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Visa and Mastercard Suspend Pornhub Ad Payments Due to Child Porn Lawsuit

Visa and Mastercard announced they've suspended payment processing for advertising purchases on Pornhub and other sites owned by Pornhub's parent company, MindGeek.

Today, Visa and Mastercard announced that they’ve suspended payment processing for advertising purchases on Pornhub and other sites owned by Pornhub’s parent company, MindGeek.

Starting today, Visa and Mastercard will not process payments through TrafficJunky, MindGeek’s own advertising arm, due to allegations that MindGeek has profited from child sexual exploitation material (CSEM)—commonly known as and legally defined as “child pornography.”

This move effectively demonetizes part of MindGeek’s business model due to the significant percentage of revenue that comes from ads on MindGeek sites like Pornhub.

Related: Judge Finds Visa “Intended to Help” Pornhub Profit from Child Porn

MindGeek brings in revenue in reportedly three ways:

  1. Selling premium subscriptions to its sites
  2. Selling user data
  3. Advertising revenue

MindGeek executives have previously testified that over 50% of MindGeek’s revenue comes from selling advertising space on its sites.

In December 2020, Visa and Mastercard suspended payment processing on Pornhub’s site due to reports of abusive content on the site, but today’s announcement goes much further than that previous decision due to more revenue coming from TrafficJunky and advertising than site subscriptions.

Homepage of MindGeek’s own advertising arm, TrafficJunky

All of this comes after a federal judge ruled a week ago that Visa helped Pornhub “monetize child porn” and sex trafficking.

Today, Visa’s CEO issued a statement which said, in part, “The legal decision, with which we disagree, has also created new uncertainty about the role of TrafficJunky, MindGeek’s advertising arm. Accordingly, we will suspend TrafficJunky’s Visa acceptance privileges based on the court’s decision until further notice. During this suspension, Visa cards will not be able to be used to purchase advertising on any sites including Pornhub or other MindGeek affiliated sites.”

Related: Does the Porn Industry Have Ethical Business Practices?

Separately, Mastercard told CNBC it’s directing financial institutions to suspend acceptance of its products at TrafficJunky following the court ruling.

“New facts from last week’s court ruling made us aware of advertising revenue outside of our view that appears to provide Pornhub with indirect funding,” a statement from Mastercard said. “This step will further enforce our December 2020 decision to terminate the use of our products on that site.”

This is a devastating development for MindGeek in addition to the recent resignation of its CEO and COO, the mass departure of many employees from its Montreal campus, and now its involvement in yet another lawsuit due to the company allegedly profiting from child exploitation.

Federal judge’s ruling on Visa last week

Last week, a federal judge denied Visa’s motion to be dismissed from a case against them and MindGeek which alleges that Visa engaged in a criminal conspiracy with MindGeek to monetize CSEM.

The court stated there was enough evidence to show the company “knowingly provid[ed] the tool used to complete the crime” of distributing CSEM, ruling that the civil case must proceed:

“The Court can comfortably infer that Visa intended to help MindGeek monetize child porn from the very fact that Visa continued to provide MindGeek the means to do so and knew MindGeek was indeed doing so.”

The case, Serena Fleites v. MindGeek S.A.R.L. et al., is Docket No. 2:21-cv-04920-CJC-ADS in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California.

Related: What’s Going On with Pornhub? A Simplified Timeline of Events

Variety reports that Fleites is one of 34 individual plaintiffs who last year sued Pornhub and MindGeek, alleging exploitation and monetization of CSEM, rape videos, trafficked content, stolen content and other nonconsensual content.

In a statement on that ruling, a Visa spokesperson said: “Visa condemns sex trafficking, sexual exploitation and child sexual abuse materials as repugnant to our values and purpose as a company. This pre-trial ruling is disappointing and mischaracterizes Visa’s role and its policies and practices. Visa will not tolerate the use of our network for illegal activity. We continue to believe that Visa is an improper defendant in this case.”

A rep for MindGeek provided this statement on the ruling: “At this point in the case, the court has not yet ruled on the veracity of the allegations, and is required to assume all of the plaintiff’s allegations are true and accurate. When the court can actually consider the facts, we are confident the plaintiff’s claims will be dismissed for lack of merit. MindGeek has zero tolerance for the posting of illegal content on its platforms, and has instituted the most comprehensive safeguards in user-generated platform history.”

The company’s statement continued, “We have banned uploads from anyone who has not submitted government-issued ID that passes third-party verification, eliminated the ability to download free content, integrated several leading technological platform and content moderation tools, instituted digital fingerprinting of all videos found to be in violation of our Non-Consensual Content and CSAM [child sexual abuse material] Policies to help protect against removed videos being reposted, expanded our moderation workforce and processes, and partnered with dozens of non-profit organizations around the world. Any insinuation that MindGeek does not take the elimination of illegal material seriously is categorically false.”

Note that MindGeek only banned unverified uploads and put stricter security measures in place more after a devastating December 2020 New York Times exposé detailed allegations that there were copious amounts of child abuse images and nonconsensual content on the site.

Related: Pornhub Allegedly Only Recently Started Reporting Child Abuse and Nonconsensual Content on the Site

There is reportedly no evidence to suggest MindGeek regularly reported child abuse images to the proper authorities before December 2020.

The litigation of Fleites’ case is the first application to date of Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO), child pornography and trafficking laws seeking to hold financial institutions accountable for illegal conduct monetized by and through the systems of companies whose payments they process.

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What is MindGeek and why is Visa involved with it?

As a bit of background on these events and developments, MindGeek owns and operates much of what is commonly understood to be the mainstream porn industry. The company is based in Montreal, but also has offices in various countries around the world.

