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Federal bill could lead to Pornhub being blocked from Canadians

Photo: The Canadian Press Under the bill, companies that host pornographic content, like Pornhub, would have to ensure that young people do not have access to it, or face fines of between $250,000 and $500,000.

Stephanie Taylor – The Canadian Press and Mickey Djuric – The Canadian Press in Ottawa

11:36 a.m.

  • Canada

The owners of the online pornography site Pornhub say blocking Canadians' access to it is an option they are considering as they try to persuade parliamentarians to reject a vetting approach. age contained in a bill in the Senate.

“We chose different options in different jurisdictions,” admitted Solomon Friedman, partner and vice president of compliance at Ethical Capital Partners, owner of Pornhub's parent company Aylo. “I don’t want to speculate on [the bill] as it currently stands. We are going to committee to make sure that bad legislation is not passed. »

A House of Commons committee is expected to study a bill proposed by independent senator Julie Miville-Dechêne that would require Canadians to undergo age verification to access online pornography. The text outlines a range of concerns regarding minors' access to sexually explicit material, including the risk of developing an addiction to pornography and the reinforcement of harmful gender stereotypes.

Companies that host such content should ensure that young people do not have access to it, or face fines of between $250,000 and $500,000.

Verification and privacy

The legislation does not specify how sites must verify a user's age, but options include setting up a digital identification system or services that can estimate age. age of an individual based on a visual analysis of their face.

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Such suggestions have sparked widespread concern among privacy experts about their overall implications, from the risks associated with asking Canadians to share personal information with an external provider or the use of measures such as facial recognition technology.

Other critics have warned that age verification could lead to a strangulation of free speech, as some companies would likely prefer to block access to their sites. And others might just find ways to bend the rules.

Illegal content

In an interview last week in Ottawa, Solomon Friedman said his company shared his concerns about minors' access to Pornhub, one of the largest pornographic sites on the Internet. “We don’t want any children on our platform. » This is not only from a moral point of view, he said, but also from a commercial point of view.

In 2023, his company acquired ownership of Pornhub's parent company as it reeled from reports emerging in late 2020 that the site hosted countless examples of child sexual abuse material, as well as other images and videos uploaded without an individual's consent. These reports led payment companies such as Visa and Mastercard to pull their services from the site.

Pornhub has removed millions of unverified videos from its platform and implemented new security protocols.

Similar laws requiring Internet porn sites to verify a user's age have been passed in several US states, including Louisiana. After requiring the use of a government ID to access Pornhub, traffic to the site plunged.

After Utah passed a bill that Friedman said did not include the ability to use a government ID, Pornhub completely blocked residents' access of the State.

Such laws would not achieve the desired effect, Solomon Friedman argues, of protecting children from sexual material. They would only push them to even darker sites on the Internet, to sites that might not comply with the law.

What the company is asking instead is that responsibility rest with the manufacturers of the devices used to access the sites, rather than the sites themselves. “We will never take our users’ private credentials. We will always respect the law,” assured Mr. Friedman.

Party positions

So far, Liberal MPs have been the only ones to vote against the bill. The New Democrats, Bloc and Conservatives voted to send the bill to committee.

New Democratic Party (NDP) House Leader Peter Julian said in a statement that New Democrats supported the bill because of its intent to protect minors. “We look forward to reviewing the bill in committee, including testimony from community, health and public safety experts, to understand the full impact of the proposed bill. »

Conservatives have regularly raised concerns about children's access to sexually explicit material, while denouncing government efforts to regulate social media companies as censorship. At the time of writing, Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre's office had not responded to a request for comment.

Ontario Conservative Karen Vecchio, who sponsored the bill in the House, told MPs in December that she agreed personal information should not be collected by individual sites. But she expressed hope that a solution can be found as technology advances.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has long promised to legislate new protections against online harms, including those that most affect children.

Justice Minister Arif Virani said the next bill would focus on child safety while respecting freedom of expression. When asked directly about this, his political staff, however, refused to say whether age verification would be one of the measures he was considering.

Responsibility for online harm legislation has been transferred to Arif Virani's office by Canadian Heritage Minister Pascale St-Onge, whose office said in a statement that the status quo unacceptable.

“While we offer our own made-in-Canada approach to online safety, we have been able to take cues from the European Union with its Digital Services Act, the United Kingdom's Online Safety Act, as well as than that of Australia, where they appointed an e-safety commissioner in 2015,” she said in a statement. “We can all agree that what happens online doesn't stay online, and our government is committed to making social media platforms safer for our children and all Canadians. »

Lianna McDonald, executive director of the Canadian Center for Child Protection, said in a recent interview that she has long advocated for age verification. The center also believes that platforms must create websites with safeguards for children.

Teilor Stone

By Teilor Stone

Teilor Stone has been a reporter on the news desk since 2013. Before that she wrote about young adolescence and family dynamics for Styles and was the legal affairs correspondent for the Metro desk. Before joining Thesaxon , Teilor Stone worked as a staff writer at the Village Voice and a freelancer for Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, GQ and Mirabella. To get in touch, contact me through my teilor@nizhtimes.com 1-800-268-7116