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Crime Stoppers International joins forces with Pornhub owners

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Pornhub’s parent company and its Ottawa-based ownership group are joining forces with Crime Stoppers International in an attempt to better police the world’s largest adult entertainment site.

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Pornhub’s parent company and its Ottawa-based ownership group are joining forces with Crime Stoppers International in an attempt to better police the world’s largest adult entertainment site.

Crime Stoppers International has entered into a “working relationship” with Aylo, the renamed parent company of Pornhub, to provide internet tipsters with an anonymous place to report suspect material, to review Aylo’s phalanx of online trust and safety measures, and to share the company’s technology with its police partners.

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Crime Stoppers International CEO Shane Britten was in Ottawa last week to meet with officials from Ethical Capital Partners, the private equity firm that bought Pornhub’s parent company, MindGeek, almost one year ago.

In an interview, Britten said the two organizations see eye-to-eye on the need to reduce harm on the internet.

“It’s all about how can we make the internet safer for people,” said Britten, a former counter-terrorism investigator with Australia’s security intelligence service. “We’re looking for anything that can bring a force multiplier to police.”

Crime Stoppers deputy CEO Hayley Van Loon said she believes Pornhub’s video fingerprinting technology will make the internet a safer place once it’s shared with law enforcement.

“We can either partner with the adult entertainment industry, which is going to produce content regardless, or we can ignore it,” she said. “So why not partner? Why not be involved in making the space safer?”

Solomon Friedman, vice-president of compliance at Ethical Capital, called the partnership a “real first” in the adult entertainment industry — and a sign of its maturation as a business.

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“I think it’s a real turning point not only for the company, but also the industry,” he said. “We would like to lead by example in the adult industry. We want this to be the norm.”

Ethical Capital’s management team includes high-profile Ottawa defence lawyers Friedman and Fady Mansour, along with retired RCMP superintendent Derek Ogden, former Liberal Party of Canada communications director Sarah Bain and real estate developer Rocco Meliambro.

The private equity firm bought Pornhub and other adult websites last March, reasoning that a management team dedicated to online safety, transparency and accountability could lift the company out of its legal morass and significantly increase its value.

At the time of the purchase, Pornhub was in deep trouble.

Following a New York Times story that accused Pornhub of monetizing child rape, revenge porn and spy cam videos, MasterCard and Visa suspended payment services on the website. Victims filed lawsuits and governments turned a critical eye on Pornhub’s operation.

Ethical Capital spent six months consulting with sex workers, victim advocacy groups, law enforcement officials, regulators and academics to inform its corporate strategy.

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In late September, it issued a report on what it heard, and committed to publicly and actively engaging with government, industry and public interest groups.

Friedman said the partnership with Crime Stoppers forms part of the company’s commitment to transparency, and he welcomed its scrutiny of Pornhub’s trust and safety measures.

“I want nothing more than a group with the experience and reputation of Crime Stoppers International to put that to test,” he said.

According to Pornhub’s latest transparency report, 1.9 million videos and photos were uploaded to the website in the first six months of 2023. Of those, 95,822 uploads were blocked or removed for violating the company’s terms of service.

Pornhub, Friedman said, is the only free content platform on the internet that requires proof of age, identification and consent for everyone who uploads content or is featured in it. The site has more than half a million verified uploaders.

Each page has a content removal request form, which can be filled out by anyone who believes that published material features child sexual abuse, non-consensual sex or deep fake porn. The suspect material, Friedman said, will be taken down immediately pending an investigation.

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“We take down first; we ask questions later,” Friedman said. “That is unique on the internet.”

Material deemed exploitive will be referred to authorities, he said, and the offending videos fingerprinted so they cannot be shared on any of Aylo’s other websites — even if significantly altered.

Britten said he believes Aylo’s Safeguard software and a related program known as Searchlight — it crawls the internet looking for fingerprinted content — can be powerful tools in the hands of law enforcement.

Aylo has offered to share the technology with police through Crime Stoppers.

“It’s really clear they have a range of technologies that will directly help the law enforcement mission,” Britten said. “I want police to have access to that technology.”

Safeguard and Searchlight were originally designed to protect Aylo’s copyrighted material from being pirated on the internet, but have been repurposed to enhance safety.

Britten said the programs have a host of potential law enforcement applications, and could be used to track jihadist recruitment videos or to find and take down revenge porn and child sexual abuse material.

A non-profit organization, Crime Stoppers International is the umbrella body in a global network of 800 Crime Stoppers programs. It specializes in fighting transnational crime — terrorism, smuggling, cybercrime, human trafficking and online exploitation — and works closely with law enforcement agencies.

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