Visa Cuts Ties with Pornhub's Advertising Platform
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The 2018 AVN Adult Entertainment Expo at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino on January 24, 2018 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Getty Images)

Visa Inc. announced Thursday it will no longer allow Pornhub’s advertising platform to use its services, citing a judge’s recent decision that a lawsuit related to child pornography adequately alleges Visa continues to do business with the website despite “knowledge of its illicit nature.”

Alluding to the broad attention the ruling has drawn, a statement from Visa CEO Alfred Kelly, Jr. said executives don’t typically comment on ongoing litigation but “[t]his situation, however, is different, and as CEO – and a father and grandfather –  I feel compelled to speak out.”

Kelly said Visa “suspended sites that contained user-generated content in December 2020 and acceptance on those sites has not been reinstated.”

“Despite what you may have read in recent days, you cannot use your Visa card on Pornhub,” the statement reads.

But Kelly said the July 29 opinion from U.S. District Judge Cormac J. Carney “created new uncertainty” about the advertising platform for Pornhub’s parent company MindGeek, so Visa “will suspend TrafficJunky’s Visa acceptance privileges based on the court’s decision until further notice.”

“During this suspension, Visa cards will not be able to be used to purchase advertising on any sites including Pornhub or other MindGeek affiliated sites,” according to the statement.

Kelly said the company “strongly” disagrees with the decision, and his statement emphasizes what the judge said in his opinion: At this point in the litigation, the court must accept the plaintiff’s allegations as true.

“In our view, our company’s role, policies, and practices have been mischaracterized,” Kelly said on Thursday. “The allegations in this lawsuit are repugnant and stand in direct contradiction to Visa’s values and purpose.”

Filed in June 2021, the lawsuit accuses Visa and MindGeek of profiting off the distribution of sexually explicit videos taken of a woman when she was 13.

The judge emphasized in his decision that the claims against Visa don’t allege Visa encourages the production of child pornography by allowing MindGeek to profit from it. Rather, the company is accused of “knowingly providing the means through which MindGeek monetizes child porn once such content is already produced and posted.”

The International Center for Law & Economics weighed in in an amicus brief supporting Visa’s dismissal motion, but Carney said the group’s arguments were unpersuasive, and he took particular issue with the brief’s “suggestion that it would be unfair to expect Visa to cut MindGeek off when the majority of MindGeek’s content is legal porn.”

If the allegations about its work with child pornography are true “MindGeek is a criminal enterprise also engaged in legitimate business,” the judge said.

“Suffice to say, law abiding businesses should avoid doing business with criminal enterprises, even when those criminal enterprises have been smart enough to diversify their activities,” according to the opinion.

One of the main allegations that Carney assumed to be true — that Visa “was aware that there was a substantial amount of child porn on MindGeek’s sites” — could be difficult for Visa to fully refute amid widespread reports of child pornography on Pornhub and the company’s own actions following a December 2020 New York Times article. Carney said assuming that allegation is true, then Visa “was aware that it was processing the monetization of child porn, moving money from advertisers to MindGeek for advertisements playing alongside child porn like Plaintiff’s videos.”

CEO Kelly’s announcement on Thursday said Visa “condemns sex trafficking, sexual exploitation, and child sexual abuse” and “does not permit the use of our network for illegal activity.”

“Our rules explicitly and unequivocally prohibit the use of our products to pay for content that depicts nonconsensual sexual behavior or child sexual abuse. We are vigilant in our efforts to deter this and other illegal activity on our network,” Kelly said. “Moreover, we require Visa’s financial institution clients, which maintain the direct relationships with merchants, to assure and attest to merchants’ compliance with our standards.”

One of Fleites’ lawyers, Lauren Tabaksblat of Brown Rudnick LLP, said the announcement “is way overdue and way short.”

“It is utter bad faith for Visa to suggest that it did not know what was happening on Mindgeek‘s sites despite numerous media reports of horrific abuse, many investigative journalist reports about the abuse, a viral online campaign by advocates about the abuse, detailed reports of the abuse from advocates and victims sent to senior management, a New York Times story about the abuse, and public testimony from lawyers and victims about the abuse,” Tabaksblat said in an email to Law&Crime.

(Image via by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

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