Pornhub prepared to block Florida if child safety law takes effect

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Pornhub prepared to block Florida if child safety law takes effect

“Ill-conceived” —

Florida plans to start requiring ID for porn January 1.


Pornhub prepared to block Florida if child safety law takes effect

Aurich Lawson | Getty Images

This week, Florida made headlines after passing HB 3, a law banning children under 14 from accessing social media without parental consent.

Much less attention was given to another requirement under the law obligating “pornographic or sexually explicit websites” to “use age verification to prevent minors from accessing sites that are inappropriate for children,” as Republican Florida Governor Ron DeSantis explained the law in a statement.

But Pornhub’s parent company, Aylo, has taken notice, with a spokesperson confirming to Ars that “we are aware of the passage into law of HB 3 in Florida, which unfortunately fails to protect minors online.”

“To be clear, we agree on the goal of keeping minors away from such content,” Aylo’s spokesperson told Ars. “We do not want minors to have access to adult entertainment content designed for adults.”

However, Aylo views Florida requiring adult sites to verify ages by checking users’ IDs as being just as problematic as efforts in states like Louisiana, Texas, Mississippi, Utah, and Virginia. Aylo argues that these laws don’t stop anyone from accessing porn without ID but instead push the majority of users to seek out non-compliant adult sites that don’t ask for ID. In Louisiana, for example, Pornhub traffic dropped by 80 percent after the site began requiring ID.

“These people did not stop looking for porn,” Aylo’s spokesperson said. “They just migrated to darker corners of the Internet that don’t ask users to verify age, that don’t follow the law, that don’t take user safety seriously, and that often don’t even moderate content. In practice, the laws have just made the Internet more dangerous for adults and children.”

Laws requiring ID for age verification may also be ineffective because users can use VPN services to appear as if they’re logging in to adult sites from a state that does not require ID. Most recently, Google searches for “VPN” in Texas nearly quadrupled after Texas began requiring ID, according to Google Trends, and that higher interest has been sustained in the weeks since.

“Unfortunately, the way Florida and many jurisdictions worldwide have chosen to implement age verification is ineffective, haphazard, and dangerous,” Aylo’s spokesperson told Ars. “Any regulations that require hundreds of thousands of adult sites and all social media to collect significant amounts of highly sensitive personal information is violating the privacy rights of law-abiding citizens and putting user safety in jeopardy.”

Aylo is instead pushing state lawmakers to adopt device-based age verification, which it said is “easy to implement while protecting privacy and safety of adults and minors alike.” Rather than requiring ID from every user, this method relies on devices’ parental control features to prevent minors from accessing adult content.

Aylo expects that states adopting device-based age verification would go beyond restricting minors’ access to porn by also keeping kids from accessing all kinds of content online not considered age-appropriate.

“Device or operating system manufacturers can enable such features by default and require age verification to disable them,” Aylo’s spokesperson told Ars. “We know that preventing minors from accessing age-inappropriate content is an issue that spans across online business models like social media, gaming, online dating etc.—we see a real global solution in device-based verification.”

To protest laws requiring ID, Aylo has taken the drastic step of blocking users from accessing Pornhub in several states, and Florida could be next if the law actually takes effect on January 1.

“It is our hope that before this ill-conceived and poorly crafted law goes into effect, the government will recognize the ineffectiveness of similar copycat laws in other states, such as Texas and several others before that,” Aylo’s spokesperson told Ars.

While some lawmakers, like Republican Utah State Senator Todd Weiler, were shocked by Pornhub’s decision to pull out of the state, other officials, like Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, expressed indifference, saying “good riddance.” Rather than weigh Pornhub’s recommendations, Paxton described Pornhub as “on the run,” sued other porn sites, and promised to “aggressively enforce” Texas’ law.

Florida is already bracing for lawsuits over the child safety law from critics alleging that HB 3 is unconstitutional, restricting young people’s access to information and threatening protected speech.

But Pornhub’s battle in Texas shows how hard both sides are willing to fight to either uphold or defeat age verification laws. The Texas battle initially resulted in a temporary injunction before the Fifth Circuit reversed a lower court’s decision that Texas’ law was unconstitutional. Internet law expert Eric Goldman criticized the Fifth Circuit’s opinion as cherry-picking “Supreme Court precedent to embrace or disregard as it sees fit,” expecting that the case would be appealed to the Supreme Court.

Aylo’s spokesperson told Ars that Aylo hopes to continue working with state lawmakers on adapting laws to allow for device-based age verification.

DeSantis’ office did not immediately respond to Ars’ request to comment.

“Any legislatively mandated solution must accomplish this goal of protecting minors online,” Aylo’s spokesperson told Ars. “We will always comply with the law, but we hope that governments will implement laws that protect the safety and security of users.”

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