Pornhub, XVideos, and Stripchat Designated as Very Large Online Platforms Under EU’s Digital Services Act

The European Union (EU) has officially designated popular porn sites Pornhub, XVideos, and Stripchat as “Very Large Online Platforms” (VLOPs) under the Digital Services Act (DSA). This designation comes with stricter requirements for age verification and the mitigation of illegal content. The EU aims to ensure higher scrutiny and accountability of these platforms’ algorithms and processes. This article will delve into the implications of this designation and the broader context of stricter regulations for pornography sites globally.

As VLOPs, Pornhub, XVideos, and Stripchat will have to comply with the DSA obligations by February 2024. They are now required to verify the ages of their users more rigorously and take steps to mitigate the spread of illegal content, including child sexual abuse material and deepfake pornography. Additionally, these platforms must conduct risk assessments and adhere to transparency requirements. This includes being subject to external audits, publishing transparency reports on content moderation decisions, and providing publicly available data to researchers.

The EU’s Margrethe Vestager welcomed the designation of these platforms as VLOPs, emphasizing that it would allow for higher scrutiny and accountability of their algorithms and processes. By imposing stricter regulations on VLOPs, the EU aims to address the systemic risks associated with these platforms and protect vulnerable users from harmful content.

In April 2023, the European Commission announced an initial list of 17 VLOPs and two Very Large Online Search Engines, which included major platforms like Amazon, Facebook, and YouTube. However, this list did not include any pornography-specific services. It is notable that the EU has now recognized the significance of Pornhub, XVideos, and Stripchat, which collectively have millions of monthly users in the European Union.

The inclusion of these pornography platforms as VLOPs challenges their reported user numbers. While XVideos claimed to have 160 million monthly recipients in the EU, Pornhub reported 33 million monthly users. However, the EU appears skeptical of these self-reported figures. The accuracy of these numbers is particularly questioned by a group of 30 NGOs that have urged for major pornography sites to be designated as VLOPs. According to the NGOs, some platforms have misrepresented their user figures as an attempt to elude responsibility and avoid being held accountable for systemic risks on their platforms.

The designation of Pornhub, XVideos, and Stripchat as VLOPs is part of a broader trend aiming to enforce stricter age verification for pornography sites globally. Various US states have attempted to regulate age access to these sites with varying levels of success. France, Germany, and the UK have also made efforts at the national level to introduce regulations. The UK, in particular, has recently passed the Online Safety Act, which includes provisions for age verification measures.

While VLOPs face the strictest regulations under the DSA, the EU’s press release highlights that all online platforms and search engines must abide by a general set of rules. This includes offering mechanisms for users to report illegal content and avoiding targeted advertising based on sensitive data profiling such as ethnic origin or sexual orientation.

Some companies on the initial list of VLOPs, such as Amazon and German online retailer Zalando, have mounted legal challenges to be removed from the designation. These challenges reflect the ongoing debate and interpretation of the criteria for being classified as a VLOP. However, EU regulators have been proactive in enforcing the DSA since its implementation for the first batch of VLOPs in August. Regulatory bodies have sent formal requests for information to Meta and TikTok, investigating their handling of illegal content and disinformation during the Israel-Hamas war. Furthermore, formal proceedings have been initiated against X (formerly known as Twitter) to assess whether it may have breached the DSA.

The designation of Pornhub, XVideos, and Stripchat as Very Large Online Platforms under the EU’s Digital Services Act marks a significant step in regulating the pornography industry. Stricter requirements for age verification and the mitigation of illegal content aim to protect users and increase the accountability of these platforms. This development also reflects the global trend toward enforcing age verification measures for pornography sites. As enforcement efforts continue, the impact of the DSA on the broader online landscape and the rights of users will become increasingly clear.

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