Visa, Mastercard suspend payments to Pornhub-tied advertising platform

Visa and MasterCard credit card logos are seen on a sign in Washington on March 30, 2012. NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP via Getty Images)
Visa and MasterCard credit card logos are seen on a sign in Washington on March 30, 2012. NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP via Getty Images) | Nicholas Kamm/AFP via Getty Images

Visa and Mastercard have announced that they will not allow usage of their credit cards on advertising overseen by MindGeek, the parent company of major pornography website Pornhub.

Visa's Chairman and CEO Alfred F. Kelly, Jr. posted a statement online Thursday after a judge refused to remove the company from a lawsuit filed against MindGeek by a victim claiming to have been featured in sexually explicit porn videos as a minor. 

"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," wrote Kelly.

"With respect to MindGeek specifically, we suspended sites that contained user-generated content in December 2020 and acceptance on those sites has not been reinstated. Despite what you may have read in recent days, you cannot use your Visa card on Pornhub."

Kelly said that because of the recent legal decision, there was "new uncertainty about the role of TrafficJunky, MindGeek's advertising arm."

"Accordingly, we will suspend TrafficJunky's Visa acceptance privileges based on the court's decision until further notice," he stated.

"During this suspension, Visa cards will not be able to be used to purchase advertising on any sites including Pornhub or other MindGeek affiliated sites."

In a statement Thursday, Mastercard stated that it will direct financial institutions to "suspend acceptance of our products at TrafficJunky."

"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," Mastercard's statement reads. "This step will further enforce our December 2020 decision to terminate the use of our products on that site."

"We are reminding these same institutions of their obligations to ensure any adult content website they support must adhere to our standards requiring controls to monitor, block and remove unlawful content from being posted," the statement added. "These standards also demand confirmation of age and consent from anyone in content published on these sites."

Both Visa and Mastercard announced in December 2020 that they would stop allowing their cards to be used on Pornhub and other MindGeek sites following a New York Times exposé highlighting how many minors had videos of their sexual abuse uploaded to Pornhub.

MindGeek has faced a legislative inquiry in Canada and was slapped with a $500 million class-action lawsuit. The lawsuit is led by a Canadian woman who claims she was featured in pornographic videos uploaded online without her consent. Another class-action lawsuit was filed last year on behalf of two child sex abuse survivors. 

The National Center on Sexual Exploitation maintains that while Visa initially suspended processing payments for Pornhub and other MindGeek sites in December 2020, it re-established a relationship with MindGeek. Kelly shot down that claim in his statement. 

"Our rules explicitly and unequivocally prohibit the use of our products to pay for content that depicts nonconsensual sexual behavior or child sexual abuse," Kelly stressed. "We are vigilant in our efforts to deter this and other illegal activity on our network. Moreover, we require Visa's financial institution clients, which maintain the direct relationships with merchants, to assure and attest to merchants' compliance with our standards."

Kelly also said that Visa does "not make moral judgments on legal purchases made by consumers" and, therefore, cards can still be used on "MindGeek studio sites that feature adult professional actors in legal adult entertainment."

NCOSE, an anti-sex trafficking organization working to shut down Pornhub and other pornography websites, welcomed the news from Visa.

However, NCOSE CEO Dawn Hawkins also said in a statement that Visa "must do more" than what she described as "an incremental step."

"If Visa cares about these issues as much as they say they do, Visa must suspend all payment processing services for XVideos, XHamster, and all pornography tube sites as well as their advertising arms, not only TrafficJunky," she stated.

"Visa must use its influence to require pornography sites to take common-sense measures against illegal and abusive content, such as verifying age and consent of all persons depicted. In 2021, Mastercard instituted new policies for combatting sex trafficking and child abuse in pornography. It is past time for Visa to follow Mastercard's lead."

Late last month, U.S. District Judge Cormac Carney ruled in a pretrial order that Visa could not be removed from a lawsuit filed by a woman who was sexually exploited as a minor.

"Visa made the decision to continue to recognize MindGeek as a merchant, despite its alleged knowledge that MindGeek monetized child porn, MindGeek made the decision to continue monetizing child porn, and there are enough facts pled to suggest that the latter decision depended on the former," wrote Carney.

"Visa is being kept in this case because it is alleged to have continued to recognize as a merchant an immense, well known, and highly visible business that it knew used its websites to host and monetize child porn."

In his statement, Kelly said that Visa disagrees with the court's decision. 

"At this early stage in the case, courts must accept as true all allegations made in a lawsuit — even if they are not accurate or proven," Kelly stated. "In our view, our company's role, policies, and practices have been mischaracterized. The allegations in this lawsuit are repugnant and stand in direct contradiction to Visa's values and purpose."

Michael Gryboski has released the novel "The Enigma of Father Vera Daniel." For more information, click here.

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