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A.V. Flox
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A.V. Flox

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It was the second week of February when the first post went up, exposing the social media profiles of thousands of women interested in bondage.

It’d all started the previous day, when a Bitcoin baron by the name of Mircea Popescu found himself with a few minutes to burn on a bit of code to help him find female users on the kinky social network FetLife. Some 24 hours later, having mined around 100,000 profiles, he began publishing the results — a list of the usernames, ages, sexual orientations, kinky roles and locations of women 30 and under — in a series of blog posts that he dubbed “The Fetlife Meatlist.”

It would be weeks before users on FetLife would learn of the Meatlist's existence — and when the news came, it would not be from the social network itself. 

When it learned of the Meatlist, FetLife did what it always does when it learns that data mined from its site is being publicized outside its little walled garden: it issued a copyright takedown notice under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) to Popescu’s host and other service providers.

At first glance, this maneuver seems odd — a DMCA takedown notice is an instrument that copyright holders can use to force online service providers to remove material that infringes on their copyright. Service providers that host user-generated content are not liable for a user’s infringement of someone else’s copyright unless they know about it or fail to respond to notifications about it, so issuing a takedown notification is a surefire way to get them to jump into action.

The problem with FetLife issuing a takedown notice to address the Meatlist and other such instances is that details from users’ profiles are not subject to copyright. That a person is 25, lives in Los Angeles, identifies as a female submissive and uses the name Retour_à_Roissy online is not subject to copyright by FetLife or that person for the simple reason that facts cannot be copyrighted.

As Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor put it in the 1991 case Feist Publications, Inc., v. Rural Telephone Service Co., “Census takers, for example, do not ‘create’ the population figures that emerge from their efforts; in a sense, they copy these figures from the world around them. [ … ] Census data therefore do not trigger copyright because these data are not ‘original’ in the constitutional sense.”

Whether something can be copyrighted depends on its originality: a user can claim copyright over any essay she writes on FetLife, or a photo she takes that she shares on the network, but the mere fact that FetLife has compiled profile information from its users does not make it the copyright holder of this information.

The copyright avenue would only work if the content that was mined from FetLife and shared outside of the network was creative in nature, such as a user’s writings, videos, or photos. But in that case, it would the individual users who are the copyright holders, not FetLife, meaning that each individual user would have to issue a DMCA takedown to a copyright infringer’s host and other online service providers.

Even if a user did this, there's no guarantee that it would actually solve the problem. Once the content is out there, it’s out there. Popescu and maymay might play by the rules, but -- as the proliferation of “revenge porn” sites has taught us -- not everyone does. 

FetLife uses the DMCA process in lieu of real security mechanisms because it’s very easy to abuse it. To avoid liability, the host of the content that receives a DMCA takedown notice may disrupt access to the content, pending a response from the person alleged to be infringing copyright. For users who are unfamiliar with the DMCA process, the disruption of service often intimidates them into backing down — even in cases where takedowns are fraudulent or the work said to be infringing is protected as fair use.

This has been changing over the past decade, helped in no small part by the number of legal fights undertaken by the Electronic Frontier Foundation against known DMCA abusers and the press these cases have generated.

BitLove, Inc., FetLife’s parent company, would fall under the category of a DMCA abuser. The takedown request sent to Popescu’s webhost, for example, listed an incorrect U.S. copyright registration number and claimed that BitLove holds copyright over the “Entire FetLife database.”

The copyright I eventually found for the company appeared under a different number and, rather than cover its entire database, refers to FetLife’s software stack; the text that BitLove developed for the site; the manner that information provided by users is arranged and presented on the site; and any changes BitLove may subsequently make to these things.

It’s worth noting here that copyright law in Canada, where BitLove is headquartered, is different than it is in the U.S., and could be interpreted to offer more protection to the collection of information. Unfortunately for BitLove, Canada lacks a DMCA-like process by which alleged copyright-holders can rip content off the internet without having to prove they truly hold copyright.

But the fact that takedown requests in the United States are issued under penalty of perjury and that it’s possible to seek damages against companies that abuse the takedown process isn’t BitLove’s only problem. A FetLife agent’s claim — in a legal document — of copyright for the whole of FetLife could be construed to constitute a claim of responsibility for the “creation or development of information provided” within its database, as specified in Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996 (47 U.S.C. § 230).

Such a claim would weaken BitLove’s position on one of the most important protections for online service providers offered by American law: the above-mentioned Section 230, which states “No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.”

Holding the copyright to everything means being responsible for everything on the site, including the pornographic content that is FetLife’s bread and butter. As anyone who distributes pornographic content and is subject to U.S. law knows, that means keeping records that verify the age of every person that is depicted in pornographic media on its database (18 U.S.C. 2257).

Even though BitLove’s claim to copyright over the entire database is incorrect, even if the takedown request fails under Feist, their having made a public claim to being recognized as the rightful author of the information may, in itself, be enough to jeopardize their 230 standing.

(Jurisdiction is an open question when it comes to FetLife, as Alana Massey has written, given that the company is based out of Canada, its domain was registered in Arizona and its servers are in Texas.)

