In 2018 and beyond, it’s safe to assume that there’s at least one company watching everythingyou do on the internet at all times, poised to profit from that data.
Yes, that includes porn.
A recent report from Quartz profiled PornHub and its parent company, data analysis firm MindGeek. Though nothing on MindGeek’s website references adult entertainment—its site looks like a template for a corporate website—the company owns a number of massively successful porn streaming sites and production houses. MindGeek’s success, per the report, stems in part from the fact that it collects data about everyone’s porn-watching habits and uses it to make more appealing porn.
On top of that, users can give porn sites a ton of feedback. To create a free account, PornHub users must provide their name, date of birth, and gender. With that account they can (and often do) comment, download videos to view offline, and curate a list of their favorite videos, among other things. Just like social networks, every action you take on a porn site is a data point to be recorded.
MindGeek gets more out of that data by changing small aspects of videos or their metadata to what draws more people in—this practice, called A/B testing, goes on all the time all over the internet. As you’ll see in the Quartz piece, the results of this testing led to scripts that call for very specific details based on user preferences. It is, strangely, not that different from how Netflix uses your data to make its shows.
Compared to other data collecting businesses like Google, Microsoft and Facebook, MindGeek claims to be relatively respectful of its users’ privacy. MindGeek told Quartz that, while it uses user data to make porn and help match videos with people, it does not sell that data to third-parties. I’m not sure that will make anyone more comfortable or happy about the situation, especially since PornHub frequently publishes reports that examine, very broadly, how people use it.
Of course, your web browser may be tracking your online activity as well, so there’s a good chance MindGeek isn’t the only one who knows about what you’re watching. (You think that private browsing window keeps you safe? Let’s clarify, then. It does not).
Though it feels like it should be more private, there are no special steps to take to specifically protect porn viewing habits. Using anti-tracker software like DuckDuckGo may help, but to really protect yourself, you’ll need to use a VPN. The fact of the matter is you aren’t going to stop PornHub or any tube site from keeping tabs on what you watch. The best you can do is make sure they don’t know who you are.
...Or you could go back to reading magazines. That’s probably safe.