass those privacy policies.

Virtual private networks are used to connect users to the internet, “in an encrypted fashion.” When you use a VPN, your data is sent to a remote server where it is redirected to the site you are trying to access in an encrypted manner. This can be helpful to protect you from hackers when you’re on public WiFi, for example, and it is also often used as a way to “anonymously” watch porn.

However, it’s important to note that not all VPNs are made equally. Counter to what you may expect, some VPN providers collect data on you while you use them to connect to the internet, and others, depending on the protocols they use, offer varying levels of security.

Still, other information like browsing history is still available regardless of VPN use.

Related: 5 Things You Can Do If You’re Being Sextorted

At best, VPNs may mask your IP address and your device location, but this doesn’t mean you can’t be tracked in other ways by data-collecting porn sites.

If we look back at the privacy policies, a host of other data can be tracked about consumers through other means, like “cookies.” So while IP address, network info, and device information may (or may not) be masked depending on the VPN used, contact information, gender, interests and preferences, payment information, interactions on the site, and more—these are all still collected on porn sites.

Porn isn’t private, after all

While an internet provider or the hotel lobby may not be aware someone is watching porn while using a VPN, every porn site someone visits knows exactly what they’re watching, when, how, and much more.

Related: As More People Get Doxed Online, Here’s How You Can Stop It Happening to You

If someone is concerned about prying eyes, they can reconsider which ones they give priority to. All in all, the use of tools like incognito mode and VPNs can help protect consumers’ privacy to a certain extent, but often fall short of fully doing so.

Porn sites themselves are one of the biggest obstacles in achieving consumers’ full privacy protection. Keep this in mind if user privacy is important to you.

To learn about how porn can harm consumers, relationships, and society in significant ways, click here.

Support this resource

Thanks for taking the time to read through this article! As a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, we're able to create resources like this through the support of people like you. Will you help to keep our educational resources free as we produce resources that raise awareness on the harms of porn and sexual exploitation?

DONATE