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Pornhub walls off Utah in age-verification law protest

Dare we say that's a master stroke

Smut surfers in Utah are facing disappointment if attempting to visit Pornhub lately. Rather than their planned, er, viewing, they're instead greeted with a video informing them all access to the site has been blocked within their state.

In that safe-for-work video, shown to all Pornhub visitors with a Utah IP address, Cherie DeVille – an adult performer, natch, and member of the Adult Performer Advocacy Committee – apologizes for the blockade but insists access to the world's 13th most popular website has to be restricted as a result of legislation about to kick in.

Pornhub made the move in response to Utah's Online Pornography Viewing Age Requirements bill, which was signed into law on March 14 with an activation date of May 3. The bill "creates obligations and liabilities for a commercial entity that provides pornography or other materials harmful to minors" by requiring them to verify the age of visitors on pain of monetary penalty.  

DeVille said demanding a valid ID card from every visitor in the western US state to Pornhub's empire of X-rated websites to check their age is over 18 is unworkable, and could actually be a disturbing privacy risk. 

"As we've seen in other states, this just drives traffic to sites with far fewer safety measures in place," DeVille said. "The best and most effective solution for protecting children and adults alike is to identify users by their device and allow access to age restricted materials and websites based on that identification," she continued. 

"Until a real solution is offered we've made the difficult decision to completely disable access to our website in your region. Please contact your representatives and demand device-based verification solutions that make the internet safer while also respecting your privacy."

For those surprised Pornhub is opting to block the entire state of Utah (where the most popular Pornhub search term is, unsurprisingly, Mormon) and not opting to ID users – as was the case in Louisiana when that state passed a similar law this year – a Pornhub spokesperson told us the situations in the two states are different.

While both Louisiana and Utah have state digital ID wallets, Utah's doesn't allow online use: it's only for identification purposes at physical points of sale, while Louisiana allows theirs to verify identity on websites like Pornhub. Regardless, Pornhub said its traffic in Louisiana has dropped by 80 percent since that state's ID law went into effect in January. 

Where have those visitors gone? Pornhub said it believes they're likely visiting other smut websites that haven't made moves to comply with Louisiana's law. There's also the matter of handing over personal identifiable information to one of the last places most people want it looked out: an adult website. The blackmail possibilities are seemingly endless, and so netizens will gravitate to websites that don't collect that kinda info.

Both Utah and Louisiana's laws include provisions barring the storage of PII by adult website operators, with the Electronic Frontier Foundation's associate director of digital strategy Jason Kelley warning netizens can't be certain that their personal info isn't being held onto in some way.

"Users don't have a lot of guarantees that it will happen and the data will be removed or deleted and [won't be] shared or used in other ways," Kelley said in January.

Similar concerns exist in the UK, where the Online Safety Bill has proposed similar requirements on website operators who expose children to content the law deems "harmful." Wikipedia has refused to age gate any of its services, and encrypted messaging apps like Signal have said they'll shut down in the UK if the OSB is passed. ®

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