Ultimately, it's not so-called "hackers" who are jeopardizing the network so many of us love -- it's FetLife itself. 
enrico frezza's profile photoIrreverent Monk's profile photoDustin Lau's profile photoEm Holbert's profile photo
And coming up from behind - why people don't give a shit about security.

I just shared a article.  About a company writing a linux kernel driver.  With a buffer overflow.  What the hell?!  The 1990s called, and want their buffer overflows back!
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A.V. Flox

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Today someone from the U.S. State Department in South America taught me about the slang usage of the word trámite, which comes from the Latin trames meaning "path," and in conventional Spanish usage refers to a step taken in a process -- usually with official connotations. (An example of a trámite would be going to the DMV or applying for a passport renewal.) 

In slang, however, the word has apparently taken a new life and now means "to hassle," and most frequently refers to people. So rather than tramitar at the DMV, it's become de rigueur to say that a guy at the bar was trying to tramitarte (hassle you), or that your lover is a tramitoso (a quarrelsome man. For a quarrelsome woman, you would say tramitosa. Because it is slang, inflection is not going to be something that Google Translate can help with, but it is obvious to someone who speaks the language. For shits and giggles, feel free to make inquiries at the Real Academia Española).

I find it absolutely hilarious that someone from State taught me this. I have been assured this usage is not specific to bureaucrats, but widespread, especially among the young professionals set. 
Guillermo Colín's profile photoArturo Mejía's profile photoJP Sugarbroad's profile photoRoberto Carlos Ramirez Caicedo's profile photo
+Roberto Batalla, pucha, en el Peru, los tramites nos toman semanas! Nadie sabe nada, el papeleo es fenomenal, se tiene que esperar horas para hacer cada cosa, es un desastre completo. 
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A.V. Flox

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Where do babies come from? "Well," says the burying beetle, "when there's a nice, big rotting carcass..." Dead animals draw beetles, for whom control of this generous heap of decaying matter means a better chance of getting down. But it's not easy being a dominant male beetle, as a team at the University of Exeter has discovered.

"You might think that the males who have the most sex have nothing to worry about," writes +Jason Goldman. "After all, they're the kings of their castles (and here 'castle' means rotting, hairless, anal secretion-covered rodent carcass). But sexual supremacy introduces a kind of social stress that the more laid-back males don't have to contend with."
A burying beetle's love life is quite charming: two beetles meet, fall in love, bury a rotting animal together and raise their little beetle family on the flesh of the carcass. At least, that's how it's supposed to work. In reality, the carcass is the site of big beetle sex party.
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The less energy you need to put into reproduction, the more energy you can put into other survival things.
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A.V. Flox

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“Are you here alone?”

It doesn’t matter what kind of bar it is, or whether or not you feel inconvenienced by the intrusion; the answer is always the same: “No.”

The asinine inspirational posters were right: you’re not alone -- nobody is. In fact, you are a vast, ecological habitat teeming with trillions of tiny organisms.

Microbes reside in virtually every human bodily system, a mix of about 10,000 different species of bacteria, fungi, and archaea depending on the conditions of the specific body part. This may sound gross and intrusive, but most of the microbes are just hanging out, doing their thing discretely so we don’t even notice they’re there. While some can wreak havoc, a lot of these tiny organisms actually help us, performing important tasks for their human hosts like defending against infection and helping to digest food. In fact, microbes are so important to human health that we’re seeing great results from transplanting healthy poop into the colons of people who suffer from serious gastrointestinal problems.

Now, scientists are exploring the health effects of engineering a different human ecosystem: the vagina. Anyone who has ever referred to the vagina as a garden can pat themselves on the back for their visionary insight.
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The first paper made me wonder about the absence of lactobacilli... it is good to read that they're simply difficult to culture as found by the second.
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A.V. Flox

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Because the e-mail warning Blogger users about the policy update was sent to anyone who had marked their blog as containing adult content, whether pornographic or not, many arrived at the help forum confused and seeking answers. Posts asking for clarification and guidance proliferated, with Google employees only occasionally checking in. Mostly, the task of explaining what was happening was left to “top contributors,” power users who get special perks from Google for manning the help desk for their respective Google products.

It is apparent from the responses that top contributors were not briefed on the policy change or coordinated. When the authors of a romance novel-review blog reached out on the forum asking whether the covers of the novels they post on their site might get them in hot water, the response from a top contributor was: probably not, but no guarantees. In another thread asking the same question, a Google employee showed up to reassure a book reviewer that her blog would be unaffected despite the racy covers.

Another power user told the author of a female domination blog that contains bare-bottom spanking photos that his blog would probably be able to continue without being made private. In a different thread, however, a top contributor indicated the Sistine Chapel belonged behind an adult content warning, though “most images of the Sistine Chapel will have artistic context.”

This unevenness perfectly summarizes the response that concerned Blogger users have thus far received. Google either failed or refused to make members of the Blogger team available to users, forcing top contributors to face the wave of user angst that accompanies any policy change without understanding that policy themselves. The result has been an ugly overreliance on vague, stock answers that compound the overwhelming feeling of confusion and abandonment. It feels dismissive — and in some instances, it becomes apparent that it is dismissive.

