Visa Stops Processing Credit Card Payments for Ads on Pornhub in Wake of Lawsuit

Visa Stops Processing Credit Card Payments for Ads on Pornhub in Wake of Lawsuit
A Visa credit card is seen on a computer keyboard in this picture illustration taken on Sept. 6, 2017. (Philippe Wojazer/Illustration/Reuters)
Bill Pan

Visa has suspended payments for ads on Pornhub and parent company MindGeek after a woman accused the credit card company of knowingly helping monetize child pornography.

In a statement on Thursday, Visa CEO Alfred Kelly said TrafficJunky, the advertising arm for MindGeek, will be suspended from the credit card transaction network. During the suspension, Visa card can’t be used to purchase ads on any MindGeek-affiliated websites, including Pornhub.

“Let me be clear: Visa condemns sex trafficking, sexual exploitation, and child sexual abuse,” Kelly said. “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.”

The statement comes a week after a federal judge in California allowed a lawsuit against MindGeek and Visa to proceed. The suit was filed last year by Serena Fleites, who alleges a former boyfriend pressured her into making a sexually explicit video and uploaded it to Pornhub without her knowledge or consent when she was 13 years old.

The video amassed 400,000 views on Pornhub by the time she discovered it, according to the lawsuit. As a result, the girl became “intermittently homeless,” developed depression and heroin addiction, and attempted suicide several times in the ensuing years, all while having no support from her family.

In her complaint, Fleites not only accused MindGeek of illegally profiting from child pornography but also argued that Visa should be held accountable for processing payments to MindGeek’s pornography websites with the knowledge that these sites have problems with hosting non-consensual content, including content that features minors.

U.S. District Judge Cormac Carney found the woman’s claim against Visa plausible. In his July 29 opinion (pdf), Carney rejected Visa’s request to dismiss the accusation, saying that the credit card giant “knew that MindGeek’s websites were teeming with monetized child porn.”

“When MindGeek decides to monetize child porn, and Visa decides to continue to allow its payment network to be used for that goal despite knowledge of MindGeek’s monetization of child porn, it is entirely foreseeable that victims of child porn like plaintiff will suffer the harms that plaintiff alleges,” Carney wrote.

The judge did note, however, that Fleites “simply has no basis for claiming Visa directly participated in the sex trafficking ventures that harmed her,” and that she must file a “more definitive” statement for her common law civil conspiracy cause of action against Visa.

Visa called the ruling “disappointing,” saying in a statement that the judge “mischaracterizes Visa’s role and its policies and practices.”

MindGeek, the Luxembourg-based internet company best known for owning and operating Pornhub, said a statement that the judge has “not yet ruled on the veracity of the allegations” and is required to assume all of the woman’s claims are true and accurate.

“When the court can actually consider the facts, we are confident the plaintiff’s claims will be dismissed for lack of merit,” a spokesperson from MindGeek told Motherboard. “MindGeek has zero tolerance for the posting of illegal content on its platforms, and has instituted the most comprehensive safeguards in user-generated platform history.”