ECP's What We Heard Report
Sept 27, 2023
Within one month of announcing the acquisition of Aylo, ECP undertook consultations with stakeholders regarding the acquisition. These ECP-led stakeholder consultations were conducted in partnership with the ECP Advisory Board and the Aylo team.
1. Executive Summary
In March 2023, Ethical Capital Partners (ECP), a private equity firm managed by a multidisciplinary team with regulatory, law enforcement, public engagement and finance experience, acquired Aylo (formerly MindGeek), a technology and media company, and owner of a large portfolio of adult entertainment properties.
Within one month of announcing the acquisition, ECP undertook consultations with stakeholders regarding the acquisition. These ECP-led stakeholder consultations were conducted in partnership with the ECP Advisory Board and the Aylo team.
As indicated by Advisory Board members, through the sessions, we determined key issues and priority concerns. In particular, we isolated actionable recommendations that we can implement to refine user experience, improve creator relations, and leverage existing Aylo resources to strengthen the reputation of the Aylo brands.
These objectives apply to our initial consultation and as ECP moves forward.
Clarify and guide ECP’s post-acquisition Aylo commitments.
Commit to listening and engaging in order to best represent certain stakeholders and collaborate with other stakeholders.
In the first stage, ECP engaged with content creators, victim advocacy groups, law enforcement, civil society partners, regulators, academics, banking institutions and payment processors to inform our efforts and strengthen Aylo's secure platforms, going beyond legal and regulatory obligations.
Areas of Interest
We were particularly interested in learning more about the following:
Challenges faced by our community of content creators, including stigma, social media censorship and financial discrimination.
Technical, legal and logistical obstacles encountered by law enforcement and prosecutors.
The ever-evolving nature of online threats and how to combat them.
Potential uses and development of Aylo’s tools and technologies in service of the public interest.
We are committed to supporting the Aylo team. ECP has consistently expressed that we are confident that Aylo operates legally and responsibly and the leadership team at Aylo has our support. The committed Trust and Safety team at Aylo are industry leaders in the fight against internet exploitation and regularly work closely with diverse partners in developing tools and techniques for protecting users both on Aylo’s platforms and beyond. ECP’s initial consultations and stakeholder engagement efforts were conducted in collaboration with the team at Aylo and we will continue to work closely with the team at Aylo in these efforts to further engage and consult.
We committed to sharing a summary of findings with those involved in the consultations, as well as making efforts to engage with the media to inform the larger public and to post updates to our website. This document is the first example of this approach. We are also committed to a person’s right to privacy, so the meetings and roundtable discussions were not recorded. Comments were captured in aggregate and not attributed to individuals or organizations (unless requested). Summary notes were shared with participants.
These consultations and this report are just the start. ECP is committed to continuing to listen, learn, collaborate and report.
2. What We Heard - Findings
Finding 1 - Lack of representation and involvement in social discourse on behalf of the adult industry as a whole: We have concluded that there is a lack of organized representation and engagement by the adult industry, including corporate and individual representation with various groups, such as social media platforms, technology safety coalitions and other industry organizations. Decisions that will impact the livelihood and businesses involved in the adult entertainment industry are being decided without consultation with those most closely impacted by these decisions.
Finding 2 - Lack of transparency and facts: Online adult entertainment industry has operated behind closed doors for too long. The public at large, policy/decision makers, social media platforms, etc. are either unfamiliar or misguided about the adult entertainment industry. This leads to discrimination, online attacks and allowing anti-porn groups to control the social narrative.
Finding 3 - Lack of partnerships with law enforcement: Law enforcement recognizes the utility and benefits of partnering with private industry. Our understanding is that in many cases, the current algorithmic hashing technology used by law enforcement to analyze seized devices is limited as it only recognizes exact matches of images and videos. This problem is further compounded by the sheer volume of information that must be analyzed by investigators and the inefficiency of manual content categorization. The slow pace of these investigations means that fewer children can be rescued, and more harm is perpetrated on vulnerable victims.
Finding 4 - Lack of working relations with academic communities: Closer collaboration with academic institutions and researchers is required. Academic researchers have expressed great interest in collaborating with Aylo on a wide variety of projects. These include accessing Aylo’s anonymized data for social trend research, conducting surveys on Aylo’s creator community and further understanding Aylo’s content moderation and verification processes.
