This Is My Private Business! Privacy Risks on Adult Websites
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Millions of users from all over the world access pornographic content on the web. However, as of today, there’s a dearth of knowledge about the porn web ecosystem and, in particular, about the privacy risks to which porn web users get exposed. As a matter of fact, porn websites can infer sensitive private information from users, including their sexual orientation and preferences, which can be later linked to their identity. As a result, many porn web consumers resort to ad blockers and private browsing modes to protect their identity when browsing adult websites. In this work in progress, we aim to expose the porn web ecosystem hoping to analyze aspects like their age verification mechanisms — which are required in certain regulatory frameworks as the British one —, their user tracking and data collection practices, and their privacy policies. By leveraging simple methodologies, we have already obtained relevant preliminary results: (1) we have identified a significant presence of third-party tracking services on porn websites; (2) we have discovered the use of both first-party and third-party cookies, most times installed without the user consent; and (3) we have found a concerning lack of age verification mechanism to prevent the access of minors to porn websites. In the future, we plan to study in depth the many stakeholders in this industry as well as the effectiveness of anti-tracking mechanisms such as ad blockers, VPN services, and safe browsing modes.