Pornhub accused of illegal data collection in Europe

A complaint against Pornhub has been filed in Italy, alleging that the platform collects and shares information about users’ sexual preferences with unknown third parties.

The complaint, filed with the Italian data protection authority on Thursday (June 29th), says Pornhub violates the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) by illegally processing users’ personal data and sharing it with unidentified third parties.

“Platforms like Pornhub are hoarding information about everybody’s sexual orientation and trading it with business partners for a profit,” said Alessandro Polidoro, lead attorney of the litigation brought forward by activist group StopDataPorn.

“They are capable of creating ‘lists’ naming who is gay and who is not, for instance, also knowing intimate secrets and kinks that people would not share even with their closest friends,” he said.

“Unlawful profiling”

The complaint states that Pornhub does not ask for consent when processing users’ personal data, despite being obliged to do so under GDPR rules. It says that trackers employed by the platform are “virtually impossible” to remove and are designed to bypass any form of opt-out.

According to the complaint, Pornhub shares user information with an “unclear number” of undisclosed third parties both externally and within the corporate conglomerate of its Canadian owner MindGeek, which it says is also forbidden by the GDPR.

The suit claims that Pornhub engages in “unlawful profiling” of its users by feeding their data to a recommender system that “unilaterally assigns sexual preferences to each individual without their knowledge” for financial gain.

Pornhub's parent company MindGeek said it would not comment on ongoing litigation. "We will respond through the appropriate process in time," it said in a statement shared with Cybernews, adding that it is "committed" to protecting user privacy.

In addition to Pornhub, MindGeek owns a number of other popular pornography websites and production companies. It has been recently acquired by Ethical Capital Partners, a Canadian private equity firm.

“Abusive” algorithm

StopDataPorn formally informed the Italian authorities of Pornhub’s alleged malpractice last year, in addition to filing an official complaint in Cyprus, where the company’s legal seat is located.

The complaints are based on research carried out by Tracking Exposed, a digital rights group that used digital forensics tools to interfere with Pornhub’s recommender system and published its findings in a peer-reviewed paper.

“Our analysis was done through scraping, a technique often stigmatized by corporations, but which remains the most effective method to collect digital evidence,” said Claudio Agosti, founder of Tracking Exposed.

Pornhub’s “abusive and influential recommendation algorithm has never been properly scrutinized, despite being one of the most popular websites on the internet,” Agosti said.

According to Similarweb, a web tracker, Pornhub was the 12th most visited website in the world in May, the latest available data, and the second most visited adult website, with users spending 7 minutes and 40 seconds on the site on average.

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