What does "unlimited" data storage mean, really? Unlimited plans—offered by many cloud storage and backup companies as promotions for their storage capabilities—are almost never truly limitless. Most come with stipulations about data usage limits if you start hoarding too hard, and the majority of users will never come close to needing that much storage.
Reddit user beaston02 was determined to find the true ceiling of Amazon's cloud storage plan, which was killed off in June. He decided to push its limits with a petabyte of porn. (Some people credit beaston02 for Amazon's decision to cancel the unlimited storage offering, but he denies that rumor.) For reference, a petabyte is one million gigabytes.
To gather this much data, beaston02 wrote scripts that recorded public webcam shows from a variety of adult cam sites, including CamSoda, Chaturbate, and MyFreeCams.
"I have more of a problem with collecting or hoarding data than I do with porn"
"It is nearly entirely porn," he told me in a Reddit message. "Ever since I got into computers, I found myself learning more, and faster when it was something more interesting. Call me crazy, but women interest me more than most other things on the internet and there is a huge amount of data being created daily, so it was a good fit for the project."
He said it took five or six months to collect one petabyte of porn, and he stopped collecting just shy of 1.8 petabytes.
How long would it take one to consume 1.8 petabytes of porn? 1.8 petabytes is about 23.4 years of HD-TV video, but webcam streams are nowhere near that quality. A few good folks crunched the numbers: 720p is about two gigabytes per hour, and at 900,000 hours, that's 102 years of straight calendar time. If the videos are even lower quality, say, 480p, that's around 0.7 gigabytes per hour, or 293 years and six months. Better get to watching.
Beaston02 told me he stopped recording streams simply because his interest in it waned. "I know plenty of people have labeled me some huge pervert or someone with a huge porn addiction, but that's really not me at all," he said. "I have more of a problem with collecting or hoarding data than I do with porn." He said he used the exercise to learn Python, SQL databases, and how to handle that much data. "The project ran its course, I got the knowledge I was hoping to get, and I just had no interest in it anymore."
While he's no longer running the scripts that collected the porn, he made them available on Github. Another Redditor, -Archivist, took up the cause with the "Petabyte Porn Project," recruiting other hoarders to help continue recording live public cam sessions all day every day. -Archivist told me in a Reddit message that this represents "upwards of 12 terabytes per day." Those helping hoard are close to two petabytes now, stored on Amazon's cloud and mirrored on Google Drive. Amazon did not respond to Motherboard's request for comment.
Recording live streams and downloading them for later viewing is technically legal, but morally questionable. Some say "these people chose to be in the public eye" since they're recording from free, public streams, but most free cam models are paid on tips from viewers during live shows.
I asked Charley Hart, a cam model at CamSoda, what she thought of people downloading streams without her knowledge. "Part of me is ok with some of it," she said. "It's one thing if I do it—I think that's the whole thing, it's all about consent." She said that some women use live streams because it keeps their identities slightly safer than a static video that's uploaded to a website for repeated viewing. It could also be good advertising for a model to have her work spread widely, but only if viewers seek her out specifically instead of only seeking the next free video.
Some of her viewers download her shows while they watch, but always with her consent, and usually with the understanding that if they capture a good GIF or clip, they'll share with her so she can promote herself with it.
"That's why we ask guys to pay for our porn, because instead of going to production companies now, you're pretty much going specifically to the girl," Hart said. "The fact that some guys are trying to get that fantasy for free? I feel a little taken advantage of. I'm already giving away so much for free ... We choose this job and I understand that, but people should be compensated for what they do."
Beaston02 said that although people request he add features for recording private shows or ones that have geolocation requirements—viewable only by those within a geological area the model or site has specified—he doesn't deliver them. "We all have different places where we draw the line morally, and that happens to be one of my lines, at least as far as publicly releasing code goes," he said. "Although I have no control over what any captured content is used for later, I also have asked any content gathered by the scripts not be shared or sold on websites."
Get six of our favorite Motherboard stories every day by signing up for our newsletter.