“A lot of the noise, this week, is from people with large blogs, who don’t want to take the time to examine their content objectively — and from people who know what they have, and think that kicking and screaming will convince Blogger to relax their standards,” wrote Chuck Croll, a top contributor who goes by the name nitecruzr. He added, “Everybody who publishes a blog can be responsible for knowing what is published. If your blog gets too big to know what you have published, you deal with that when it happens.”

Croll isn’t a lightweight — his main blog has 2,147 posts — but it’s impossible to relate to creators of adult content when one lives in a perfectly divided world where the porn is clearly defined and separated from everything else. Only those who have been caught in the increasingly wide nets cast by the tech giant since 2006 understand what Blogger lost this week.

Google is notoriously bad at defining — even internally — what constitutes adult content and what doesn’t. Google Play pulled a Reddit app because sometimes posts on that forum discuss adult topics or link to sites deemed to be adult in nature. Drawing the line between pornography and erotica was so hard, they finally banned erotic apps as well.

Image suspension on Google Plus continues to provide excellent examples of a complete lack of consensus. And a user who shared nudes by the American photographer Alfred Stieglitz using Google Drive reported receiving a warning to desist from distributing any more pornography.

“What constitutes ‘artistic or educational’ for pictures and who makes that decision?” asked Cande, who blogs at Secret Diary of An Online Stripper. “How are we to know what Blogger/Google might consider artistic? Something that is explicit for one person might well be educational for another and what is considered ‘artistic’ is also purely subjective. I don’t think cutting cows in half is art, but it’s prized as art in galleries who exhibit Damien Hirst.”

“It’s a fuzzy policy,” a top contributor lamented, thus providing the most honest response that Google users have ever received on the subject of adult content.

To quote Blogger user Alexander Anichkin, “It’s not that I am not sure about an occasional nude image on my blog, I’m not sure how sure is Google when defining explicitness.”

On Blogger and affected by this policy change? Here are some options:
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+Jake Weisz, yup, HostGator is one of the few that are okay with it. Exception, though, not rule.  
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A.V. Flox

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The December issue of +Rolling Stone magazine features an article that has come to the forefront of discussions online recently. The article, written by Sabrina Rubin Erdely, focuses on University of Virginia's silencing of sexual assault victims and downplaying of its Title IX investigation, with the story of a young woman's harrowing assault and subsequent experiences as its central narrative. The magazine identified the young woman simply as "Jackie."

After the Rolling Stone article appeared last month, the +Washington Post published a follow-up picking apart details of the central narrative ( It quickly became evident that Erdely had not done her due diligence in corroborating any aspects of Jackie's story.

The revelations prompted Rolling Stone to release a statement (, which said in part: "In the face of new information, there now appear to be discrepancies in Jackie's account, and we have come to the conclusion that our trust in her was misplaced. We were trying to be sensitive to the unfair shame and humiliation many women feel after a sexual assault and now regret the decision to not contact the alleged assaulters to get their account. We are taking this seriously and apologize to anyone who was affected by the story."

They have since edited that statement, acknowledging that it was Rolling Stone's failing, and not their source's. As Libby Nelson explains at Vox ( "If you are going to expose a traumatized 20-year-old to the judgment of the entire world with a story that many people don't want to believe is true, you owe it to everyone -- to your readers, but especially to her -- to make sure it is unimpeachable. It's not just damage control for your publication or your personal reputation. It's to protect the person who trusted you." 

Rolling Stone failed Jackie. And then, the inevitable happened: Jackie was doxxed (

(It took no time for the conversation to go from ethics in journalism to doxxing women. I'd be surprised if anyone was surprised.)

But the ethics question begins before Jackie was doxxed, with Rolling Stone itself. The original feature acknowledges that Jackie asked to be removed from the story: "Jackie said she asked Erdely to be taken out of the article. She said Erdely refused and Jackie was told that the article would go forward regardless."

It seems to have become standard procedure to tell women who are at risk from this type of exposure that they have no choice in a story, that they can either talk to the journalist and have a hand in controlling their story or that the story will be told without them, whether they like it or not.

We saw this with +Grantland's piece on Dr. V's putter (which, you'll remember, didn't answer the question of whether the putter actually worked, focusing instead almost entirely on her life and leading to her suicide, and again with Matter, when they sought to profile Shanley Kane in the guise of writing about Model View Media (

I realize UVA's history of inaction in cases of sexual assault is in the public interest, unlike the other two stories, but Rolling Stone had numerous sources they could have developed into the central narrative -- some of which were out. They didn't need Jackie's account. They went for it because it was a sensational lede. They went for it despite her fears that it would endanger her.

And now it has.

Worse, they didn't do their due diligence, and have since allowed Jackie to become collateral damage. The editor's initial apology that threw Jackie under the bus is a disgrace. 

I'm not saying that Chuck Johnson isn't responsible for doxxing Jackie; he is. But if we're going to talk about ethics in journalism, we need to begin with this toxic idea that stories are more important than the well-being of the people directly affected by them.

