Press / Why We’re Still Opposing the Digital Economy Act

In April, the United Kingdom began the process of implementing the 2017 Digital Economy Act, a wide-ranging act that will require porn fans in the UK to register in a special database if they want to access sites like xHamster.

The Digital Economy Act has a laudable goal — to prevent minors from accessing adult content. Unfortunately, the way they are doing it puts millions of adult visitors at risk of shame, embarrassment and real harm.

The Digital Economy Act requires all adult sites in the UK to verify a visitor’s age before allowing them to access an adult site. The government is still figuring out how this would work, but most agree that it requires a massive database of “approved” visitors — that is, a list of people who have requested access to adult sites.

Would you want your name on that database? Would you trust a government to keep it private and secure? That database would have to be accessible to tens of thousands of adult sites, each of whom would have to ping it each time you visited them.

Adult sites might also keep a log of your visits, since under the law they must be able to prove no visit to the site belonged to a minor. (The penalty for violating the law includes a £250K fine, and a total ban of the site, so the stakes are quite high.)

Can you imagine the value of that kind of private data? We’ve see databases get hacked all too frequently, and a massive database with information about your porn habits is ripe for abuse, from public shaming to blackmail.

The law targets our most vulnerable populations. Lots of xHamster users are proud of the porn they watch, but not everyone has that luxury. Women, for instance, face societal shame for liking sex, let alone porn. LGBTQ users likewise, face huge consequences for exposure

Those in conservative religious communities would face excommunication, exclusion or other punishments. There are also huge occupational risks for teachers, priests, government officials and other public figures. And let’s not forget, when the Ashley Madison database was hacked, it broke up relationships and families.

And that’s all assuming the government itself isn’t using the information. There’s a reason the Digital Economy Act was originally nicknamed the Snooper’s Charter. Could your presence on the registry be used against you in court case? Immigration applications? Custody battles? The possibilities should terrify you.

They terrify us. That’s why has dedicated itself to becoming the leader in secure and private porn browsing. We fought the Digital Economy Act, and we were one of the first adult sites to switch to the secure HTTPS protocol. We’ve backed software and tools that help xHamster visitors minimize exposures. Every day, we see citizens using VPNs, Tor browsers and other extreme web proxies to avoid detection in repressive regimes like Iran, Saudi Arabia and China which ban adult content. We’d hate to have to see Britons join that list.

Countries that censor adult content routinely use the same mechanisms to censor other information as well, from sexual health and wellness to political speech. We were not shocked, for example, when the US state of Utah declared internet porn a public health crisis, and subsequently voted down sex ed in schools. We fought that, too.

We call for adult sites to speak out against the Digital Economy Act, so many of us did against net neutrality. We also call on mainstream companies, like Twitter and Tumblr, which will also be affected by the legislation, to do so as well. The law may have been rammed through,

but he mechanism has not yet been decided.

We owe it to our users to protect their privacy, and we owe it to our future to keep the internet free.

Alex Hawkins

Vice President, xHamster

[email protected]