Computers, Privacy & the Constitution

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The Right of the People to be Secure in their Pornography

-- By AmandaFerber - 22 Mar 2017

Once Upon a Time...

In the 1970s (also known as the Golden Age of Porn), people watched pornographic films in "public" places, such as adult movie theaters, sex shop movie booths, and adult video arcades. In the 1980s, pornographic movies became widely available on video cassette and the adult film industry experienced a massive boon, as people were able to enjoy movies from the privacy of their homes. Within ten years, there would be yet another new source for viewing pornography from the comfort of one's own home . . . pornography consumption has once again increased dramatically with the widespread availability of personal internet. But while many believe that they have hit the porn jackpot, a whole new host of privacy-related problems have come along to complicate the matter.

Porn in the Digital Age

In the year 2017, it is common knowledge that where there is an internet connection, porn is inevitable. But people do not realize that their porn preferences and views are far from private. Most people think that as long as they view online porn using incognito or private browser modes, and they are careful to keep any "anonymous" accounts secret, then no one will ever know how much and what kind of porn they enjoy.

And so people spend a lot of their time viewing internet porn. For example, the average user spends 16:35 minutes per day on the porn site Chaturbate, which also receives 11.52 daily unique pageviews per visitor (compared with Google's 8:43 minutes and 8.59 pageviews). In 2016 alone, the popular adult website, had 91,980,225,000 videos viewed, with 23 billion total visits (and 64 million visits per day). In Pornhub's annual year-in-review, the website broke down its clientele, not only by nationality, gender, and age, but also by what kind of device the viewer used. Pornhub also shared data compiled about the most popular phrases searched. This alone exemplifies that there may be some cause for concern as to what extent these websites are providing any privacy protection. But the reality is actually much worse.

Mass Commercial Surveillance and Vulnerabilities

While incognito mode may prevent family members from viewing her porn history, these modes do not prohibit "all cross-serving tracking mechanisms." Incognito browsing is still stored by the internet service provider, which can monitor every webpage and search. In fact, most porn sites (88% of the top 500) install tracking elements that transmit data to third-parties and ad services. The tracking information can include everything from the URL of the site, how many clicks a visitor makes on the site, and how long the person spend on the site. Data brokers and tracker websites can then potentially build a profile of the porn you watch, especially since many porn sites make the nature of the film explicit in the URL. This could lead to "enormous misuses of that data, from lost job opportunities to lowered credit scores and credit limits." Additionally, most of these websites (including 8 out of the top 11) do not use the HTTPS secure web protocol, leaving users vulnerable to hackers, malware, and other surveillance vulnerabilities.

Mass Government Surveillance

Unfortunately, we have already had a preview as to how the US government may utilize porn-viewing preferences to damage a person's reputation. In 2013, the Edward Snowden leaks revealed that the NSA had focused on gathering records of visits to adult websites by six Muslim targets who the agency believed were radicalizing others. The NSA hoped to find damaging evidence that would harm the reputations of these six men, including one U.S. person. Notably, the NSA identified these targets as "exemplars" of how such electronic surveillance can be used...a dangerous precedent and a throwback to the days of J. Edgar Hoover. The NSA easily obtains its data from private companies. Additionally, firms such as the NSO Group make millions of dollars selling mobile hacking solutions to governments and intelligence agencies.

Is There a Solution?

We Need Government Regulation

Back when porn was still viewed via video cassette, Congress passed the Video Privacy Protection Act of 1988 after the Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork's video rental records were printed in a newspaper. Per the Electronic Privacy Information Center, it is "one of the strongest protections of consumer privacy against specific form of data collection." We may not need quite such a specific law, especially in light of ever-changing technological innovations. But the U.S. is in dire need of some kind of a federal privacy policy, and not just to protect privacy concerning porn predilections. All of our online activity should be afforded the right to private. But perhaps if members of Congress were truly aware that their own porn-surfing tendencies were at risk of being revealed, they might be inspired to take action....Just as they took action after Bork's video rental records were revealed.

How to Protect Your Privacy in the Meantime

Considering that Congress is currently on the wrong track in regards to online privacy, here are some easy steps to keep your porn viewing more private. These are good practices to keep for ALL internet activity.

Try to visit only adult websites that use HTTPS. Use a Tor browser that can encrypt and scramble your data. VPN services are also effective. Ideally, use a personal web server. Avoid accessing adult websites from your mobile phone (notably, in 2016, on Pornhub alone, U.S. mobile use was 70%). Do not access porn via public wifi connections. Do not watch porn while at work. Do not visit any adult websites while logged into Facebook; if the website has a Facebook plug-in button, that button will track your porn activity. Configure your browser to delete cookies every time you close it (and remember to close your browser). And if all else fails, Playboy magazine recently brought back nude photo's. Better safe than sorry.

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Revision 1r1 - 22 Mar 2017 - 12:01:22 - AmandaFerber
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