The increased use of proxy services by porn consumers in India is also evident from data on Google Trends.(Shutterstock)
The increased use of proxy services by porn consumers in India is also evident from data on Google Trends.(Shutterstock)

Blocking websites only fuels India’s appetite for porn: Data

Banned and non-banned websites that were analysed together received 2.8 billion visits in both November and December, which is more than their monthly average of 2.3 billion visits between January and October.
By Vijdan Mohammad Kawoosa | Hindustan Times, New Delhi
UPDATED ON JAN 18, 2019 07:11 AM IST

The government’s effort to prevent citizens from watching pornography by directing internet service providers to block users’ access to 827 websites in October last year hasn’t quite worked, according to website analytics data.

On the contrary, overall consumption of internet porn may have increased over the past few months with traffic shifting to other sites and the use of proxy servers.

Fifty-nine of the banned websites, data of which was shared by SimilarWeb, a web analytics company, received an average of 1.7 billion monthly visits between January and October 2018.

In November and December, the figure dropped to 0.8 billion visits per month.

While it marked a 50% decline in user visits, indicating that the ban may be working, this has been more than compensated for by visits to at least 441 other websites that are not banned, the data shows. These websites together received an average of 0.6 billion visits per month between January and October, and an average of two billion in November and December.

In effect, the banned and non-banned websites that were analysed together received 2.8 billion visits in both November and December, which is more than their monthly average of 2.3 billion visits between January and October.

SimilarWeb said it could not share the data for the other banned websites because the data was not reliable due to the relatively low popularity of those websites. But the trend is clear: India’s overall consumption of pornographic content on the internet has not diminished.

The ban was ordered in October 2018 following a direction by the Uttarakhand high court, which asked the government to restore its 2015 order banning websites with pornographic content on the grounds that watching porn encourages sexual assault.

Several factors explain why the ban is not working the way it was supposed to.

First, at least 42% of the websites in the banned list (345 of the total 827) are still accessible on the internet, the analysis found. Indians are able to access these websites if they write ‘https’ (Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure) instead of ‘http’ in the web address.

These accessible websites include the top three porn websites in India — Xnxx, Xvideos and Pornhub. In December, Pornhub announced that a third of its traffic in 2018 came from India. In fact, visits to its website increased after the ban, according to SimilarWeb data.

The site received more than 60 million visits from India in November and December 2018, its highest since March. Pornhub also announced a mirror domain, pornhub.net, for Indian users after the ban was announced. This domain received nearly seven million visits from India in the following two months.

Second, Indians are also accessing the banned porn websites through easily available proxy networks or virtual private networks (VPN) that hide their identity and location, and in turn let users bypass any such ban. A sudden surge in the number of visits to some of the most popular proxy service websites makes this fact evident.

For instance, proxy site kproxy.com received 2.3 million visits from India in November, according to ComScore, another web analytics company. This was more than twice its average of 0.9 million visits in the previous three months. Another website, hide.me, received 0.7 million visits from India in November, over three times more than its average of 0.2 million visits in the previous three months.

The increased use of proxy services by porn consumers in India is also evident from data on Google Trends, a tool that quantifies the popularity of search queries over time. The popularity of search terms like “porn proxy”, “porn site proxy” and “porn vpn” in India rose seven to 10 times in the week the ban was announced.

Third, the list of the 827 websites that were banned does not cover a wide enough of such sites. Among the 500 most visited porn websites in India, according to ComScore data, only 59 websites have been banned. Among the top 10, only five have been blocked.

Aditya Gautam, author of “Pornistan: How to Survive the Porn Epidemic in India”, said he was not surprised by the findings. “It’s not possible to ban anything on the internet. It’s futile. China banned 20,000 porn websites last year but people there still consume porn in different ways,” he said. “Even if they had banned 20,000 websites, the results we got would have been similar as there are new websites coming up every single day.”

Suresh Shukla, founder of parental control application Filternet, said the list of the banned websites was too small in today’s context and estimates from data compiled by his application suggest that there are at least 1 lakh porn websites live today.

Reacting to the fact that many of the banned porn websites were accessible with https, Shukla said it should not have been technically impossible to block these websites. “It’s the will, not tools, which is important,” he said.

The ministry of electronics and information technology and the department of telecommunications did not respond to requests for comment.

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