Zip Code Based Study of Porn Consumption Finds Red States Consume the Most

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A new study entitled “Red Light States: Who Buys Online Adult Entertainment?” by Harvard Business School Prof Benjamin Edelman, focuses on the consumption side of adult online entertainment, and in particular on subscriber demographics and consumption patterns of those who subscribe to such websites. Based on about two years of credit card data from 2006 to 2008 that included a purchase date and each customer’s postal code, the study found that after controlling for differences in broadband internet access between states and adjusting for population, there is   a relatively small difference between states with the most adult purchases and those with the fewest.

The biggest pornography consuming state, Utah, averaged 5.47 adult content subscriptions per 1000 home broadband users; Montana bought the least with 1.92 per 1000. Number 10 on the list was West Virginia at 2.94 subscriptions per 1000, while number 41, Michigan, averaged 2.32, a very small statistical span.

Eight of the top 10 pornography consuming states went for John McCain in last year’s presidential election – porn sodden Florida, and Hawaii, Obama’s home state, were the exceptions. Six out of the lowest ten porn consuming states gave their electoral votes to  Barack Obama.   Possibly   Obama voters also took less time in the voting booths, and left them in more sanitary condition!

The study also found that as of June 2008, 36 percent of Internet users visit at least one adult website each month, according to comScore (2008) (based on comScore’s monitoring of web browsing by users who agree to install comScore’s tracking software). An average visit lasts 11.6 minutes. Of users who visit at least one adult site per month, the average such user visits adult websites 7.7 times per month.

And no doubt y’all will be shocked, absolutely shocked, to read that in terms of online advertising methods, pornographers behave like evil, unethical jerks…

From the study:

Some marketing partners engage in unlawful advertising practices, creating possible liability for the providers they promote. Federal Trade Commission regulations (16 C.F.R. Part 316) require that all unsolicited”sexually oriented”emails contain the label”SEXUALLY-EXPLICIT”in their subject lines. Furthermore, the CAN-SPAM Act of 2003 makes advertisers liable for unsolicited commercial email sent by their marketing partners. The FTC has brought suit to enjoin   unlabeled explicit emails and to penalize content providers’ whose affiliates send such emails (for example, United States v. APC Entertainment, FTC File No. 052-3043).

Other marketing partners use expired or misspelled web addresses to present adult materials without a user’s request. For example, in 2002, I uncovered Domain Strategy, a Montreal firm that registered domain names after their prior registrants failed to pay for renewals. I reported more than 4,500 affected domains, including (previously a Boston bicycle repair shop),, and Users requested these web addresses in hopes of receiving the content previously available at the specified sites. Instead, Domain Strategy showed explicit images and promoted adult websites via affiliate links.

Shortly after my article was published, Domain Strategy abandoned this business (Edelman, 2002). But others extended Domain Strategy’s approach. For example, typosquatter John Zuccarini registered slightly misspelled domains like and Zuccarini also perfected”mouse-trapping”:disabling web browsers’ back buttons and”x”(close) buttons to prevent users from leaving the explicit sites. Zuccarini was ultimately sentenced to 30 months in prison for deceptively showing explicit material unrequested, in violation of the federal Truth in Domain Names Act of 2003 (Edelman, 2003).

More recently, marketing affiliates turned to spyware and adware:advertising software installed on a user’s computer, typically without the user’s informed consent, which could then show explicit pop-up ads to users who had requested no such thing. In 2006, I documented a series of these unrequested explicit displays:some displays occurring through just a single marketing affiliate, while others routed traffic through a lengthy series of intermediaries that sequentially resold the advertising placement. In one particularly convoluted example, I showed spyware sending traffic through ad networks operated by both Yahoo (Right Media YieldManager) and Google (Double- Click/Falk AG) as well as several smaller advertising resellers, en route to a highly explicit image. This long chain of intermediaries made it hard for any individual partner to know what ad was going to be shown, to whom, why, or how. In general, all partners denied both knowledge and responsibility. In addition, distributors sometimes 214 Journal of Economic Perspectives made the ads particularly hard to close:including intentionally placing an explicit popup’s”x”button off-screen (Edelman, 2006). In 2007 the Federal Trade Commission brought suit to enjoin such advertising practices by AdultFriendFinder (Federal Trade Commission v. Various, Inc. d/b/a/AdultFriendFinder, FTC File No. 072-3000). …

—Ann Bartow

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