NGOs and survivors want ‘full criminal investigation’ into Pornhub’s owner

By: Terry Haig
The Montreal-based owner of the pornographic internet website Pornhub is pushing back against charges that it violates child protection laws and shares intimate images without consent.
The charges are contained in a letter sent this week to the House of Commons ethics committee by a coalition of 100 survivors of sexual exploitation and hundreds of non-government organizations from around the world.
Signatories want a “full criminal investigation” into MindGeek, Pornhub’s parent company.
The letter–signed by 104 individuals and 525 NGOs–calls on the federal government to encourage an investigation by the RCMP and to take “immediate legislative and regulatory action to protect children from this predatory and unethical corporation.”
But in a story published today, The Canadian Press’s Christopher Reynolds reports that MindGeek executives are rejecting any wrongdoing, saying their company is a “world leader” in preventing the distribution of content showing child sexual abuse and non-consensual acts.
“MindGeek has zero-tolerance for non-consensual content, child sexual abuse material (CSAM), and any other content that lacks the consent of all parties depicted,” the company said in an email to CP, according to Reynolds.
“The harrowing stories of the survivors of CSAM and non-consensual imagery shake us to our core.”
MindGeek and Pornhub have drawn heightened attention since last December when New York Times opinion columnist Nicholas Kristof published a highly-critical column entitled The Children of Pornhub, noting that Pornhub attracted 3.5 billion visits a month, more than Netflix, Yahoo or Amazon, and took in money from almost three billion ad impressions a day.
One ranking, Kristof wrote, listed Pornhub as the 10th-most-visited website in the world.
Shortly after Kristof’s column was published several major credit card companies suspended payment services to Pornhub, prompting the site to scrub some 10 million videos posted by unverified users.
Users, the company said, would now need to be verified in order to upload videos, making it easier to hold those who upload to the site accountable for the way the videos are obtained and produced. 
As well, the “download” button was also removed, making it harder for videos of rape and child molestation to be reuploaded or spread.
Last month, MindGeek CEO Feras Antoon and chief operating officer David Tassillo told the House of Commons Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics that all content on the Pornhub website is screened using multiple software tools before being approved by human moderators.
This week’s letter says MindGeek is profiting from “a range of criminal content” distributed across some of its 160-odd platforms.“It also appears that MindGeek has violated Canada’s laws on publication of intimate images without consent,” the letter states.
According to CP’s Reynolds, the company said in a statement that it goes “above and beyond” the demands of Canadian law.
“Those who post CSAM and nonconsensual imagery are criminals — we will not stop working to improve our security until we have prevented every one of these criminals from abusing our platforms,” MindGeek said.
The company said it works with more than 40 non-profit organizations to moderate and report content on its platforms.
MindGeek currently faces at least five lawsuits filed in the past year in Canada and the U.S. on behalf of survivors of child abuse, sex trafficking and non-consensual image uploads.
They include a suit by 40 women in California who claim the company continues to profit from pornographic videos of them that were published without their full consent and a class-action lawsuit that alleges the company profited off material showing  child sexual abuse and non-consensual activity since 2007.
Last month, the RCMP said it was  investigating all claims about sexual abuse material being hosted by MindGeek — but most of the referrals to date did not meet the Criminal Code definition of child pornography.
MindGeek is legally headquartered in Luxembourg, but operates from Montreal, where it employs about 1,000 people.
With files from The Canadian Press (Christopher Reynolds), CBC News