Steve Jobs vs Porn: Who Will Win?

by Michael Dopira and Anastasia Kurdina
“Our strength grows out of our weaknesses”
Ralph Waldo Emerson

Recently, in communication with Gawker blogger Ryan Tate, Steve Jobs wrote that his iPad is a revolution designed to provide its users with "Freedom from porn" 1. This was not just a one-time argument in favor of banning Flash-based applications on iPad, as Jobs has confirmed in other commnication with customer, “we do believe we have a moral responsibility to keep porn off the iPhone.” Better, is what he said next: “Folks who want porn can buy and [sic] Android phone."2

Now Apple is a leading company in the market and "has the chance to set the tone for a new platform - new phone and tablet platform. The platform of the future!" 3

Let’s assume that Jobs really meant what he said and decided to make this platform and "future" porn-free and completely "liberate" people from their dark-side interests. This article will examine the porn industry, it’s size and market share, and possible implications that porn-free devices can experience in regards of user’s demand and popularity. Also, we’ll look into the possible ways of how Apple can implement porn censorship for iPad.

Internet and Porn Symbiosis

It is similarly naïve to think that porn emerged together with Internet and that sex position “69” was invented in 1969. Still, it is true that modern technologies have made access to adult materials extremely easy. Internet allows us to be anonymous and play whatever role revealing hidden desires and inclinations. It also gives us opportunity to share virtually any content with any person on the globe who has Internet access. What is more, we can collect fees for sharing some content, so Internet is an excellent marketplace for goods one would never buy openly. In spite of numerous attempts to control spread of sexually explicit materials over the Web, popularity of such content is constantly rising.

Interest in Obscene Materials Online

Google data for search term 'porn'

Although the most popular search engines of Google and Yahoo do not report adult-related search queries in top-lists, they are for sure among top-10. Such guess is supported by numerous observations. It is instructive to look at suggestions that Google search engine produces based on most frequent and demanded searches. In other words, the more people search for some item, the more likely their search words would appear as suggestions in fill-in box. The figure below shows that innocent query “little girl” gives auto-fill the option which is obviously obscene showing how demanded explicit materials are.

Google tries to fight with obscene materials in search results (especially pictures), so there is a filter that allows restricting search to materials with no adult content. But when the filter is off, search of images using the most innocent word combinations would bring you naked bodies in top-10 results. Check it out with queries “small”, “big”, or “great outdoors”!

Google porn search suggestions

It is also intriguing to find out that topic of sex and porn is of great interest not only for adults, but also for children as young as 7 years. Symantec, the producer of various products for virus protection and security has a product called OnlineFamily.Norton (known before as Norton Online Family) which monitors activities of children over the Internet and blocks explicit content. Symantec reports 5 that children sought for the following items on the Web in 2009:

Symantec Norton Kid Porn Data

The report also notes that boys are more interested in Sex&Porn queries (which rank 4th), while girls had Taylor Swift as #4 search. Girls were still interested in Sex, though, with the term coming it at #5.

Interest in adult materials is natural, and it estimated that about 50% of men accessing the Internet are accessing pornographic materials on purpose 6. Interest in obscene materials is as old Adam, so it is very unlikely that any campaign against it can lead to chastity triumph. And some guys make fortunes on low-pitched desires, so let’s look at this business more closely.

Porn Market at Glance

  • 4.2 million porn websites (12% of total websites)
  • 420 million web pages with explicit content
  • 68 million search engine requests per day
  • 42.7% of Internet users who view porn
  • $4.9 billion are monthly Internet pornography sales 7

Porn – Multibillion Business with no Market Leader

Let’s look at main features of contemporary erotic&porn industry. No reliable estimates can be made due to several reasons:

  • Tangible part of the industry is illegal.
  • The industry is scattered, so that small private studios, revenues of which are difficult to be measured, form the largest part of the market.
  • Production of explicit materials is easy to conceal or pass for different activity.
  • Substantial share of business is in P2P environment.
  • Businessmen engaged in porn production are likely to evade taxation.
  • It is also difficult to measure porn industry due to
  • Vagueness of porn and erotic definitions especially in printed media and books.
  • Difficult distinction of porn industry from related industries.

So, taking into account all difficulties with defining the market and making accurate estimations the market size ranges from $10 billion to “billions and the billions”. It is reasonable to assume that in general market size is about $100 billion 8, with China, Japan and South Korea among leader producers 9. The industry, however, is very heterogeneous. For simplicity it can be divided in the following categories:

  • Video sales and rentals
  • Internet
  • Cable / PPV / In-Room / Mobile / Phone Sex
  • Exotic Dance Clubs
  • Novelties
  • Magazines

Every category, though, can be divided into distinct subcategories, which have different markets and target audiences. So, it is difficult to perceive porn business as uniform and integrated. This fact makes it difficult to control or lobby.