This applies equally to the Washington Post which originally wrote "The Post determined that the student Jackie named is not a member of Phi Kappa Psi and  had never met her in person," only to later change that statement, without acknowledgment to "The Post determined that the student Jackie named is not a member of Phi Kappa Psi." (

"Minimize harm" comes after "seek the truth and report it," but it's no less important. Rolling Stone's story could have been told without exposing someone who had misgivings about being a part of it from the beginning to the nightmare engendered by this subsequent doxxing.

Their failure has turned an otherwise important piece about a school with at least 38 officially reported sexual assaults in the past year, numerous sources, statistics and studies into a circus, and the damage done to their source is incalculable. 
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+Kimberly Chapman​​​
Here 'hear' and brilliant critique and pointed common sense ethics shared and thanks! ('nuanced? ;] Aside; reading your thorough comment recalled instantly my utter disgust for the social digression to such 'exploitation - for - profit' media as +The Dr Phil Show​​​ .. and a long, and sadly telling list of court room and other tawdry 'reality(?) TV' fare!)

With rare exception (i.e. educational / documentary / PBS etc.), the entire reality media industry simply panders, purely for selfish gain, to the darkest and most barbaric human nature! 
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A.V. Flox

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It's okay to be sexual, to have a body and to show this body. Feminism means that you are the one who gets to pick where, when, and with whom you share your body -- it doesn't mean that you can't.

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+Grass Kicker, society in general puts labels on people's lifestyles. This is not simply a feature of feminism or sexist men. The problem isn't that we label -- for instance, you willingly labeled yourself a father. The problem is that we attach our identity quite strongly to what others are and aren't, thereby becoming invested in denying them self-determination. 

I don't ascribe to a belief that there is such a thing as a "real" man -- or "real" woman. I find that language oppressive. Additionally, I think everyone should approach relationships as you describe, not just male-identified people. 

PS: Your disclosure of being someone who knows, loves and/or is responsible for a female-identified person does not somehow grant you any status in conversations about feminism. I strongly recommend you stop making it a preface when you state your opinions. 
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I forgot to wish you a happy Easter, so here is a cadaver.

As you may imagine, believers have historically harbored a great deal of interest in the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth. In the days before science and religion "consciously uncoupled" due to irreconcilable differences, they played together a great deal -- often in a happy ménage with art.

Christianity actually provided the basis that allowed for this merry triad. As with many religions, the taboo surrounding the desecration of corpses was a feature of early Christianity, but it did not extend to criminals who had been condemned to death. In fact, dissection was occasionally prescribed as part of the punishment for murder (though many, many more crimes carried the possibility of the death penalty in Britain including "strong evidence of malice in a child aged 7 to 14 years of age." Kids were routinely executed in Britain until 1908, when the minimum age was set to 16. Only in 1933 was the age raised to 18.)

Dissection as a form of punishment was common in English law and adopted by the United States' First Congress in the Crimes Act of 1790 (at least for murders that occurred in federal jurisdiction. At that time, the only state that had such a provision for people convicted of murder was New York).

In any event -- this very Christian act of turning over the bodies of convicted murderers to science resulted in some fascinating insights into Christianity itself. In England in 1801, three artists who had been debating the accuracy of conventional portrayals of the crucifixion got a surgeon to help them acquire the cadaver of a recently convicted murderer. The body was still warm when it was nailed to a cross, allowing it to settle into a natural position. The artists made a cast of it, and then another after the corpse was flayed to allow the viewer to see the musculature of the body in the same position.

These two casts, titled "Anatomy of a Crucifixion" were a public sensation, with crowds excitedly gathering to see the reenactment of the torture and death of their god, a pivotal moment for all Christians. This wasn't entirely pious -- the late-Georgian and Victorian eras are charming for their unabashed delight with death. Not only were executions popular, but murder tourism was a thriving industry, with people taking trips to see scenes of gruesome crimes much as we take vacations today. Just as we may buy postcards or painted coconuts, murder tourists bought (or stole) items from crime scenes, and visited macabre museums just to see collections (or alleged collections) of such things. (And you thought Grand Theft Auto was violent...)

Americans, it should be noted, were not entirely different from their English counterparts -- Thomas Edison himself made at least two ghastly films -- the 1901 "Execution of Czolgosz" ( and "Electrocution of an Elephant" ( two years later. (It could be said that the entirety of the War of the Currents was a multi-year circus of death.)

Ultimately, executions both in the United States (beginning in 1890) and Britain (1868) were made private not out of concern with the graphic violence of dealing state-sanctioned death, but due to concern with the way such displays invariably aroused the "unwashed masses" to disorder. This, of course, was not an issue in 1801 when the casts of "Anatomy of a Crucifixion" were first exhibited. One of them (which is pictured in the link below, so please make sure your Victorian sensitivities are up to spec) can still be seen at the Royal Academy of Arts in London.

(via +Jennifer Ouellette) 
Cadavers are used for many things such as teaching anatomy and surgical techniques, testing rates of human decomposition, and they are even used to help develop crash test dummies. Dead bodies have...
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+Ron Mecredy, I didn't realize there was a medical context. :) 
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A.V. Flox

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Every time a tech company enacts a new policy around adult content, I warn people about the consequences for freedom of expression. Every once in a while, someone will suggest that I'm overreacting, that no one is banning anything that's actually important. They'll tell me, "relax, they're just banning porn."

