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The Internet that Porn Built


Many folks don’t remember the time before the internet… but if you bring up the sound of dialup AOL Messenger at a party, you will not only date yourself, it is sure to generate a chuckle for someone who can relate. Most of us were psyched about signing up for AOL messenger chat after hearing a friend rave about the painfully slow but shiney new technology. We spent a lot of time agonizing over a username that would both reflect our personality and demonstrate some kind of creative and memorable impression.

It’s easy to forget how terrible Internet technology was in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Expensive, unreliable connections, complicated interfaces and weird connection protocols were in a language that very few people spoke but is now so mainstream that most of us refer to the largest of internet search engines as a verb, a noun and even sometimes a pronoun. A million things could go wrong in those early days, and even when it all worked, it was glitchy. Looking back, it’s difficult to believe anyone stuck with the technology long enough for it to improve. And wildly enough, most of us don’t give a second thought to how different our lives would be without it.

Most folks don’t even really know - or care - how we got to this point in time, but it's important to point out that porn played a large part in the development of this critical societal and institutional tool. It's ironic - what was probably the largest contributor to the infrastructure of the internet and its continued improvements in access, speed and growth - is under constant attack by the very people who use its vast resources to eliminate it. Adult Industry Content Creators created an unprecedented demand for Internet access, and also created demand for higher speeds, more reliable connections, and better interfaces. Even more importantly, they delivered because innovation is at the core of the cutting edge modernization.


There are three primary infrastructures that created the internet we have today.

1.

The least sexy is bandwidth – desire for more and higher quality Adult Industry Content drove demand for a faster Internet. The push to move from pornographic text, to images, to video - led individuals and companies to upgrade and upgrade, building the infrastructure that would allow the Internet as we know it to exist.


2.

Adult Film Production companies also pioneered our ability to pay for goods and services online. The Internet began as a military tool and soon after, spread to universities, but it was commercialized by pornographers. They worked out both the technology of secure online transactions, and the business practices that would make people feel safe making purchases on-line. So, without porn innovations, there might be no ability to check your bank balance while sitting at a stoplight, no Etsy for independent and artistic creators and no Amazon to provide free 2 day shipping.

3.

The Adult Entertainment Industry also developed the technology to stream video online – and there would be no YouTube or NetFlix without it. And websites? The first web page went live on August 6, 1991. It was dedicated to information on the World Wide Web project and the first web page address was a decidedly unsexy tutorial on how to create webpages and build hypertext. Less commonly known are the innovations that have been developed by the adult industry to identify, prevent and remove pornographic content that might involve someone under 18, someone who is experiencing exploitation or non-consensual content. MindGeek, a major operator of porn websites, actually operates an age verification provider known as AgeID. First introduced in Germany in 2015, it uses third-party providers to authenticate the user's age, and a single sign-on model that allows the verified identity to be shared across any participating website.


This kind of content moderation is complicated both logistically and legally. In the early days, the law struggled with how to classify these burgeoning platforms, and ultimately settled the issue in the Communications Decency Act (1996). In that legislation, there was a Section called 230 which dictates: "No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider."


Section 230 and the history of internet content moderation and legislation is a super fun, nerdy rabbit hole and we might just go down it in a future post. Here are some resources for those who are curious though, and for today just know that this passage is what allowed the internet to become what it is today, in all its wonder, guts and glory.


In recent years, online sex trafficking cultural panic, political speech jockeying and the very real threat of violent extremism online has caused governing bodies around the world to take another look at how the internet is regulated. They’ve come to realize they built a highway with no signs or stop lights back in 1996. And for what it’s worth, they’re getting it wrong the vast majority of the time. So much so that the Supreme Court is stepping in on another topic we’ll likely return to, the case of Gonzales v. Google. It’s largely speculated that SCOTUS will kick this case, and its associated regulatory decision making scope back to Congress, where we have tons of hope, but very little confidence, that the body will make thoughtful, rational decisions about how to backdate the internet with some safety bars.

In the meantime, there's a certain irony in the fact that the very people who made these huge contributions to something almost everyone uses all day every day are under attack using the very technology they helped develop. Until Congress acts in response to public pressure on how to regulate the internet, the private sector has had to. And Spoiler Alert! They get it wrong a lot as well. In mid-2021, Mastercard and VISA started their withdrawal from allowing their credit cards to be used to pay for their porn, caving to pressure from hysterical, misguided anti-trafficking organizations, often fueled by . Adult Platforms deftly moved to the brave new world of cryptocurrency, furthering the industry’s history of always being on the forefront.


For consumers, the internet started as a neat toy you could use to chat up strangers - as long as no one in your house needed the landline. The interceding 40 years have seen it become a deep and vast world every bit as complex as our “touch grass” one, just without the formalized rules of the road. Much like the non-digital world, unfortunately, regulation is certain to negatively impact the people most vulnerable to scorn and stigma. The fight for equality, equanimity and social justice tends to occur on the back end of harmful legislation, which means that before reforms are made, people are harmed.


The desire of the morality police is to abolish any references to sexuality on the internet - just like in “real” life. But also just like in “real” life, but sex, erotic imagery and porn have been around since the beginning of time and it won’t ever go away thanks to the hard working, determined folks that break barriers, innovate new technologies and push for freedom of speech.


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