SEX

Blocking Porn Doesn’t Work — And Here’s The Data To Prove It

xHamster got over a 1 billion visits in 2016 from countries that block its URL

SEX
Illustration: Tara Jacoby
Dec 13, 2016 at 11:55 AM ET

As the United Kingdom considers banning “nonconventional” pornography, xHamster is offering up a warning: It won’t work — or, at least, not very well. The porn site has released new data on the more than 1 billion visits that it received in the past year from countries that have blocked its url.

“Despite the best attempts of censors, users are finding their way to [xHamster] using web-based proxies, VPNs, and networks like Tor,” said xHamster spokesperson Alex Hawkins. “Unlike political bans, porn bans may have the opposite of the intended effect by pushing otherwise apolitical citizens into networks that bypass government blockades.”

xHamster looked at nine countries that have reportedly blocked its site — China, India, Iran, Kazakhstan, Malaysia, Russia, Thailand, Turkey, and the United Arab Emirates — and the number of visitors from these countries accessing xHamster using proxies or VPNs. Among these porn-blocking places, it’s not too surprising that India, one of the most populated countries on the planet, had the most visits to xHamster in 2016: more than 655 million. In fact, it’s still one of xHamster’s largest sources of traffic.

Next up: Thailand, with over 125 million visits, Turkey, with upwards of 95 million, and the UAE with an excess of 83 million. Then there’s Russia, which sparked a social media backlash to its blocking of porn sites, with over 73 million visits, and notoriously censorship-happy China, with nearly 61 million. The bottom three, Malaysia, Kazakhstan, and Iran, brought in a combined total approaching 62 million.

For the uninitiated, proxies, VPNs, and Tor all essentially reroute web traffic, which can both circumvent government blocks on content and conceal a user’s IP address. As xHamster can’t rely on IP addresses alone to accurately determine the origin of visitors using these tricks to get around a countrywide block, a spokesperson explained that they don’t always know how visitors from these countries are gaining access to the site. So this data reflects only what xHamster was able to detect in the way of visits from countries with a ban.

xHamster doesn’t claim that porn blocks are entirely ineffective. In the three months after Russia blocked xHamster, the site saw traffic from the country drop by nearly 70 percent. When India blocked xHamster, traffic from the country dropped by almost 40 percent, the company says. Then there’s the odd case of the U.K., which in 2014 forced people to “opt-in” to porn by requesting access to adult websites from their ISPs. This led to an increase in traffic.

Now, the UK is posed to ban “nonconventional” pornography online, which could include content featuring everything from bondage to female ejaculation. It’s already passed the Investigatory Powers Act, which Edward Snowden has called “the most extreme surveillance in the history of western democracy,” and which allows broad government access to citizens’ web browsing history, including their porn viewing habits. xHamster is currently serving U.K. visitors with a pop-up prompting them to sign a petition against it. “A panic over adult content is being used by the U.K. government to pass a sweeping bill that will allow the government to limit speech and monitor citizens online,” said Hawkins.

But, as this xHamster data shows — and as those web history databases will soon reveal to the UK government — many people will find their porn no matter what.