Is there a "porn lobby" and how it works

Porn lobby is the fairly informal term that can hardly be identified. It is extremely difficult to lobby obscene material publicly, since conventional ethical considerations would always make position of porn producers weak from the point of view of public. What is more, it is difficult to lobby for greater spread or availability of porn for the same reason. Still, it should be noted that porn should not be lobbied in principal. If it is banned, people would definitely find ways to get it. What is more, people would seek for porn, and their choices influence markets. It is commonly believed that porn lobby led to victory of VHS format when it competed with Betamax 10. The lobby of porno industry does not act traditionally, since it does not need to. It can choose to release video production in VHS format, so people interested in buying adult video would definitely pick this format. The same story applies to contemporary battle of video formats (Blu-ray vs. HD-DVD) 11. It seems that large producers of porn have chosen Blu-ray, and such choice can be a death sentence for HD-DVD.

“Porn Issue”

There are some types of porn that should be banned. Still, efforts to restrict porn spread are not effective to great extent. People would find what they seek for. Forbidden fruit is sweetest, so the more porn is banned, the more attractive it would appear. “Freeing” from porn is like liberation from sweets for many people. So, all efforts for solving “porn issue” would not be successful as long as people would like to get porn. It can be banned from searching, but new search engines would give you search among porn sites. One can ban site with explicit video, but the same video would be shared in P2P networks, such as eMule or torrent.

iPad and Porn War

So, is it possible for Apple to make a future platform which would be principally "porn-free"? The fact that iPhone and iPad already have Safari – a web browser enabling complete access to web pages, porn included, – pre-installed, suggests, that such "freedom" has already been proved impossible to enforce, only if Apple does not impose strict unbreakable filters on Safari, which by the way, has not been done as of today.

And let’s not forget, that even Google, with their policy to filter porn-related content in search results, did not do anything against X-rated application on their Android phone 12, most probably due to demand and because they considered it unreasonable to ban applications that are that popular.

If Jobs meant just enabling additional parental control features, his statement about building a revolutionary porn-free device, wouldn't be that grounded, as these features are not something new, and certainly not a revolution aimed at freeing humanity from the vice – almost every operational system, device and browser has such parental control settings.

Hence, from the first glance, there are no real and new instruments, meant to restrict iPad users from viewing porn content.

Except for one thing. You can browse pictures alright. As for the video, it's a completely different story. The thing is, the major part of streaming video on the Web today is Flash-based, while iPhone along with iPad don't support Flash at all. However, Youtube videos could be watched using YouTube App, specifically developed to let iPhone and iPad users enjoy videos from world's largest streaming video service, since majority of Youtube files employ h.264 video codec along with H.263/Sorenson Spark files wrapped in Flash 13.

This means that to play a Youtube video on iPad, you have to use a special application. There is a twist: you watch video via application, not browser. Which implies that all streaming video sites, with movies encoded in Flash and not H.264 format files, will be impossible to view on iPad at all. And for now, such is almost all porn streaming video available on the Net.

YouTube being porn free, the "anti-porn policy" seems feasible and quite real. While Apple imposes strict filters along with verification process on applications in their store, there is no chance for streaming porn video App to get there.

In this light, a "war" against porn seems justified and even real. Apple cannot eradicate all "image" porn, but they have all tools of animated, streaming video controlling contents on his new platform.

However, there seems to be one chance to avoid this war for porn industry players, and it's called HTML5. Being criticized for placing censorship on App Store, Apple argues that there's a portion of its devices that is totally open to users and developers: the Web. If developers don’t like some of the App Store’s restrictions, they should make a web app using HTML5 technology, Apple reasons 14.

And in this situation, players of porn industry may want to elude restrictions by converting to new, Apple-compatible streaming video standard, HTML-5 which with their collective market size of internet searches, will be a serious blow to Adobe Flash and will virtually send this standard into the history textbooks. In this variant, the war will be won, the Adobe war. And in this case, porn industry can again become a faceless lobby deciding on which standard will take over.

Taken into account the above-mentioned discussed facts, the demand for porn content by a big part of internet users, top search results, popularity of such services, and their market share, the question rises: will Jobs actually make a new porn-free platform, or was it just an excuse for his "Flash war"? Will porn industry, again, dictate via demand of its users, the more acceptable standards? Are Job's moral beliefs more important that market share and consumer base, or was it just another commercial of the notorious parental control features and argument for Flash-related App conflicts?

Time will tell, and we'll see if Jobs is honest and determined enough in his statements, and even by any wonder if it turns out so, with censorship applied on Apps and Safari, if people love Apple's products that much as to accept one man's moral restrictions.

Sample subject:
Technology
Sample type:
Analysis