Privacy Seminar

  • Special Faculty Instructor
  • Privacy Engineering Program, Institute for Software Research
  • Carnegie Mellon University

Privacy Implications of Online Pornography Consumption

In 2017, Pornhub, world's the largest pornography website, received 28.5 billion visits, with users performing 50,000 searches per second on the site. A 2017 report indicated porn sites get more visitors each month than Netflix, Amazon, and Twitter combined, and that ‘30% of all the data transferred across the internet is porn’ with YouPorn using six times more bandwidth than Hulu. While there is much scholarly attention on internet use and privacy in general, there has been less research on the specific privacy implications of online pornography consumption despite the unique threats to personal safety and autonomy arising from the societal policing of gender and sexuality.

 In this talk, I will present the largest privacy-focused study of pornography websites conducted to date.  Analysis of third-party tracking, privacy policies, and URL content of over 22,000 pornography websites demonstrates that consumers of online pornography have their behavior monitored by an array of third-parties, such parties are rarely disclosed in privacy policies, and specific sexual interests and orientations may be deduced from URL strings alone.  These findings have three core implications: 1) privacy on pornography websites presents distinct risks, meriting special attention, 2) targeting of individuals based on inferred sexual interests may disproportionally impact vulnerable populations, and 3) emphasis on affirmative consent norms in interpersonal sexual encounters may be instructive in appraising the legitimacy of "opt-out" consent norms online.

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