Porn sites to get secure connections so no-one can spy on what you're watching

Porn sites are some of the most visited places on the Internet, but many of them lack a basic security feature long used to keep everything from your online banking to your email safe from prying eyes.

That's starting to change, however.

Last week, privacy advocates at the Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT) and the Free Speech Coalition (FSC), an adult entertainment trade group, announced a partnership to help porn sites automatically secure Web traffic.

The technology at the heart of the issue is called HTTPS. It's a security measure, usually identified by a lock in the URL bar, that creates a sort of digital tunnel between you and a website -- and may someday lead an industry standard.

If a porn site has HTTPS automatically enabled across all its pages, then someone watching your connection will know which site you're on but won't be able to spy on your searches or see which videos you view.

"Depending on what you're watching, it could really wreak havoc on your life" if exposed, according to FSC communications director Mike Stabile.

The first step in the partnership will be webinars and outreach events with FSC members, according to CDT chief technologist Joseph Lorenzo Hall. The group also will work with sites to help them figure out how to deploy the technology.

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Porn and news sites are one of the last categories of sites not to have the technology. The largest barrier has been bringing advertisers on board, said Stabile and Hall -- in part because many sites make money through advertisements. If even one piece of a secure Web page is not compatible with the technology, browsers often warn users -- which could scare visitors away.

And there are additional hosting and setup costs to implement the technology.

But it's easier and cheaper than ever to provide the extra security, Hall said.

The recent push to secure adult sites came about after Google released a transparency report this year that highlighted that the adult industry was lagging behind on security, Stabile said.

That report examined whether the 100 most-trafficked non-Google sites automatically deploy the technology. The few adult sites that did were "cam" sites where visitors video-chat with performers. Those are often more secure because they are interactive and feature financial transactions, Stabile said.

But the majority of adult sites on Google's list didn't use the technology, including three major porn sites: Redtube, YouPorn and Pornhub. Those sites are part of perhaps the largest online adult entertainment brand, the "Pornhub Network," according to analytics sites. The brand claims that its sites receive more than 100 million visits per day.

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The Pornhub Network says it is working on rolling out HTTPS by default across all its sites -- independent of the CDT and FSC partnership. It already has deployed the technology on one of its smaller sites.

"Pornhub is a very strong advocate for HTTPS," Pornhub Vice President Corey Price told The Washington Post in an emailed statement. "This effort is definitely a step in the right direction toward a safe and secure online experience."

The Pornhub Network may be the largest adult brand that will deploy the technology,but others such as TRENCHCOATx already have made the leap.

The FSC hopes that adult sites of all sizes will eventually provide visitors the protection, Stabile said -- and says help from the CDT will make that easier.

"It's about educating people that it's important, but also reassuring them that it's not going to be a huge headache," he said.

Washington Post

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