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Russians now need a passport to watch Pornhub

by Greg Walters
Jul 10 2017, 12:40pm

Pornhub, the world’s biggest porn site, now requires users in Russia to log in using social media accounts linked to their passports and cell phones.

Monday’s change is the latest chapter in an ongoing feud between Pornhub and the Russian government. The site was blocked in Russia last September for allegedly spreading information detrimental to the development of children, then reinstated in April after instituting a requirement that users specify their age. At the time, Pornhub asked the Russian state media regulation agency whether officials there would lift the ban if they were given free Pornhub Premium accounts.

The Russians replied that they would not.

The site found itself once again at the center of Russian political intrigue weeks later, when political opponents of Russian President Vladimir Putin used Pornhub to distribute a banned investigative documentary about Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, a longtime Putin ally.

It’s unclear whether that episode is linked to the latest alteration to Pornhub’s Russia policy — forcing users to log in with their account on the social networking site Vkontakte.

Pornhub announced the change on its own Vkontakte page page by saying “Now you can simply log in through your favorite social network” instead of filling in your date of birth. But the government policy that Pornhub says prompted the change presumably wasn’t aimed at making it easier for Russians to watch porn. Instead, it may be a means of surveillance; to open a Vkontakte account, users need to enter their cell phone numbers. And to legally purchase a SIM card in Russia, you need to disclose your passport information.

“While this exact method is not a condition [from the Russian government], we found this is the best solution for our users to comply with Russian access laws,” Pornhub Vice President Corey Price said. “Also to be clear, Pornhub does not log or store any of your personal information, this is just a check to see if users are over 18…. On [Vkontakte’s] end, all they will see is see the request from that user, they will not know what that user browsed on Pornhub.”

The Russian government has recently taken steps to limit anti-Putin activists’ access to the internet, which Putin once called a “CIA project,” in the wake of political protests organized online by anti-corruption activist and Putin opponent Alexei Navalny. In March, Russia blocked several websites promoting protests in Moscow.

Not long after, it was Navalny’s allies who used Pornhub to distribute the anti-Medvedev documentary. The film, narrated by Navalny, shows yachts, palatial compounds, and a 17th century Tuscan villa that are all allegedly controlled by Medvedev thanks to a complex web of cronies, charitable funds, and offshore companies.

In May, a Russian court ordered Navalny to stop distributing the film, and that’s when his allies posted it to Pornhub with the title “RUSSIAN CORRUPTED POLITICIAN FUCKED HARD.”

On May 31, Navalny thanked Pornhub on his Vkontakte page and suggested the porn site do a “remake” of the film “in the corresponding genre.”