Pornhub owner MindGeek acquired by ‘ethics-first’ investment firm

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MindGeek, the Canada-based company that owns Pornhub and various other porn sites and studios, has been acquired by a private equity firm that describes itself as an “ethics-first” company.

The Canadian firm, Ethical Capital Partners (ECP), acquired MindGeek on Thursday (March 16, 2023) and said that the terms of the deal were private. It followed years of Pornhub, the biggest porn site in the world and very much the focus of MindGeek’s operations, being under fire for allegedly hosting illegal porn and facing a backlash from campaigners, financial companies and US legislators.

Other sites and platforms owned by MindGeek include YouPorn, Redtube, Brazzers, Men.com, Sean Cody, Trans Angels and Nutaku.

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ECP touted its ethical outlook on investment, saying it will put trust and safety at the forefront of MindGeek’s operations. The move feels like an attempt at drawing a line under Pornhub and MindGeek’s recent troubles and asking for a fresh start.

But what might the acquisition mean for porn fans and sex workers relying on MindGeek’s sites for income?

This is not an admission of guilt

Many of Pornhub’s problems can be traced to a 2020 New York Times article called ‘The Children of Pornhub’, which reported that minors had allegedly been featured on the site. 

Following the article’s release, Pornhub purged hundreds of thousands of unverified videos from the site, as it came under increasing scrutiny for allegedly hosting illegal content. MindGeek settled lawsuits with women alleging that explicit videos of them were used on the site without consent. Financial organizations such as Mastercard and Visa stopped working with Pornhub, and social media including TikTok, YouTube and Instagram banned the brand from the platforms.

Don’t for a minute think that ECP will acknowledge that MindGeek has sinned in the past, though. The statement the company made announcing the acquisition was full of praise for MindGeek’s safety and trust measures, that have been criticized so fervently elsewhere.

Derek Ogden, founding partner of ECP, said that his company’s pre-close reviews found that “MindGeek operates legally and responsibly”, which will be news to the site’s detractors. Sarah Bain, another ECP founding partner, said: “We are confident that the MindGeek team and all MindGeek platforms operate with trust and safety at the forefront of everything they do.”

Considering how many legal tangles MindGeek has been involved in, this kind of ‘no admission of guilt’ language is understandable from a legal perspective. If the acquisition is supposed to represent a new MindGeek and Pornhub era of ethics, however, this strong defense hardly suggests that the company believes that a truly new course is required.

Bain suggested that MindGeek’s problems were more about public image than anything else, saying that ECP would work to “address the misalignment between how MindGeek operates and what the public perceives about this industry and these platforms.”

What does this mean for creators?

ECP’s press release announcing the acquisition was full of comments about how MindGeek’s sites will remain at the “forefront of innovation, and trust and safety on the internet”.

Pornhub has already been forced to introduce tougher age verification rules to access the site in some regions. Verification processes for porn content creators uploading to the site have also become more stringent on issues such as age and consent verification. Some believe that processes like these make it tougher for some sex workers to get verified and earn from the site, including under-priveleged individuals who may not have official ID.

ECP’s comments suggest that processes like these are not going to be relaxed, as the company looks to assure the public and MindGeek’s critics that only legal content gets verified and featured on Pornhub and its other porn sites.

There’s precious little detail about what MindGeek will actually do differently with regard to this, though. At the moment, it’s just repeated assurances about how much ECP and MindGeek care about safety and trust and whatnot.

What does this mean for Pornhub viewers?

If ECP’s promises materialize into reality, MindGeek sites such as Pornhub would be completely free of the kind of allegedly unethical and potentially illegal porn content it has been accused of hosting. Hopefully, this would be something you’d want.

ECP also spoke of its desire for MindGeek to also set industry standards for other porn sites. This could mean making stringent age verification processes – for porn creators as well as users – standard across all porn sites, whether run by MindGeek or not.

The investment firm said that “MindGeek must play a leading role in the fight against illegal content across the internet.”

Is this really a new beginning?

It’s a big ask. In the new Netflix documentary Money Shot: The Pornhub Story an anonymous former Pornhub moderator explained how moderators skipped through videos quickly, not checking them properly for potentially illegal content. Issues like these will need to be overhauled, if ECP’s vision for MindGeek is to come to fruition.

However, ECP claims that MindGeek is already acting pretty much perfectly when it comes to online safety, and that its problems are mainly about messaging.

In last Thursday’s acquisition statement, MindGeek’s management said: “Thank you to everyone at MindGeek and to our entire community for your unwavering commitment to our core values of Consent, Freedom of Sexual Expression, Authenticity, Originality, and Diversity.”

A brand new start, without acknowledging that you need a brand new start, then?

Read next:Real amateur homemade’: Pornhub’s 2022 year in review

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Jamie F

Jamie F

Jamie is a freelance writer, contributing to outlets such as The Guardian, The Times, The Telegraph, CNN and Vice.

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