Cornell University was an early investor in a firm that currently owns Pornhub and various other pornography websites, The Financial Times reported on Wednesday.
The firm, currently known as MindGeek, owns porn websites that together amass over 115 million visitors per day, accounting for a substantial amount of all internet traffic and advertising. MindGeek reported revenues of $460 million for the year 2018.
MindGeek grew out of a firm called Manwin, headed by Fabian Thylmann. In 2011, Thylmann reached a deal with 125 secret investors to back Manwin with $362 million in debt, allowing Thylmann to expand his site from 200 to 1,200 staff.
The investors included Cornell University, JPMorgan Chase, and Fortress Investment Group, one financial backer told The Financial Times. After Thylmann was indicted in Germany in 2012 for tax evasion, he sold Manwin to its senior managers Feras Antoon and David Tassillo, who renamed the company MindGeek. The two firms declined to comment while Cornell refused to disclose the details of its investment managers’ portfolios.
The news comes about a week after Pornhub announced it would remove all “unverified” content from the site. The move appears to have been prompted by a decision by MasterCard and Visa to suspend dealings with the site, after a column by Nicholas Kristof in the New York Times drew attention to videos of sex trafficking victims that were available to view on Pornhub.
Republicans have called on U.S. attorney general William Barr to investigate Pornhub over exploitative videos of women and girls that have appeared on the site. However, while politicians from both parties have called for heightened scrutiny for Big Tech companies including Google and Facebook, Pornhub parent company MindGeek has largely escaped notice.
“No politician wants to talk about the porn industry because then they have to acknowledge how it is part of everyday life,” Kate Isaacs, founder of Not Your Porn, told The Financial Times. “So no one is holding a multinational corporation like MindGeek to account.”