- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 4, 2021

Streaming media giant Roku pushed back on “clickbait” headlines Thursday, saying its decision to remove “‘non-certified channels” goes beyond banning Pornhub and other private pornographic channels.

Responding to multiple headlines this week that suggest the American digital hardware company has targeted Pornhub, a Roku spokesperson sent The Washington Times a statement saying that the decision to eliminate “non-certified” channels aligns the company’s screening of content with what Apple, Amazon, Samsung and Xbox already do with apps.

“At our annual developer conference in October, we announced new tools that align with industry standards and offer a more dynamic and flexible environment for developers to test their channels prior to launching in our public channel store. With the launch of these new tools, non-certified channels, which have previously been available to support development testing, are no longer necessary and will be removed by March of 2022,” the statement said.

The company said the fact that Pornhub and other adult entertainment platforms had found their way onto Roku televisions through private or non-certified channels was incidental to the decision, which intends to standardize the tools that app developers use to create channels.

In place of private channels, the company will launch a beta channel and Independent Developer Kit to help developers test their apps as the policy goes into effect March 1.

The company did not say, when asked by The Washington Times, which other channels would be affected by the new policy.

Roku’s attempts to clarify the policy have not stopped anti-pornography activists from claiming victory.

The National Center on Sexual Exploitation, a nonprofit that seeks to reform the adult entertainment industry, called the decision a “victory for survivors of sexual exploitation” in a statement Wednesday.

 “Roku’s decision to remove Pornhub and other exploitative pornography channels from its platform is a move that we and other international anti-exploitation groups and survivors have been calling on the company to make for years,” said group CEO Dawn Hawkins.

In March, the group’s British subsidiary, the International Centre on Sexual Exploitation, sent a letter to Roku’s CEO signed by 41 former porn-industry performers and advocates representing 12 countries.

The letter notes that Roku has allowed “hundreds of private channels for pornography platforms” that may include nonconsensual videos depicting sex abuse, rape and sex trafficking.

Ms. Hawkins added that her group had been in contact with many of Roku’s shareholders throughout the year and said the decision to end private channels means “Roku heard the concerns of anti-exploitation advocates and countless survivors.”

But the Free Speech Coalition, an association the represents the U.S. adult entertainment industry, said the advocacy group’s effort to take credit “is not based in fact.”

Roku closed down all private non-certified channels, some of which, but certainly not all, happened to be porn sites,” said Mike Stabile, the coalition’s spokesman.

Mr. Stabile told The Times that there is no evidence “that Pornhub, which verifies the ages and consent of everyone appearing on their site, was hosting anything illegal on Roku.”

“The private channels were long seen as a potential liability, due to both privacy concerns and the type of content on them, including pirated mainstream content and hate speech,” he said. “I take Roku at their word when they say this was about ending the product, rather than a specific type of content.”

Pornhub did not respond to a request from The Times to comment, but it has repeatedly denied the claims of some former performers that it allows anyone to post illegal pornographic videos.

The streaming giant, owned by the Canadian company MindGeek, has resisted efforts by U.S. legislators and major credit card companies to make it harder for content producers to upload pornographic videos without what activists call a stricter verification of “unambiguous consent.”  

Pornhub spokesman Ian Andrews told The Times in an Oct. 26 article that the company’s verification and consent protocols “far exceed those of any other user-generated platform on the internet.”

Roku had more than 56.4 million active accounts at the end of September, according to its third-quarter report. 

• Sean Salai can be reached at ssalai@washingtontimes.com.

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