Finding 5 - Lack of shared Aylo technology resources: Aylo’s tools and technologies have untapped potential. Their proprietary technology, created to keep their platforms safe and secure can be used for the public good in many other contexts. Aside from the direct applications to child protection efforts and investigations, further collaboration and consultation have revealed other uses which should be further explored.
Finding 6 - Lack of knowledge about resources and tools available to support content creators: Although there is wide recognition amongst the content creators that Aylo’s platforms have been leaders in supporting them, there is always room for further understanding of how Aylo is equipped to support content creators. Creators have expressed concerns with aspects of Aylo’s platforms, many of which are endemic to the adult online industry. While this has improved considerably under the company’s new ownership, more work must be done.
Based on our initial conversations with stakeholders, we recommend the following measures to address the challenges and opportunities:
Recommendation 1: Leadership
Aylo can and must play an active advocacy role in the adult industry and the Internet at large.
ECP and Aylo would like to have a seat at the table when regulations are being developed. By actively engaging with governments, industry and other interest groups, ECP and Aylo can make efforts to become a trusted partner and provide a perspective from the vantage point of our industry, something that has not historically been achievable. We believe this can be done through the following:
Proactive Advocacy: Aylo, as well as the adult industry at large, must actively engage with government officials, policymakers and regulatory bodies to share our expertise and concerns. As much as possible, it is vital to begin engaging with governments early on, even before specific proposals are put forward. By establishing relationships and ongoing dialogue, we can provide valuable insights and shape regulatory discussions from the beginning.
Public-Private Partnerships: Seek opportunities to collaborate with governments on pilot projects, research initiatives, or policy task forces. By actively participating in public-private partnerships, we can contribute expertise, build relationships and influence decision-making processes. With regards to Aylo technology, please see recommendation below regarding the sharing of technology with law enforcement and NGOs.
Combating Misinformation: Aylo, in collaboration with NGOs and advocacy organizations, should use social media platforms* and media reach to fight back against disinformation and misinformation which is being spread about adult performers and the adult industry at large. Aylo should be visible in these efforts and assist in platforming those with relevant expertise and lived experience. Content creators and advocates can and should be engaged to help in promoting and combating misinformation.
*We note that at the time of publication, various adult creators’ and advocates’ social media accounts have been banned or otherwise deplatformed, without clear explanation from social media platform operators.
Recommendation 2: Safer Internet For All
The adult industry, companies and individuals, are eager to work with government, law enforcement, media and online companies to make the Internet safer.
Industry Partnerships: Foster collaboration among adult entertainment businesses, industry associations and advocacy groups. By working together, we can address common challenges, promote ethical standards and develop mechanisms to ensure responsible practices within the industry. Furthermore, as there are numerous jurisdictions to cover, collaboration with other businesses and industry associations is necessary to form a collective voice. Establishing alliances enables a stronger presence and allows for more impactful engagement with governments. Such partnerships would also provide economies of scale when it comes to monitoring policies. Through these associations, we can better stay informed about emerging policy developments and regulatory trends in our industry and identify potential areas of impact and proactively engage with those that are best executed through partnerships.
Transparency and Accountability: Aylo is at the forefront of transparency. Aylo was the first in the online adult industry to have a brand (Pornhub) publish a yearly transparency report (now published twice yearly). Beyond this, Aylo has a role to play in encouraging the larger adult industry to adopt greater transparency by publicly sharing information about business practices, safety measures and responsible content creation. Work with others in the industry to establish clear guidelines and codes of conduct that prioritize user safety, consent and privacy, and share this with our partners, such as with the technology companies behind the major operating systems and NGOs. Demonstrate that the industry can show leadership and initiative.
Recommendation 3: Knowledge and Support
We believe it is crucial to foster an environment that encourages creativity, diversity and freedom of expression, while complying with all laws. We want others to know this about us. Communicating, educating and supporting the adult entertainment community is part of our corporate responsibility.
