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The Privacy Lawyer: Unscrupulous Marketing Practices Of Online Porn Purveyors

The government is cracking down on operators of adult Web sites that use illegal and unethical methods to attract children to their sites, Parry Aftab says.
The use of generic names not associated with adult content: The use of generic domain names which most people wouldn't expect to contain adult content also is a popular way adult Webmasters increase unsuspecting traffic to their site.

Registering lapsed site names with loyal traffic: There are several similar schemes or practices designed to increase traffic to adult sites from unaware surfers. Porn-napping (the popular term for registering domain names whose original registration has lapsed) is a less well-known practice. A paper analyzing the impact of domain-napping of popular and well-established domain names documented thousands of porn-napping instances. For more information, see Ben Edelman's case study, "Domains Reregistered for Distribution of Unrelated Content: A Case Study of 'Tina's Free Live Webcam' ".

One of the best-known cases of porn-napping of a child's site involved Moneyopolis, an award-winning children's site created and run by Ernst & Young. It was linked to by many other sites and promoted in many Internet guides for children. It was a popular and high-quality resource for teaching children finance. The main site was .org, with the .com pointing to it. When the domain registration was allowed to lapse in 2001 for some reason, a pornographer bought moneyopolis.org. He shortly thereafter pointed it to his EuroTeenSluts.com. (Ernst & Young eventually was able to reacquire the domain name.)

Meta tags: When used properly, special keywords and descriptions help search engines identify relevant sites, based either on their subject matter or keywords and descriptions. These special subject terms, keywords, and descriptors are written in a hidden code called meta tags. The meta tags are visible to the search engines and generally invisible to the site visitor (except if you use "display source" in your browser). Many adult sites use meta tags to misrepresent their sites or to draw traffic based on famous names, brands, and popular search terms.

Ironically, one of the first sites to enforce the intellectual property laws against an adult site misusing a meta tags was Playboy Enterprises Inc., publisher of Playboy. Another adult site was using Playboy's name in its meta tags. When people searched for Playboy, search results would include the infringing site, often higher among the results than the real Playboy. Playboy easily won and the other site was forced to remove all references to any of Playboy's marks. Today, Playboy polices its mark using special technologies to scour the Internet for any infringements and is quick to sue to enforce its rights.

Mousetrapping: Special browser-disabling techniques are used by some unscrupulous site operators. Called mousetrapping, these tactics disable your "back" button and when you attempt to manually close the window, new windows are launched. Window upon window of graphic sexual images multiply on the screen. When one is closed several others are launched. It is virtually impossible to stop mousetrapping once it begins. Most users have been mousetrapped at one time or another and have had to turn off their computers entirely to rid their screens of graphic images. Mousetrapping has been considered consumer fraud by some regulatory agencies, including the Federal Trade Commission. (The FTC took action against the notorious typo-squatter and mousetrapper, John Zuccarini).

As more and more Internet users of all ages find themselves subjected to fraudulent and unscrupulous marketing campaigns I expect that governmental regulators will be forced to take action. Already the Department of Justice is stepping up its efforts to stop illegal online adult content. Adults using their credit cards to subscribe to legal adult sites are worried that their financial data isn't being safeguarded by site operators. The legitimate adult sites and online service providers are themselves looking for ways to clean up their acts The more-responsible members of the adult online industry are subscribing to privacy seal programs, such as TrustE and BBBOnLine, and looking for ways to protect their customers and Internet users (especially children) from unexpected and unintended exposure.

Members of the adult industry often claim that they're only giving their customers what they want. Maybe. But if they really mean it, they should be adhering to marketing practices that give us the choice of avoiding or accessing adult content. We have rights, too.

Continue to the sidebar: Life After Running A Porn Site


To discuss this column with other readers, please visit the Talk Shop.

To find out more about Parry Aftab, please visit her page on the Listening Post.

Editor's Choice
Brian T. Horowitz, Contributing Reporter
Samuel Greengard, Contributing Reporter
Nathan Eddy, Freelance Writer
Brandon Taylor, Digital Editorial Program Manager
Jessica Davis, Senior Editor
Cynthia Harvey, Freelance Journalist, InformationWeek
Sara Peters, Editor-in-Chief, InformationWeek / Network Computing