The irony of Indiana's Pornhub block: safeguarding kids or invading privacy?

Is age verification on adult sites and linking any form of content to digital IDs the most significant challenge the online world has ever known?

This month, Pornhub will cease operating in Indiana, following its recent shutdown in Texas and prior blocks in Arkansas, Mississippi, North Carolina, Montana, Utah, and Virginia, all in response to a wave of state legislation mirroring Louisiana's law enacted last year.

The Internet once celebrated anonymity with the famous cartoon "On the Internet, nobody knows you're a dog," but now many fear it’s evolving into a future of age restrictions, digital IDs, and the ironic promise of removing your anonymity online for the greater good.

On the Internet, nobody knows you're a dog

Fears stem from the fact that authoritarian control has traditionally been packaged and sold as necessary for safety and protection, preying on the fears and concerns of people for security.

Whether it be age restrictions, digital IDs to view porn online, or using the magnification of hate speech online, it's often marketed as justification for removing anonymity for your protection.

However, this approach raises significant privacy concerns and could stifle free expression, as it assumes all users must sacrifice their anonymity to address the actions of a malicious few or to protect children.

Who would argue with that? The familiar rhetoric makes invasive policies sound like public interest, but with enormous personal freedom and privacy costs being played down, the big question is how far do we go in keeping our children safe online?

Indiana vs. Pornhub: the battle over age verification and privacy

The debate around age verification and privacy has been gaining momentum in Indiana with news that users of porn websites will need to verify their age with government-issued identification.

Under the law passed in March by Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb and set to go into effect July 1, it is seen as the best way of preventing children from accessing explicit material online.

Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita says the law is worth defending compared to asking for an ID at a physical adult store.

However, Pornhub's parent company, Aylo, has filed a lawsuit arguing that the law infringes on free speech and constitutional rights.

The company contends that while it supports age verification in principle, the extensive personal information required by the state poses significant privacy risks.

In response, Aylo announced it would block access to Pornhub in Indiana starting June 28th, highlighting the potential shift of users to less regulated and more dangerous corners of the Internet.

It's ironic that Indiana is pushing for stringent age verification to access porn, considering that just last year, Indiana University suffered a data breach exposing sensitive student information, highlighting the state's struggles with safeguarding personal data.

As the legal battle unfolds, the implications of this law on internet freedom, privacy, and safety continue to reverberate far beyond Indiana's borders.

The case of Indiana and Pornhub: a turning point?

Indiana, while not the largest market for Pornhub, represents a significant user base, and the blocking is seen as a precedent for other states considering similar measures.

Pornhub's parent company, Aylo, supports age verification in principle but has criticized the current laws as "ineffective, haphazard, and dangerous."

Pornhub’s stance is backed by its experience in Louisiana, where implementing ID-based age verification led to an 80% drop in traffic. This statistic underscores a critical issue: while the intent is to protect minors, the execution is flawed.

We can all agree that children should not be able to access adult content online. However, the inconvenient truth is that tech-savvy minors already use VPNs to bypass geographical restrictions when streaming gaming content, which renders the new protective measures ineffective.

When protection becomes invasion: examining Indiana's age verification and privacy concerns

Breaking news, every click online is tracked, and yes, even entering the infamous "Porn Mode" via incognito mode will leave a trail of digital breadcrumbs.

But imagine if this data was attached to an official digital ID. For this reason alone, adults required to use age verification or present their ID to access adult content might be uncomfortable with the government accessing their private browsing habits.

Like the infamous Ashley Madison leak, the potential for data breaches is a genuine concern.

Rather than clicking agree to any new terms and conditions, users should ask who protects this data, who can access it, and what the consequences will be in the inevitable event of a data breach.

These questions are critical to understanding the broader privacy and security implications under Indiana's new age verification law.

Imagine a scenario where anyone could check online to see what their neighbors have been viewing and their hidden kinks.

This invasion of privacy not only undermines trust in digital security but also raises ethical questions about the extent of governmental oversight.

Digital ID requirements for accessing adult content could also mark the beginning of a fragmented and controlled internet, as other sites and subjects may soon be added to the digital ID list.

This would enable increased monitoring of who is accessing various types of content and erode the concept of a free and open web.

VPNs and the illusion of control

Users are already reacting to these latest restrictions by using VPNs (Virtual Private Networks) to bypass the laws and unblock Pornhub in Indiana.

This quick workaround highlights the limitations of these regulations. The reality is it's easy to circumvent geographic restrictions because VPNs allow users to mask their location, which raises the question of whether these laws really do what they are supposed to do or if they just hassle users.

While others warn that this is the beginning of the criminalization of the use of VPNs.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation has been highly critical of such age verification laws, labeling them "surveillance systems" that would give rise to fewer user privacy protections.

In the view of EFF, these kinds of projects come with risks of data misuse or theft, which would spur the Internet toward a model of private data collection and selling by default.

This perspective is crucial in understanding the broader implications of these laws beyond their immediate impact on adult content.

Critics also argue that starting with age restrictions for adult content sets a dangerous precedent. Once such exceptions are made, it's easier to justify further controls on other types of content, gradually eroding internet freedom.

This slippery slope argument suggests that what begins as a measure to protect children could evolve into widespread censorship, affecting diverse forms of expression and information.

Pornhub ban map
By Cybernews

The impact on LGBTQ+ content

Another worrying aspect of such legislation is its bearing on LGBTQ+ content.

Historically, sweeping anti-porn policies have been used to marginalize LGBTQ+ communities further—platforms banning content as a way to protect children.

This trend is already resurfacing in increased scrutiny and bans against LGBTQ+ content creators.

Beyond the immediate users and content creators themselves, there are ways in which these restrictions affect the economy at large.

Adult entertainment is one of the biggest drivers of Internet economics, and any regulation imposed upon it involves many players.

Innovative businesses that rely on a free and open Internet fear such laws might stifle innovation and economic growth by shifting the Internet to a more centralized model with even more control exerted over it.

Though these state legislatures continue to stack up, there is still some hope among opponents that they can be challenged in court and overturned.

Leading that battle forward are digital rights proponents such as the EFF and Fight for the Future. They quantify the actions of members of the public to engage lawmakers and stop potentially harmful bills from becoming law.

As we navigate these turbulent times, the challenge lies in balancing the protection of vulnerable populations with the preservation of internet freedom.

Age restrictions via a digital ID on adult entertainment sites are a microcosm of more significant issues concerning privacy, censorship, and the future of the Internet.

While these laws aim to protect children, their execution and broader implications warrant a careful and critical examination.

Are we witnessing the early death of the Internet as we know it, or can we strike a balance that respects safety and freedom?

This question remains at the heart of the debate, inviting users, policymakers, and advocates to engage in a dialogue that shapes the future of our digital world.