It almost sounds like a favor, doesn't it? It brings to mind all those god-awful sites from the 90s with the busy backgrounds and the centered text filled to bursting with multi-colored links and banners and a billion popup ads, besides. Who defends bad design, popups and endless banners that lead to even more bad design and popups?

Stop putting it that way. Adult policies are not benign. They do not actually address (or even acknowledge) that maybe you, personally, don't want to see porn (or violence) sometimes -- or ever. They simply make it so it's no one is allowed to post it -- ever. Or advertise it. Or make money with it. Or link it. Or broadcast it. Or store something about it in the cloud. Or some other thing they haven't thought of yet.

The worst part is that they can't define it. And because they cannot define it, everything from Leonard Nimoy's Full Body Project to ads for safer sex are at risk. 

Stop spreading the meme that these policies are about a better web. They're shamefully lazy. They are taking things away from us that actually matter. 
Health organizations can find themselves held back by the policies of sites like Facebook and Twitter, which often classify their messages of safe sex as inappropriate content.
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At first people moan and bitch and God knows whatever.... Then slowly you can see the brainwashing machine at work, little by little you see people saying that it's OK... Slowly eroding the basic freedom you have to be able to. Communicate your ideas your likes your kinks and your desires. Sort of exactly what is happening in politics, but at a grander scale. 
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A.V. Flox

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After surprising users by completely banning adult content on a blogging platform previously committed to freedom of expression, Google has done another volte-face and rolled back their draconian policy. A Google employee even acknowledged that users post “sexually explicit content to express their identities.” 

This is amazing, and I extend my sincerest love to everyone who raised your voice in opposition, both users and employees alike. We must celebrate this because there just aren't enough victories for creators and curators of adult content and people who believe in freedom of speech. 

But at the same time, we need to observe the seriousness this represents. We tell ourselves “once on the internet, always on the internet,” like maintaining content is a trivial thing. But it isn’t a trivial thing — at any time, the company that you rely on to keep your content (for free) could change their policies, or get bought out and change their policies, or decide they want to go public and change their policies, or simply go under and take your content with them.

The longevity of data requires more intent than this. My advice is to seriously consider migrating to a self-hosted site if you can. If you can’t, make sure you export your data with some regularity.

Think of this as your 21st century reminder of a duck and cover drill. DEFCON has gone back up, but the Cold War on adult is far from over.
After surprising users by completely banning adult content on a blogging platform previously committed to freedom of expression, Google has done another volte-face and rolled back their draconian policy. A Google employee even acknowledged that users post
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The most promising move is set the gradient to what your audience is.... You set it adults.... But they show go farther by allowing the user to set the age limit... So in that way you can get rid of the tinny crowd
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A.V. Flox

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In November, the ephemeral messaging service Snapchat announced the launch of a partnership with Square that would enable users to send money through its service as easily as one sends a selfie. The news unleashed an instantaneous media frenzy: SnapCash, as the feature is called, would soon become the payment processor of the sex industry, they buzzed.

There are a number of reasons that SnapCash is never going to become the currency of the sex industry. For starters, it requires users to provide their real names and financial information — as well as birth dates and social security numbers if they receive more than $1,000 over a 30-day period — to a company that hasn't shown much of an ability to safeguard user privacy. Less than a year ago, Snapchat settled with the Federal Trade Commission for failing to address a security issue that resulted in the exposure of 4.6 million usernames and phone numbers, and for giving people the idea that the images they send on the service completely disappear.

Your average user may assume such a risk without much thought — and research seems to suggest they likely will, extortionist "revenge porn" sites be damned. A recent survey of college students revealed that 75 percent would not change how they use the service despite the October hack that leaked of hundreds of thousands of Snapchat photos to the public.

But the threat model for a sex worker isn't the same as the threat model for a regular user. Many forms of sex work are criminalized in the U.S., where SnapCash is available, and those that aren't nevertheless carry a similar amount of stigma. Compartmentalization is key, and this means being able to trust the service that is asking for real names and other personally-identifying information.

But the most compelling reason is business. Banks and payment processors have made it abundantly clear that they want no business with anyone who profits from sex, and are not above freezing transactions or shutting down accounts at a moment's notice. It's bad business to hand your earnings to a payment processor you don't trust — and nothing about Square recommends itself to the industry. Their terms explicitly prohibit accepting payment in connection with "adult entertainment oriented products or services (in any medium, including internet, telephone, or printed material)."

Critically, Square's Cash offers no protection for chargebacks. In fact, when it comes to ecommerce, Square seems to be a nightmare. And it's an unnecessary nightmare at that, given the number of cam sites that now offer either complete or partial coverage for chargebacks.

Cam sites use tokens, virtual currencies that members buy in packages and use to tip and buy on- and off-site services from cam models. This approach gives sites more control over payment disputes and enables them to pass some of that security along to cam models. In many ways, cam sites have been enabling the monetization of social media — including Snapchat — since there was a social media to monetize.

