The Internet and the Sex Industry
B. The Growth of the Internet
At the same time, the online sex industry has supported and fueled
the astounding growth of the Internet. A 1997 PC Computing article
advised computer industry advisors, "If you haven't visited
a pornography Web shop in a while, you should. It will show you
the future of online commerce
Web pornographers are the most
innovative entrepreneurs on the Internet." The sex industry
is currently the largest source of e-commerce on the Web. It has
pioneered fast, highly secure means of conducting business online,
such as credit card transaction technology, and is leading the way
in database management. In addition, as one of the most profitable
online industries, its advertising money provides crucial financial
support to all of the largest Internet Service Providers (ISPs)
and search engines.
In The Internet and Sex Industries: Partners in Global Sexual
Exploitation, Donna Hughes notes:
Many Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and Online Services do
not like to admit to the extent of the sex industry's importance
in Internet commerce, but the large ISPs profit from the sex industry
by carrying their sites and online services. Search engines and
directories also take in considerable amounts of money from the
sex industry as advertising revenue.
Search engines are the indexing system for the World Wide Web.
Search engines, such as WebCrawler, HotBot, Excite, InfoSeek,
Lycos, search hundreds of thousands of Web sites per day, picking
up keywords placed in the content of pages. Web users depend on
the comprehensiveness and accuracy of search engines, which vary
widely, to find material anywhere on the Web by entering keywords.
Analyses of the searches on Web search engines show what subjects
are being sought on the Web. In 1995, a study of the searches
on one Web search engine found that 47 percent of the 11,000 most-repeated
searches were for pornography.
Soon after the sex industry began to go online, its leaders recognized
the promotional value of search engines. On December 19, 1994,
The Shrimp Club, an organization of men who live or travel in
Southeast Asia, set up a Web site to give men information on events,
parties, and products that featured Asian women. As part of their
promotional strategy they ensured that their Web site was listed
in web search engines. This aggressive marketing garnered them
15 000 accesses to their Web site in the first week. This priming
of search engines was a strategy that all sex industry businesses
on the Internet would adopt. As sex industry businesses increasingly
moved to the Web, they placed paid advertisements for their sites
with search engines and online services. Eventually, the success
of a search engine depended on accepting advertising from the
sex industry, as the case of Snap Online demonstrates.
In December, 1997, partially in response to public complaints
of the pervasiveness of the sex industry on the Internet and parents
concerns about children viewing sex industry sites or their advertising,
CNET announced Snap Online, a Web directory safe for children.
The Snap search engine was advertised as having no pornographic
Web sites in its directory. In the press release, CNET said, "Snap
Online does not accept any pornographic advertising, nor does
it contain pornographic listings in its directory of more than
100 000 hand-selected Web sites." Nine months later, in August
1998, CNET announced that Snap would be including pornographic
Web sites in its directory, and admitted that pornographic sites
could be found through Snap for some time. Anyone searching for
pornography on Snap would automatically be rolled over to the
search engines Infoseek and Inktomi, which index pornography.
Snap's executive producer, Katharine English, defended the decision
by saying, "Our statistics show that 40 percent of our users
are looking for this kind of material. This is a user-driven decision."
The decision was rationalized by pointing out that everyone else
is doing it, so they had to also. Katharine English said, "If
you search for bestiality, you'll find it there. It's not like
we're standing out." The lack of profitability was due to
loss of advertising revenue from the sex industry. Pornographic
advertising banners on search engines are the "cash cow,"
or certain moneymakers, for the Web search engines and indexes.
The owner of a Web site, search engine, or Web directory, is paid
each time a viewer clicks on an advertisement on that page. Advertisers
pay in the range of 12 cents to US$1 per click. The Snap Online
example demonstrates the reliance of Internet search engines on
the sex industry. Without the sex industry many services on the
Web would close.
 The Internet and Sex Industries: Partners
in Global Sexual Exploitation, Technology and Society Magazine,
(Spring 2000). The full text is available online at http://www.uri.edu/artsci/wms/hughes/siii.htm.
Go on to Part C - Case Study: "Welcome
to the Rape Camp"
Return to VAW Module III