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Visa, Mastercard Suspend Ad Pornhub Payments Amid Lawsuit

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Visa and Mastercard, two of the world’s largest payment processors, said Thursday that they will suspend payments for ad purchases on Pornhub. The move comes on the heels of a judge allowing a lawsuit to proceed that accuses Visa of knowingly facilitating the spread of child pornography, also known as child sexual abuse material (CSAM).

A federal judge denied Visa’s motion to dismiss last week, allowing the case to move forward against the payment processor for alleged involvement in a “criminal agreement” to profit off the videos. In a statement released Thursday, Visa CEO Alfred Kelly said that, while the company strongly disagreed with the court’s ruling it had created “new uncertainty” around the role of TrafficJunky, MindGeek’s advertising arm. (MindGeek is Pornhub’s parent company). Citing that uncertainty, Kelly said Visa would suspend any relationship with TraficJunky until further notice. That means customers will no longer be able to use Visa cards to purchase advertising on MindGeek sites, which includes Pornhub, for the duration of the suspension. Visa’s decision came just two days after Bill Ackman, an influential hedge fund manager, called on the credit card company to pressure Pornhub to remove CSAM content.

It is Visa’s policy to follow the law of every country in which we do business. We do not make moral judgments on legal purchases made by consumers, and we respect the rightful role of lawmakers to make decisions about what is legal and what is not,” the CEO said. “Accordingly, Visa can be used only at MindGeek studio sites that feature adult professional actors in legal adult entertainment.”

In a statement sent to Gizmodo, a MindGeek said that none of its platforms, including Pornhub, have ever tolerated CSAM or other illicit material.

“Despite today’s suspension of payment acceptance for our advertising platform, we are extremely confident in our policies and the fact that we have instituted trust and safety measures that far surpass those of any other major platform on the internet,” the company’s statement reads..

MindGeek went on to describe the recent allegation accusing the company of knowingly allowing and monetizing off CSAM material on its platform as “reckless,” and “false.”

“The fight against CSAM on the internet must be led by facts and statistics,” MindGeek said. “The reality is that MindGeek has enacted the most comprehensive safeguards in user-generated platform history.” The company cited its policies as evidence: banning uploads from anyone who does not submit verified government-issued ID, eliminating downloads of free content, and digital fingerprinting of all videos found to be in violation of CSAM Policies.

In some cases, MindGeek claimed, these accusations are being lodged by entities trying to shut down the entire adult entertainment industry. Gizmodo could not confirm these claims.

“At this point in the lawsuit, the court has not yet ruled on the veracity of any allegations, and is required to assume all of the plaintiff’s allegations are true and accurate. When the court can actually consider the facts, we are confident the plaintiff’s claims will be dismissed for lack of merit.”

In his statement, Visa’s Kelly forcefully condemned CSAM and sexual exploitation broadly, saying Visa’s rules “explicitly and unequivocally” prohibit the use of its products to pay for content involving exploitation and non-consensual sex.

“Let me be clear: Visa condemns sex trafficking, sexual exploitation, and child sexual abuse,” Kelly said. “It is illegal, and Visa does not permit the use of our network for illegal activity.”

Not long after Kelly’s statement, Mastercard sent a statement to Gizmodo saying it was directing financial institutions to suspend acceptance of its products at TrafficJunky, MindGeeks’s advertising arm.

“New facts from last week’s court ruling made us aware of advertising revenue outside of our view that appears to provide Pornhub with indirect funding,” Mastercard said. “This step will further enforce our December 2020 decision to terminate the use of our products on that site.”

The suspension and the ensuing court case revolve around a lawsuit lodged against Visa in California by a woman named Serena Fleites. The lawsuit claims Fleites’ then-boyfriend uploaded an illicit video of her to Porhub when she was 13-years-old that was viewed millions of times. Fleites provides more details of her story in this 2020 New York Times column. She is one of only 34 other women with similar stories being represented in the lawsuit.

In his ruling last week, US District Judge Cormac Carney said the court can “comfortably infer that Visa intended to help MindGeek monetize child porn.”

“Visa’s agreement to financially benefit from child porn can be inferred from its decision to continue to recognize MindGeek as a merchant despite allegedly knowing that MindGeek monetized a substantial amount of child porn on its websites,” Carney wrote.

Update 9:00 PM: Added statements from MindGeek and Mastercard.

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