For and on Behalf of Content Creators: ECP will continue to support Aylo in their efforts to actively reach out and build partnerships with a diversity of content creators within the adult entertainment industry. This may mean continuing to encourage diverse representation, prioritizing performer well-being and consent, and supporting efforts to combat exploitation, human trafficking and non-consensual content sharing. In addition, ECP believes Aylo has an expanded role to play and must find ways to represent content creators as a constituency and support the community in their outreach and engagement with stakeholders. One example often brought up during initial consultations is the relationship (or lack of) between social media platforms and content creators. ECP will support Aylo in their efforts to work with content creators to facilitate communications with social media platforms thus fostering an environment where content creators feel empowered, supported and confident in expressing their ideas while promoting a diverse and vibrant community of creators and adult users. We also want to recognize the value of content creators. We believe that through the sharing of information and targeted support for content creators, Aylo can help spread facts to the community and help us all work together. Without content creators, Aylo cannot succeed.
Creators at the Heart of Platform Design: ECP will continue to invest in Aylo’s platform upgrades to ensure that the needs of creators are at the heart of platform design. This may include a more streamlined and efficient onboarding system and centralized dashboard, with a single sign-up and creator interface. More data should be made available to creators to assist them in managing and monetizing their content. The Aylo development team is ever innovating and introducing updates to the platform; there may be opportunities, through the Aylo community relations team, to consider engaging content creators in future product and feature innovations. Aylo will continue to ensure and expand upon their communications with content creators and have a particular focus on expanding health and wellness resources.
Research and Reporting: By embracing transparency, collaborating with stakeholders, investing in research, educating the public, and assuming thought leadership roles, the adult entertainment industry can play a proactive role in shaping its narrative, improving practices and promoting responsible consumption. Invest in research initiatives that examine the social, cultural and economic impacts of the adult entertainment industry. Encourage independent studies and commission reputable research organizations to provide objective insights. Publish reports that highlight both positive and negative aspects of the industry, informing the public and policymakers.
Public Education and Awareness: Engage and collaborate with existing NGOs (sex education organizations, mental health professionals and public health agencies) that are leaders in education to develop educational resources. Support accurate information and public education campaigns to promote healthy conversations about online porn, including law enforcement, consent, trust and safety, safe browsing practices and the importance of distinguishing between fantasy and reality.
Thought Leadership and Advocacy: Encourage industry leaders to become thought leaders by participating in public forums, conferences, panel discussions and media interviews. Share knowledge and insights about the industry's challenges, innovations and potential societal impacts. Actively engage with policymakers, media and advocacy groups to shape public discourse and influence policy discussions.
Impact Cultural Conversation: Aylo platforms have played a role in conversations that are happening in society. These adult platforms are in a unique position to positively inform users about evolutions in such conversations, such as with the tags being used online to access content. For instance, Aylo can work with content creators on creator tags and content titling/nomenclature. Tags are essential to monetize content on a platform with advanced algorithmic search functions; however, they often rely on stereotypes which do not always reflect the essential dignity of creators and users.
Recommendation 4: Sharing Technology
ECP and Aylo must continue to share technology with law enforcement, NGOs, non-profit and other organizations that we believe are trying to reduce harm and make the Internet safer for all.*
Continue and Expand Partnerships: Aylo’s Trust & Safety program is recognized by governments, NGOs, organizations and law enforcement as being industry leading. Through numerous collaborative efforts, Aylo has built significant trust and credibility with these organizations. This trust should be the foundation of further partnerships in the public interest. In internet child exploitation investigations, time is of the essence. Aylo and ECP fully share law enforcement’s goals of assisting children in need of protection.
Aylo Proprietary Technology: Technology is the key to these efforts. We heard during our meetings with law enforcement that many representatives are receptive to the idea of meeting with and working with technical experts from Aylo to identify software solutions that can lead to efficiency improvements with their search and categorization capabilities in child sexual abuse investigations and to learn how Aylo is able to process and categorize vast amounts of data. Aylo has developed industry-leading proprietary technology to allow for both the fingerprinting of content beyond traditional hashing techniques and the ability to crawl the web to identify previously fingerprinted content. While traditional hashing techniques are defeated when a target file is even minimally altered (even one pixel changed results in an entirely new hash fingerprint), Aylo’s patented Safeguard software creates “perceptual hashes”, allowing it to recognize fingerprinted content even where it has been changed, through for example clipping, cropping or transcoding. This software should be made freely available to law enforcement agencies to allow them to better analyze seized materials. At present, in many cases, manual processes are used by law enforcement to review data. This is highly inefficient and results in a significant backlog of unprocessed data.
(*including minors, consenting adults and sex-workers)