Russians told to log in to Pornhub using verified social media accounts

Palaces, mountain resorts and ancestral estates. Yachts and vineyards in Russia and abroad.

That’s what Russian prime minister Dmitry Medvedev is all about, not smartphones and gadgets, according to an investigative documentary created by political opponents of Russian president Vladimir Putin that accuses Medvedev of embezzling an estimated $1.2bn.

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny has already lost a defamation case over the film. In May, a Russian court ordered Navalny, the film’s narrator, to stop distributing the film, upon which his allies posted it to Pornhub with the title “RUSSIAN CORRUPTED POLITICIAN F*CKED HARD.”

He’s also refused to take the documentary down from YouTube.

Its creators have also used Pornhub to distribute the documentary, which is titled “Don’t call him ‘Dimon'”.

Now, it’s being suggested that the clever porn-site workaround might be behind Russia’s latest rule, launched last Monday, that Pornhub viewers in Russia be required to log in with their VKontakte social media accounts: accounts that are linked to their passports and cellphones.

As Vice tells it, it’s only the latest skirmish in an ongoing feud between the world’s biggest adult site and the Russian government.

Pornhub was blocked in Russia in September, not for the first time, for allegedly spreading information that would harm children’s development. Pornhub reacted by mockingly offering the powers that be a free premium account.

The response: no, thanks, we’re not in the market.

Then, in April, Pornhub made it a requirement that users specify their age. The site was unblocked.

Now comes the requirement to log in to Pornhub via social media accounts. Pornhub announced the change on its own VKontakte page on Thursday, saying that “Now you can simply log in through your favorite social network” instead of filling in date of birth.

Vice suggests that this presumably isn’t about making it easier for Russians to watch porn. Rather, the government policy may have been enacted for surveillance purposes: users are required to enter their cellphone numbers to open a VKontakte account; and to legally purchase a SIM card in Russia, you need to disclose your passport information.

Pornhub disagrees, saying that the site doesn’t log or store personal information. Vkontakte, for its part, doesn’t see what users have viewed, Corey Price of Pornhub told Vice:

While this exact method is not a condition [from the Russian government], we found this is the best solution for our users to comply with Russian access laws. Also to be clear, Pornhub does not log or store any of your personal information, this is just a check to see if users are over 18… On [Vkontakte’s] end, all they will see is the request from that user, they will not know what that user browsed on Pornhub.

On May 31, Navalny took to his own VKontake page to thank Pornhub and to suggest that it do a remake of the documentary – “in the appropriate genre”.

Whether or not Russia is using Pornhub and Vkontakte to surveil dissidents is a valid question. After all, the government certainly isn’t above blocking websites, as it did in March, if that’s what it takes to stop anti-government protests.

We already know that the Russian government dislikes the free-wheeling nature of the internet. As the Guardian reported, in 2014, Putin called the internet a “CIA project,” signaling that his aim is to break up the global nature of the internet.

Should we take Pornhub at its word? As in, the new requirement is merely about protecting Russian kids from having their minds polluted by porn? Do you take it at face value when Pornhub says Vkontakte can’t see what users browse?

Your thoughts are welcome in the comments section below.