Keeping the internet free: Inside MindGeek, the king of online porn

Perry Stathopoulos,  CTO,  MindGeek
Perry Stathopoulos,
CTO,
MindGeek

We speak to Perry Stathopoulos, CTO of MindGeek, the company that powers many of the world’s biggest porn sites, on his views on the raging net neutrality debate.

Numbers, fittingly, can be numbing. Never is this more true than in the case of online porn, where the statistics stack up by the billion everywhere you look. Make no mistake, online porn is big business, and its undisputed big kahuna is MindGeek. Previously “Manwin,” MindGeek owns most of the biggest adult sites in the world, including YouPorn and Pornhub: it is one of the top 5 bandwidth consumers in the world.

Yet despite all this, when interviewing MindGeek’s engaging and approachable CTO Perry Stathopoulos, it is often easy to forget what it is MindGeek do – everything sounds so technical, professional and politically correct. Before long I have to ask him exactly how it is that MindGeek conceives of itself…

“The public definitely see us as an adult company,” he concedes. “Internally though, and I guess I’m biased as CTO, I see us as a tech company, and that is a primary driver of why I joined – the sheer volume and size of how I deal with things on many levels, from bandwidth to storage to computing, and how do we do that in an efficient manner. These are the challenges that me and the engineering team deal with on a daily basis. I mean that’s obviously my bias because this is my world, this is where I live, 24-7.”

Welcome, then, to Perry’s World, a digital spaghetti junction in which very bodily stuff indeed is broken down into pure data, a domain void of one single drop of human sweat (or anything else).

“I know how to scale systems quite well online,” Stathopoulos says (rather modestly, you suspect: MindGeek’s sites boast over 100 million daily visitors and over 3 billion daily ad impressions). “So I came in five years ago, stabilised some of their top properties, and we got into a more robust and reliable scenario. Over the years it’s been a case of providing mechanisms that allow our systems to grow.”

For all the phenomenal growth, however, MindGeek’s horizon is not entirely untroubled. As such, at this year’s Broadband World Forum Stathopoulos plans to deliver a keynote on perhaps the most feverishly contested ethical debate in the digital world – net neutrality.

“Again, I might be biased because I’m more of a technology guy, but as such I care about the Internet. The whole concept of the Internet was essentially freedom of information, and if we start taking actions to control and to dictate what is acceptable to the end user – pornography and adult aside, just in general – then that starts becoming a problem overall in society. Of course some of that is tied to the business aspect of it. But we are also firm believers in access to information – any information, whether it’s good or bad – it needs to be out there. And any kind of censorship starts going down a slippery slope….”

While pornography has always found itself embroiled in debates about censorship, the demand for online adult video content means that its effect on networks is nowadays as much if not more keenly debated. Curiously, net neutrality seems to bring both of these strands together.

“The FCC recently proposed a new set of guidelines for ISPs in the United States,” Stathopoulos explains. “These vague guidelines empower ISPs to determine the quality of traffic delivered to their customers. Once the tolls are put in place, every Internet content company, including Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Netflix and many others will find themselves at the mercy of the ISPs. They are effectively giving the power to control the Internet to a select few guys – the Comcasts, the Time Warners and ATT&Ts – which could be detrimental to the end users.”

There is though something curiously reminiscent of ‘the loaves and the fishes’ in online porn, where videos frequently receive millions of views, without anyone paying a penny to watch them. How does MindGeek limit the impact of their websites on bandwidth in general?

“On the mobile side what we’ll do is we’ll detect your carrier, so if you are on a Wi-Fi versus a 3G or an LTE connection, we’re able to make that distinction and from there we’ll be able to offer up lighter versions for the more bandwidth constrained networks, and from there our videos are encoded to be more optimised for the mobile or tablet devices, so essentially it provides a better experience on those devices versus a more powerful PC or Mac.”

I ask Stathopoulos what he expects to be the formative force in the evolution of online adult content. His answer, interestingly, is big data. Now you might think that porn and big data would make for uncomfortable bed fellows (so to speak). Apparently not….

“From my perspective it’s actually pretty easy to still provide a more intuitive, more natural and predictive service in an anonymous fashion. Essentially all we need to have is some random number associated with the person – we can still build an intelligent engine around it.”

Before he returns to his intriguing world of data, bandwidth and long, random numbers, I ask Stathopoulos what message he plans to bring to the Broadband World Forum in October. He answers without hesitation:

“Keep the Internet free!”

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