"Selling viewers access to their Snapchat by the month is increasing in popularity as a supplemental form of income for many [cam] models," reported Victoria Joy on the sex worker-focused site Tits and Sass in mid-2014. "Customers can give a model an 'offline tip' for a specific amount of tokens advertised on a model's profile page in exchange for racy Snapchats sent out on a daily basis."

Camming has become increasingly popular in the past ten years, drawing in people from all aspects of sex commerce. There are superstars in this space (surprisingly, they aren't porn stars), but on average camming brings in around $1,000 per week — coming well within range of an editorial salary or, as the DailyDot put it, "enough to pay their bills."

Two types of access to Snapchat are sold by cam models: monthly, as Joy mentions, and permanent. The prices for these are all over the map, but an informal survey puts the monthly average at around 300 tokens (around $15 net for the model), while lifetime access can cost between 500 and 1,000 tokens (between $25 and $50 net).

(This might also be a good time to mention that Bitcoin is not a solution and you need to stop suggesting it like you just formulated a new alternative theory of gravity. Bitcoin is slow and volatile. Sex doesn't like to wait for a transaction to process and no business needs a currency with a wildly fluctuating value. Don't even get me started on those other adult-specific cryptocurrencies.)

On the third week of November, while the world was speculating what the sex industry would do with SnapCash, I braced myself for the inevitable.

What happened next surprised no one who has tried to sell sex-related products or services online. 
Dan Boger (zigdon)'s profile photoAmber Yust's profile photoPatrick Jones's profile photoAndrew Oplinger's profile photo
The tokens sound like a good workaround for handling disputes and privacy needs. It's interesting that they're emerging that way, though no one else is really handling these needs well. (I looked into Bitcoin out of curiosity and wow is it far too annoying to use, and that was before the exchange issues.)
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A.V. Flox

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Just days after Google announced it would no longer police the names chosen by users on its social network, Facebook decided to take up the battle cry, stressing a name policy it’s had on the books but rarely enforced until now.

"Facebook is a community where people use their real identities. We require everyone to provide their real names, so you always know who you're connecting with. This helps keep our community safe," says the popular social network on their recently-edited name policy page, which tells users to list "your real name as it would be listed on your credit card, driver's license or student ID."

The Facebook policy is meant to cover all users, but -- much like it happened with Google's "real names" policy on Plus -- it's overwhelmingly impacting people whose names don't look sufficiently "real." A person going by John Smith is unlikely to trigger review, whereas someone named +Violet Blue (which is, by the way, her legal name), is much more likely to do so. Partly because of this, drag performers whose names tend to fall short of the "real"-looking name criteria currently appear to have been singled out by Facebook's name policy-enforcement squad.

Miz Cracker, a performer and contributor to Slate, told Slate’s J. Bryan Lowder that at least 20 performers in her network have had their profiles suspended. TechCrunch has the number in the hundreds, though no single definitive list exists.

"I've been Sister Roma for 27 years," said Sister Roma, performer and member of the well-known LGBT-rights advocacy group Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, in an interview with Ars Technica. "If you ask anyone my name, in or out of drag, they will tell you it's Roma. Is it the name on my driver's license? No. But it is my name."

A far more worrisome mechanism within what's being called a "drag queen dragnet," is Facebook’s insistence that users tell on those they believe aren't using their real names. It's very easy to see how such a reporting mechanism may be abused in order to remove individuals whose identity doesn't match what someone might consider "appropriate."

"Given the high number of queens being 'hit hard,' as Miz Cracker put it, someone has clearly made a serious project of reporting drag profiles to (or perhaps from within) the company," Lowder writes.

Robyn Pennacchia at Death and Taxes agrees, "Given the proliferation of non-legal names used on Facebook by non-drag queens and cisgendered people just trying to be whimsical, it seems as though these communities have been specifically and unfairly targeted."

Lending credence to these allegations, last week TechCrunch posted a screenshot of a post on the anonymous network Secret from someone claiming to be targeting drag queens for names policy violations on Facebook.

When Slate reached out to the network, Facebook acknowledged that their suspensions were a response to reports of name violations made by other users. However, Facebook soon began to backpedal, telling TechCrunch three days later that suspensions were the result of an algorithm that had "discovered the drag queens."

To date, none of the married couples I know who share a single Facebook profile with a mishmash or portmanteau of their names seem to have been affected, giving weight to the allegation that specific groups are being targeted.

Intent doesn’t matter

This policy stands in direct opposition to Facebook’s February move to include 56 gender options on its profiles. Ones driver's license may not list one's sex as "gender fluid," and that's okay with Facebook. And as Violet Blue points out, Facebook was well represented at San Francisco Pride in June -- so it may not be intentional discrimination so much as its far more insidious twin, clueless privilege.

Ultimately, whether or not Facebook is targeting drag performers doesn't matter. They've erected a mechanism that enables anyone who wishes to target a vulnerable population to do so, and they are enforcing a policy that will cause harm no matter how well-intended it is.

