Pornhub cuts Utah residents’ access to its site in protest of age verification law | Utah

Blocked from one of the most popular internet pornography platforms, residents in Utah, one of the most socially US conservative states, have been searching for workarounds.

MindGeek, which runs Pornhub, cut access to its content in Utah on Tuesday, in protest of a state law that requires websites to verify users’ ages with government-issued ID. Pornhub said the law was ineffective, raised privacy concerns and “put … children at risk”.

The marketing agency Cultural Currents Institute, however, said it analyzed Google search data that showed searches for virtual private networks – encrypted connections that can circumvent geographical restrictions – surged in Utah after Pornhub’s decision.

The Utah law, which went into effect on Wednesday, is the latest effort by state lawmakers to shape content to which children are exposed. Last year, Louisiana passed a law holding pornography sites liable for verifying users’ ages – causing traffic to Pornhub to plunge. More than a dozen states have introduced age-verification laws, the New York Times reported.

In 2016, the then Utah governor, Gary Herbert, signed a resolution declaring the spread of pornography a public health crisis that put children’s lives at risk. The bill’s state senate sponsor, Todd Weiler, said it would protect children from “evil, degrading, addictive, harmful substances”.

Weiler introduced the latest legislation in February, arguing that Utah makes residents prove their age to buy cigarettes and alcohol so should do the same for pornography.

In a statement to the Washington Post, the current Republican Utah governor, Spencer Cox, said the new law was supported by a majority of residents who wanted to hold companies accountable for “knowingly distributing pornography to minors”.

He added that he supported Pornhub’s “decision to remove their content in Utah”.

“The very least we can do as a society is to ask companies to verify the age of those viewing the pornography they produce and distribute,” Cox said.

But the American Civil Liberties Union of Utah criticized the age requirement law as “unconstitutional” and passed “under the guise of ‘protecting minors’”. A separate Utah bill would require social media sites such as TikTok and Instagram to verify ages.

“Requiring adults to verify their ages – and expose their identities – before accessing certain websites will inevitably deter them from going to those sites,” an ACLU spokesperson, Aaron Welcher, told the Post. “As Pornhub’s response has shown, it will also impose potentially prohibitive costs on content providers.”

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In Utah, Pornhub users are now directed to a minute-and-a-half video message from the adult film actor Cheri DeVille. She argues the state should use “device-based verification”, a process that would verify whether adults are using a particular computer or device and let people view “age-restricted materials”.

Saying the current law would direct people to sites with fewer safeguards, DeVille urged residents to contact their representatives.

“While safety and compliance are at the forefront of our mission, giving your ID card every time you want to visit an adult platform is not the most effective solution for protecting our users and, in fact, will put children and your privacy at risk,” DeVille said in the video.

“In addition, mandating age verification without proper enforcement gives platforms the opportunity to choose whether or not to comply.”

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