Porn and Privacy

According to the the EFF, a recent report states that US agencies have been monitoring the porn usage of foreign religious extremists for the purpose of discrediting them to their followers. From what I have read, the targeting was legal, but the information was ultimately not used.

This type of monitoring, if directed at Americans without a court order, would likely violate the First Amendment’s implicit right to send and receive anonymous communications on controversial or embarrassing topics, as argued in the case against the overturned COPA law (mandatory adult-verification), although of course this would be cold comfort to non-US persons.

That being said, I think the biggest threat to privacy for most people is tracking by advertisers and marketing research companies, such as Google and its subsidiaries. A few simple measures can protect users from most corporate spying, as described in this article. Ironically, alternative search engines generally block adult content by default, so they require some manual adjustment to be useful.

I would add that Internet Explorer 9 and up allows for use of Tracking Protection Lists, which can be easily installed with a few clicks. The privacy-conscious alternative browser QupZilla already has ad and tracker blocking built-in, requiring only that users check a box to subscribe to the appropriate filter lists.

Using alternative search engines for sensitive inquiries and blocking third-party trackers will help all users maintain more privacy, no matter where they live or what kind of porn they like 🙂

Microsoft’s Weird Attack on Google’s Privacy Policy

Microsoft has recently been waging a PR war against Google’s privacy policies, describing its search competitor as “Scroogled.” The campaign recently took a turn for the weird as Microsoft has issued a line of clothing and coffee cups featuring the Google logo, accompanied by snide comments about privacy. See below for an example:

Microsoft coffee cup

Microsoft “Scroogled” coffee cup

While Microsoft’s Bing search engine has a slightly more consumer-friendly privacy policy than Google, both companies (as well as Yahoo, Startpage, and others) continue to censor adult content by default, potentially harming mature-content sites that depend heavily on SEO for new visitors. I think that content filtering, like user tracking, should be opt-in, rather than opt-out, but there are no signs on the horizon of any such trend to respect consumer choice for now.

Porn Company Offers to Fix Healthcare Website

CNBC’s Jane Wells reports that adult-video company Pornhub has offered to fix the famously troubled U.S. Government health insurance website, healthcare.gov. Predictably, the administration’s representative rejected the offer, no doubt horrified at the suggestion that online porn exists.

Unfortunately for puritanically minded folks, the desire for adult content did drive much of the technological innovation on the Web*, from high-quality photo and video compression algorithms to the widespread adoption of broadband Internet service. During the years following the burst of the 1999-2000 “dot-com bubble,” adult websites remained profitable and were often the only employment option for IT talent.

Of course, Pornhub’s offer was probably somewhat facetious, but it’s a shame that American governmental leaders still feel that they have to pretend that porn doesn’t exist, isn’t economically important, or that Americans don’t watch it.

*Note this curiously worded quote from the Next Web article:

“a 2004 Nielsen/NetRatings study found pornography (along with online music sharing) to be one of the biggest factors behind broadband penetration [sic] in Europe.”

US Senator Offers Bill to Protect Online Consumers

US Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) has introduced a bill, the “Consumer Choice in Online Video Act,” to better protect the rights of people who use Internet services. This bill would address many of the concerns raised by proponents of “net neutrality.” Specifically, the measure would:

  • Prevent ISPs from throttling or degrading the speed or quality of online video
  • Require that ISP usage-based caps be certified by the FCC for accuracy
  • Require that ISPs disclose to consumers the true price of Internet access, including modem rental fees and other hidden charges

Based on what I have read, I believe the bill would help alleviate the potential harm to consumers if the current (albeit weak) FCC net neutrality rules are dismissed by the courts, as some observers fear will soon happen. I would encourage American voters to contact their members of Congress to support Sen. Rockafeller’s proposed bill.

 

Leaked Draft of Secret Copyright Proposal: Worse Than ACTA

Ars Technica reports that a leaked recent draft of intellectual property laws proposed in the upcoming Trans-Pacific Partnership trade treaty shows that the measures are much worse for consumers than those in the final draft of the controversial “ACTA” treaty, which was voted down by 92% of the European Parliament in 2012 and has not yet been ratified in the US or other English-speaking countries

The TPP measures, which would apply to Canada, Australia, and New Zealand as well as the US, would require ISPs, rather than rights holders, to monitor postings for potential copyright infringement. It would also impose a “six-strikes” warning scheme, with a penalty of disconnection, on those accused or suspected of infringement. Current six-strikes measures in the US require payment of fees to challenge penalties or try to prove one’s innocence. These anti-consumer proposals, not surprisingly, are supported by mainstream entertainment-industry groups such as the MPAA.

Let us hope that the final version of this treaty, if enacted, will respect current concepts of “fair use” (or “fair dealing” outside the US) and protect consumer privacy, while still affording protections for copyright holders in cases of improper use.

Female Pleasure More Than Just Orgasms

In news that many women already know, NBC News’ Brian Alexander takes to task a recent study showing that women often fail to achieve orgasms during one-time sexual encounters. He points to other research showing that women can experience sexual satisfaction without necessarily having an orgasm. One may reasonably conclude that because female orgasm is not technically necessary for human reproduction as male orgasm is, females’ capability to have orgasms did not evolve as fully as it did in males.

Researchers have proposed a number of scales to measure sexual satisfaction, taking into account the physiological gender differences in orgasm capacity. While studies have shown that alcohol use often leads to spontaneous but unsatisfying sexual encounters in women, and that use of birth control pills can inhibit sex drive, sexual pleasure, and frequency of womens’ orgasms, the totality of sexual pleasure, like the definition of “normal” sexual preferences, remains difficult to quantify.

Petition Effort for Mandatory US Porn Filters

Inspired by David Cameron’s unpopular UK Internet filtering measure, an anonymous US activist recently started a petition on whitehouse.gov calling for mandatory ISP-level blocking of adult content unless an Internet customer specifically requests to allow it. At this time, filtering which is voluntarily imposed by an ISP would probably be legal under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, although the constitutionality of a government-imposed mandate would be less clear, as the Supreme Court has issued mixed signals in other filtering cases (COPA and CIPA).

The petitioner claims that adult sites advertise heavily through e-mail campaigns and Internet search engine results, although all major US e-mail providers already filter spam and all major search engines (Google, Bing, Yahoo, and even Startpage) already block adult content by default. ISP-level porn filtering would not be likely to reduce spam e-mail or to further limit the sight of occasional adult content in search results, although it would subject adult Internet users to the annoyance and potential embarrassment of having to opt in to actually visit web pages featuring mature content.

Mashable.com, which reported the story, says that the effort is showing poor results and is likely to fail, but Internet consumers should nevertheless remain vigilant against new or innovative attempts to censor content on the false pretexts of protecting minors or reducing sexual assaults.

Criminalizing “Revenge Porn”: Good Intentions, Unintended Consequences?

California recently passed a law criminalizing so-called “revenge porn,” which usually consists of explicit photos of a former lover posted online without consent and meant to intimidate or harass the subject. Personally, I support the final version of the law as it was passed, because I believe that it only criminalizes conduct that is already actionable under civil tort law. However, Wired Magazine’s Sarah Jeong cautions that creating a new category of criminal laws to regulate speech may cause more problems than it was meant to solve.

One major concern that Jeong points out is that some proponents of these laws consider “revenge porn” to be not a privacy issue but rather a feminist issue, cheering the new law as a measure against “gendered violence.” Considering that anti-porn feminists already regard virtually all sexual depictions involving a female as “violence against women,” this characterization should raise concerns about its proponents’ true intentions, given their history of trying to criminalize sexually oriented speech in general.