There are a number of excellent reasons a person may choose to use a pseudonym online, the most obvious being ensuring personal safety and control over how much personal information is made publicly available and when. In this age of increasingly targeted online abuse against women, minorities, LGBTQ individuals, and just about anyone who has the audacity to speak out against the status quo, the ability to create a separate identity so people can speak their truth and still sleep at night without fearing for their lives is a nontrivial thing.

The answer is not to force everyone to give their legal names -- especially when the people being forced to go first are overwhelmingly members of a group that faces such an extraordinary amount of violence, discrimination and abuse already.

"Not everyone is safer by giving out their real name," writes social media researcher +danah boyd. “Quite the opposite; many people are far less safe when they are identifiable. And those who are least safe are often those who are most vulnerable.”

As drag performer Jeza Belle put it in a piece at the Huffington Post:

Gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgender people -- and drag queens can often belong to more than one of these groups -- know full well the difficulty that comes with coming out to the people with whom they are closest. For that reason many drag queens, while leading fulfilling lives both on- and offstage, have not let family members or employers in on the news of their alternate personae, as it's a deeply personal and hard conversation to have -- sometimes more difficult than coming out the first time.

Coming out as a drag queen has led to more than a few broken families, lost employment, and strained friendships. This is why, while cultivating relationships with individuals online using their stage name, not all queens are fully comfortable with letting certain family and friends into their world of drag. Facebook's policy forces these queens to either choose between maintaining a social-media presence and risking losing their online support system and carefully balanced identities.

David Campos, a San Francisco-based attorney and member of the city’s Board of Supervisors, warned Facebook that its policy was likely to result in the opposite of what they seemed to intend.

"Facebook may not be aware that for many members of the LGBT community the ability to self-identify is a matter of health and safety," Campos said in a statement. "Not allowing drag performers, transgender people and other members of our community to go by their chosen names can result in violence, talking, violations of privacy and repercussions at work."

Scott Wiener, an LGBT advocate and another member of San Francisco's Board of Supervisors, addressed the issue on his Facebook page last week: "While many drag queens are 'out' about who they are, not all drag queens have that luxury. Plenty of discrimination, hate, and violence toward the LGBT community still exists in many parts of the world, and various people have drag personas that they feel the need to keep separate from the rest of their lives. People who disclose their non-drag identity -- and who, conversely, announce to the world that they are drag queens -- should do so because they want to, not because Facebook is forcing them to do so in order to continue using their profiles."

Facebook told the BBC that its name policy was designed "to protect the community and increase accountability," but who’ll be held accountable when drag performers, trans individuals, sex workers, activists and others suffer the social, emotional, psychological, economic, physical repercussions of being out on Facebook?

Cancer spreads. That's just what it does

"This is really about a lot more than just a bunch of drag queens bitching because we can't use our stage names," Sister Roma said to Ars Technica. "I've heard from women who are trying to escape an abusive relationship, sex workers, burlesque performers, and activists who don't want their real names exposed for fear of discrimination in the workplace and trans people who have finally found peace with themselves and their sexual identity who are being forced to revert to names that they associate with a dark and dismal past. These are the messages that affect me the most."

Indeed, the policy is beginning to ripple beyond the epicenter. The independent adult director and performer Julie Simone had her Facebook profile suspended for a names violation just days after Google Plus announced the end of their names policy. According to Simone, Facebook changed her account name to her legal name without her consent before locking her out of it for 30 days. This move effectively handed her legal identity to fans and stalkers alike, and outed her to any friend or family member who didn't already know about her involvement in sex work. 

Enforcement of the policy escalated mid-September, and it's only increasing. A week and a half ago, a Hawaiian user was locked out of his account because his middle name, Nahooikaikakeolamauloaokalani, didn't appear sufficiently "real." For him, it was a matter of posting his birth certificate. But should Facebook be able to demand this type of information? What do they do with it?

Over the weekend, the photographer +merkley merkley was shut out of his Facebook account for a name violation as well. Unlike many who face stigma or don't have the means to do so, Merkley decided to make his name change legal to get the social network off his back.

"I filled out forms and paid 500 bucks and now I have to wait about eight weeks for a judge to approve it," he told me over instant message. "I sent Facebook the paperwork as they requested and 24 hours later I got what seemed to be an automated response that didn't even acknowledge the files I'd sent but instead just asked me for my real name again and said they wouldn't unsuspend until I gave it to them."

The e-mail he received from Facebook included the following sentence: "If you ever come across another account with a name that violates our policies, feel free to report it by using the 'Report/block this Person' link located on the account's Timeline."

It's so sinister, it almost feels like we're playing Paranoia. But this is real life, not a game.

Shattering communities

Many people use different identities to safely navigate living in a world where it's not yet safe to be out as trans, gay, lesbian, bisexual, a sex worker, or to have a visible political identity, among many other completely legitimate reasons. Many of these people need the option of another identity not because they wish to harm, but because they want to stay safe. And because these identities are so much a part of a very real aspect of these people's lives, many individuals within such groups don't know one another by their legal names. So what happens when part of a community changes their names and the other gets their profiles deleted?

Trannyshack founder and drag performer Heklina tried to strike a compromise when her account was suspended by leaving her drag name as a first name and adding her legal surname as a last name on the social network, only to have Facebook delete her profile entirely. Because she doesn't know the legal names of people in her community, Heklina now has no way to get in touch with her friends and support system.

