Visa Denies Knowingly Profiting From Child Sexual Exploitation

August 8, 2022
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A new lawsuit alleges that Visa knowingly processed transactions for a website that contained videos of child sexual abuse. Meanwhile, Visa and Mastercard suspend services to TrafficJunky, an advertising platform caught up in the case.

A new lawsuit alleges that Visa knowingly processed transactions for a website that contained videos of child sexual abuse. Meanwhile, Visa and Mastercard suspend services to TrafficJunky, an advertising platform caught up in the case.

After a pre-trial motion to dismiss the case was denied, a federal judge in California has ruled that the case will continue and the claims made against Visa will go to court.

The allegations form part of a wider set of claims made against several defendants, each of whom are alleged to have profited from an explicit video of a minor uploaded to PornHub.com, a pornography website owned and operated by MindGeek.

In court filings, the plaintiff claims that a video of her when she was 13 appeared on the website in 2014.

She says she was pressured into filming the video by her ex-boyfriend, who uploaded it to PornHub without her knowledge or consent.

She also claims it was available under the title: “13-Year Old Brunette Shows Off For the Camera”.

MindGeek then allegedly took the video and uploaded it to other pornography websites, earning revenue from advertisements that appeared alongside the video.

According to plaintiff, she persuaded MindGeek to remove the video by impersonating her own mother when contacting the company, and accusing them of trafficking in videos of child sexual abuse.

“MindGeek seems to have acknowledged as much, but took a few weeks to remove the video,” the court filing states.

“In this internet age, a week might as well be an eternity because content constantly and instantaneously proliferates and disseminates.”

After the initial video was taken down, it was re-uploaded several times by users who had previously downloaded copies of it.

One of the reuploads, according to the plaintiff, got 2.7m views and MindGeek is said to have earned advertising revenue from these multiple reuploads across multiple sites.

Visa’s alleged role

MindGeek operates both paid for and free sites, and makes money from its free sites in multiple ways.

These include paid advertising, product and service sales, and the harvesting and selling-on of user data.

MindGeek sells ad space through TrafficJunky, its advertising platform, which Visa processed payments for. Ad revenue earned through TrafficJunky is said to account for over 50 percent of MindGeek’s revenue.

The court filings allege that “Visa recognized MindGeek as an authorized merchant and processed payments to its websites including but not limited to Pornhub.”

The lawsuit also alleges that Visa knew MindGeek’s websites contained a substantial amount of evidence of child sexual abuse and that MindGeek failed to police its websites for such content.

“Visa and its agent banks explicitly agreed with MindGeek to continue to process transactions without restrictions on all MindGeek sites, provided MindGeek maintained pretextual window dressing claims that it had technology, processes, and policies in place to prevent such content,” the court filings claim.

Elsewhere, it is alleged that Visa was “aware of MindGeek’s trafficking venture [TrafficJunky advertising platform] and explicitly agreed with MindGeek to process the financial transactions from which the defendants profited.”

Visa is believed by the plaintiff to have obtained knowledge of MindGeek’s child sexual abuse content from various sources, including its own reviews of the website pursuant to Visa’s “due diligence and compliance functions”.

In November 2019, PayPal terminated its relationship with MindGeek, noting in a statement that PayPal “explicitly prohibits the use of [its] services for the sale of materials that depict criminal behavior.”

Visa’s continued relationship with MindGeek led it to be listed by anti-trafficking advocates as as a payment processor for “pornography websites, including those hosting content fetishizing minors.”

The court filings state that these same advocates later wrote to Visa detailing MindGeek’s child sexual abuse issues, but Visa responded with a statement to the effect that it only processes payments for lawful commerce.

Visa denies the allegations

In December 2020, the New York Times published an investigation into MindGeek under the headline: “The Children of PornHub”.

After the article was published, Visa suspended its relationship with MindGeek pending an investigation into the Times’ allegations.

In response to the suspension, MindGeek allegedly took down more than 10m unverified videos from its sites, constituting over 80 percent of its content.

Following the mass deletion, Visa allegedly restored its services to all of MindGeek’s paid premium and on-site advertising payment channels, something that Visa strongly denies.

Addressing this issue in a rare intervention on Thursday (August 4), CEO and chairman Al Kelly said: “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.”

Visa added that it had no involvement in the maintenance of MindGeek’s websites, and that MindGeek’s content decisions were taken under its sole and direct discretion.

“Visa condemns sex trafficking, sexual exploitation, and child sexual abuse,” he continued..

“It is illegal, and Visa does not permit the use of our network for illegal activity. Our rules explicitly and unequivocally prohibit the use of our products to pay for content that depicts nonconsensual sexual behavior or child sexual abuse.

“We are vigilant in our efforts to deter this, and other illegal activity on our network.”

Addressing the role of TrafficJunky, Kelly said the “legal decision, with which we disagree, has also created new uncertainty about the role of TrafficJunky, MindGeek’s advertising arm.”

As a result, Visa will suspend TrafficJunky’s Visa acceptance until further notice.

“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.”

Also on Thursday (August 4), Mastercard announced that it will suspend all services to TrafficJunky until further notice.

“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 said in a statement.

The move comes after Mastercard — similar to Visa — had already “terminated” its services to PornHub in December 2020.

Among payment companies, the case is expected to re-ignite longstanding debates over the processing of payments at high-risk business sectors, as well as the importance of due diligence and supervision.

Kelly himself was unequivocal in Visa's position: “It is Visa’s policy to follow the law of every country in which we do business. We do not make moral judgments on legal purchases made by consumers, and we respect the rightful role of lawmakers to make decisions about what is legal and what is not.”

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