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Dec 5, 2020

Mastercard to review Pornhub ties after column spurs outrage

Mastercard Inc. credit and debit cards are arranged for a photograph in Arlington, Virginia, U.S. on Monday, April 29, 2019. Mastercard Inc. is scheduled to release earnings figures on April 30. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

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Mastercard Inc. is reviewing ties to MindGeek after a New York Times column accused the parent of the website of distributing videos depicting child abuse and nonconsensual violence.

Mastercard said Saturday it doesn’t tolerate illegal activity on its payment network, and that it works with law enforcement and organizations like the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children to detect illegal transactions. Pornhub denies it allows child videos on its site.

“We are investigating the allegations raised in the New York Times and are working with MindGeek’s bank to understand this situation, in addition to the other steps they have already taken,” Mastercard said in a statement. “If the claims are substantiated, we will take immediate action.”

Nicholas Kristof’s column in the Times describing recordings of assaults and a naked video of a 14-year-old girl sparked outrage on social media, including a Twitter post from activist investor Bill Ackman asserting card companies should withhold payments or withdraw participation with Pornhub “until this is fixed.”

Kristof wrote that Pornhub doesn’t adequately block or filter content depicting violence and allows videos to be downloaded directly from its site, meaning that material can spread even after it’s taken down.

Pornhub said any assertion that it allows child sexual abuse material is untrue. The site is “unequivocally committed to combating” the content and has implemented an “industry-leading trust and safety policy to identify and eradicate illegal material,” Pornhub said in a statement.

Mastercard and its rival Visa Inc. don’t work directly with retailers. Instead, websites seeking to accept credit and debit cards sign up with a bank known as a merchant acquirer to help them process payments. A spokesperson for Visa didn’t respond to requests for comment.

Mastercard said in its statement that when it identifies illegal activity on its network, it typically asks the merchant acquirer to terminate the relationship unless an effective compliance plan is put in place.

Processing payments for pornography websites has long divided the payments and banking industry, and sex workers have claimed they’ve had their bank accounts shut down after lenders learned of their profession.

PayPal Holdings Inc. doesn’t process payments for American Express Co.’s cards aren’t accepted on Pornhub, and a spokeswoman on Saturday said the firm has a longstanding policy that prohibits card acceptance on digital adult content websites.