Visa, Mastercard Cut Off Ability to Buy Pornhub Ads After Court Ruling in Child Porn Case

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UPDATED: Visa and Mastercard said they are suspending payment privileges of TrafficJunky, the advertising arm of online porn network operator MindGeek.

The announcements come a week after a judge denied Visa’s request to be removed from a case in which MindGeek is being sued for allegedly distributing child pornography — and which alleges that Visa knowingly facilitated MindGeek’s ability to monetize it.

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Visa CEO Alfred Kelly, in a blog post Thursday, said the payment processing giant “strongly disagree[s]” with the decision and that the company is “confident in our position.”

However, the court’s decision “also created new uncertainty about the role of TrafficJunky, MindGeek’s advertising arm,” he wrote. For that reason, Visa will suspend TrafficJunky’s Visa acceptance privileges “until further notice,” according to Kelly. The suspension means that Visa cards will not be able to be used to purchase advertising on any MindGeek-affiliated sites, including Pornhub.

“We have made it clear that acquirers and merchants who are unable to meet our standards and requirements are not welcome on our network,” Kelly wrote.

Mastercard on Thursday also said it was suspending TrafficJunky from its network. “New facts from last week’s court ruling made us aware of advertising revenue outside of our view that appears to provide Pornhub with indirect funding,” the company said. “We have zero tolerance for illegal activity on our network. We will continue to follow this case and take further action, as necessary.”

The plaintiff in the case is Serena Fleites, who alleges that when she was 13 her then-boyfriend shared a sexually explicit video on Pornhub that was then viewed millions of times across MindGeek sites. On Friday, July 29, Judge Cormac Carney of the U.S. District Court of the Central District of California denied Visa’s motion to dismiss the claim it violated California’s Unfair Competition Law.

“Visa knew that MindGeek’s websites were teeming with monetized child porn,” the judge wrote in the decision. “At this early stage of the proceedings, before plaintiff has had any discovery from which to derive Visa’s state of mind, the court can comfortably infer that Visa intended to help MindGeek monetize child porn from the very fact that Visa continued to provide MindGeek the means to do so and knew MindGeek was indeed doing so.”

“Visa is not alleged to have simply created an incentive to commit a crime, it is alleged to have knowingly provided the tool used to complete a crime,” Carney wrote.

Visa’s Kelly noted that in the judge at this stage in the case “must accept as true all allegations made in a lawsuit — even if they are not accurate or proven.” He reiterated the company’s position that Visa’s role, policies and practices were “mischaracterized” in Carney’s ruling.

“Let me be clear: Visa condemns sex trafficking, sexual exploitation, and child sexual abuse. It is illegal, and Visa does not permit the use of our network for illegal activity,” the CEO wrote. “Our rules explicitly and unequivocally prohibit the use of our products to pay for content that depicts nonconsensual sexual behavior or child sexual abuse.”

Visa does not “make moral judgments on legal purchases made by consumers, and we respect the rightful role of lawmakers to make decisions about what is legal and what is not,” Kelly added. “Accordingly, Visa can be used only at MindGeek studio sites that feature adult professional actors in legal adult entertainment.”

In December 2020, Visa and Mastercard both suspended the ability for consumers to make payments to Pornhub and other MindGeek sites that have user-generated content. That came after the New York Times published a lengthy report by columnist Nicholas Kristof that featured Fleites’ story and documented how MindGeek “monetizes child rapes.”

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