Each web page of a MindGeek porn subsidiary hosts advertisements it reportedly profit from, so its business model thrives on the tube sites it either started or acquired allowing users to upload copious amounts of explicit content. Every individual video is hosted on a new page where more ads can be placed. This has proven to be problematic because there’s reason to believe MindGeek is de-incentivized to remove content and lose ad revenue and site visitors in the process.

Related: 50 “GirlsDoPorn” Trafficking Survivors Settle Lawsuit Against Pornhub’s Parent Company

From the Serena Fleites v. MindGeek S.A.R.L. et al. court document:

“MindGeek operates several free pornographic websites, including Pornhub, as well as other paid porn sites.MindGeek makes money from its free sites in multiple ways: by advertising its paid sites or its products on the free sites, by selling ad space on the free sites for the services or products of third parties, and by harvesting and selling the data of persons who use the free sites. MindGeek sells ad space through “TrafficJunky,” its advertising platform. Ad revenue earned through TrafficJunky accounts for over 50% of MindGeek’s revenue.

To reach their intended audience, advertisers can build campaigns around keywords like “13yearoldteen” and “not18”; indeed, they can even target ads to people searching the term “child rape” in Japanese. Like a billboard on Interstate 5 is more expensive in Los Angeles than the Grapevine, the price to advertise on MindGeek’s sites corresponds with the traffic on those sites: the higher the traffic, the pricier the ad space. Thus, MindGeek is incentivized to drive traffic.”

Related: Why Pornhub’s Account Verification Process Might Not Stop the Spread of Nonconsensual Content

Visa is involved in the case because it is a financial merchant for MindGeek, formerly allowing subscriptions to be purchased with Visa cards and now formerly allowing Visa cards to be used to purchase ad space on MindGeek sites.

Over the last few years, countless survivors of trafficking, abuse, exploitation, child trafficking, and revenge porn have alleged that videos of their violations have been prominently featured on MindGeek’s sites, including Pornhub. They have alleged that MindGeek’s sites, including Pornhub, have failed to monitor the sites for abusive content adequately and take it down when it was reported.

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The New York Times expose that sparked action

In December 2020, the New York Times published an investigative op-ed by Pulitzer prize-winning journalist Nicholas Kristof. In the piece, titled “The Children of Pornhub,” Kristof provides evidence and survivor stories that reveal just how Pornhub and MindGeek have allegedly profited from child exploitation and knowingly made it difficult or impossible for illicit content to be removed from the site even after reporting.

Related: MindGeek, Pornhub’s Parent Company, Sued for Reportedly Hosting Videos of Child Sex Trafficking

Watch/listen to our interview with Nicholas Kristof here:

In the fallout of that bombshell article, Visa, Mastercard, and Discover announced they would sever ties with Pornhub and stop processing direct payments to the site for things like buying subscriptions. In response, Pornhub removed 80% of the content on the site and put in place stricter upload requirements and security measures, seemingly for the first time ever. Visa reportedly still did not reinstate payment processing to Pornhub.

Prior to today, Visa allegedly never stopped processing payments from MindGeek’s advertising platform, TrafficJunky, that provides advertising across all of its sites. This was the case even though Visa was reportedly alerted to the alleged illicit content on MindGeek’s sites before December 2020.

Related: The New York Times Exposé That Helped Spark the Possible Beginning of the End of Pornhub

In the Serena Fleites v. MindGeek S.A.R.L. et al. case, Visa has argued that it is not responsible for controlling MindGeek’s illicit business actions and it wanted to be removed from the case. However, the very fact that Visa took action after the New York Times exposé and that pushed Pornhub to make significant changes to their business model proves that Visa had the influence to take action sooner to stop the monetization of child abuse content—and it didn’t.

While MindGeek is the main culprit of reportedly monetizing illicit content, Visa was reportedly their knowing accomplice. Visa seemingly took action only once the public’s eyes were on it—but it seems as though that action was mainly symbolic.

Related: 34 Trafficking and Abuse Survivors Sue Pornhub for Reportedly Profiting from Their Exploitation

From the court document: “It is simple: Visa made the decision to continue to recognize MindGeek as a merchant, despite its alleged knowledge that MindGeek monetized child porn, MindGeek made the decision to continue monetizing child porn, and there are enough facts pled to suggest that the latter decision depended on the former, at least judging from the fallout from the New York Times piece.”

The deterioration of Pornhub

Since December 2020, MindGeek has been more widely criticized by the public, dozens of survivors have filed lawsuits against the company, and it has also been investigated by the Canadian government.

To learn more about what has happened with Pornhub and MindGeek since December 2020, listen to our breakdown:

In June 2022, MindGeek CEO Feras Antoon and COO David Tassillo resigned after another scathing Pornhub exposé, this time by The New Yorker. The piece shared that Pornhub hosted sexually explicit nonconsensual videos including those with children, an additional public criticism of the company after December 2020’s New York Times scathing exposé. The Montreal, Quebec-based company also laid off an unknown number of employees after the piece.

As more and more people are made aware of the unthinkable exploitation that happens on most porn sites, they will come to understand how porn, exploitation, and sex trafficking are intrinsically tied together.

All of these events have been years in the making. Countless anti-exploitation advocates and survivors of trafficking, child abuse, and image-based abuse have worked tirelessly to expose the questionable business practices of the porn industry and the proliferation of nonconsensual content on porn sites.

It’s more important than ever to take a stand against exploitation and educate on the realities of the porn industry and porn’s harms to individuals, relationships, and society. What we’re seeing now is only the beginning of what is being uncovered.

Related: Real Rape Videos Reportedly Continually on World’s Most Popular Porn Site

To learn more about porn and exploitation, we invite you to read our research-based articles and survivor stories.

Sexual exploitation is not sexual entertainment, despite what too many porn sites may show.

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