This policy isn't simply exposing vulnerable populations to harm -- it's also fracturing communities whose members often already feel alienated and ostracized in our society.

Facebook's response

After a group of drag performers threatened to storm Facebook's Menlo Park campus in protest, the networking giant finally caved to a discussion about its policy. Last Wednesday, San Francisco Board of Supervisors member David Campos and a number of performers met with Facebook representatives, but they were discouraged to find that no one attending on Facebook's behalf had the power to alter the policy.

The only promise that the network's representatives could make was that suspended accounts would receive a two-week grace period so users could take the time to make an informed decision about how to proceed.

"This will give [drag performers and others who have been affected] a chance to decide how they'd like to represent themselves on Facebook," said a statement from Facebook to TechCrunch. "Over the next two weeks, we hope that they will decide to confirm their real name, change their name to their real name, or convert their profile to a Page."

Changing to a legal name, as Sister Roma found out, may not actually require submitting an ID. According to Ars Technica, when Sister Roma input her legal name, her account immediately returned to a functional state without requiring further documentation.

"They seem to know my real name already," she told Ars.

It's not impossible that Facebook is using billing records for electronic birthday gifts, game credits and other purchases made through the social network to sniff out people who are using alternate identities, and to verify their real identities once these are put in.

That means that if you use a pseudonym on Facebook and you've purchased something through the social network, you might have something to worry about, even if your name looks "real."

The only option other than changing one's account to reflect a legal name or confirming one's name is to change a Facebook profile to a page.

Unfortunately, Facebook pages are incredibly limited in terms of features. For instance, a page does not have chat functionality. A page isn't a platform for meaningful interaction so much as it is a broadcasting mechanism -- and one that Facebook increasingly wishes to monetize.

According to the social network, a page only reaches around 16 percent of its audience on average. The network claims that this is similar to the reach profiles have, but while a profile can "highlight" a post to give it more visibility, a page needs to pay money in order to "boost" its content. Additionally, pages can't initiate friend requests, initiate Facebook message threads to profiles or pages, or comment on posts on profiles -- even if that profile belongs to one of that very page's administrators. There is no setting users can modify to allow pages to interact with their profiles normally.

Given the limited functionality of pages, it is unconscionable to request that non-brand entities who are using Facebook for community-building and -strengthening consider switching. Switching is simply not a viable option.

"We are not businesses selling products, we are encouraging our friends to come to our events and performances, promoting charitable causes, and making calls to political action, with occasional mundane daily life updates like every other Facebook user," said the Seattle-based performer Olivia LaGarce in a petition.

So far, her petition has received over 30,000 signatures.

"Maybe Facebook is not their social network if it doesn't offer the protection that is needed," writes Michelle Quinn at the San Jose Mercury News, who apparently sees no problem with creating a ghetto where all vulnerable populations and people who don’t meet Facebook's standards of "real" can go live.

But even if users considered leaving a reasonable option, the two-week grace period that protesting users recently received isn't a typical part of this process. Before the internet rose against the policy, people were shut out from their accounts without the ability to use Facebook’s data export feature. There is no telling what the process will look like after things go back to "business as usual" at the social network. 

And if they do have a chance to export their content, they still have to find a way to prove to Facebook that they are the owner of the profile being exported. When you select the "download content" option, the following message pops up: “We will then ask you to verify your identity in order to help protect the security of your account.”

If one has a pseudonym, how can they verify their identity?

The issue continues to develop. The hashtag #MyNameIs is being used for what appears to be a second chapter of the ‘Nymwars. Facebook, it seems, is only willing to copy Google Plus when it comes to features -- not policy.

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Journalist; columnist; editor
  • BlogHer
    Section Editor, 2011 - 2012
  • Village Voice Media
    Web Editor, 2010 - 2011
  • BlogHer
    Contributing Editor, 2008 - present
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Velocitus delectibus.

I'm AV -- that's pronounced like the letters A and V. Most people call me that, but a few prefer the less familiar Flox, which is pronounced like you would if you were talking about various flocks of birds (see? it only looks complicated). You may call me either of these things. 

I'm a writer. I mostly blog at +Slantist. I've written for a variety of publications, including the Village Voice, LA Weekly, Los Angeles Times, Gizmodo, and Vice. My main focus is sex -- the norms around it, the organs we use, the health issues that affect it or are a consequence of it, the way governments and private companies want to control it and the way we express ourselves around it, the markets that exist to cater to it and the labor issues within them, and so on. Sex touches everything. You would be amazed how many incredible disciplines I get to explore writing about sex. Not too long ago, I was buried under a stack of papers about 16S rRNA and metagenomic sequencing! (Why? Because vagina. You can read the piece on Vice.).

Besides writing, I have edited blogs about relationships and science for the Village Voice and, a women's network that was reaching 90 million monthly visitors by the time it was acquired by SheKnows Media last year for a reported $35 million -- more than AOL paid for TechCrunch just four years prior. 

My content here on Plus will reflect my beat, but please note that in general, my posts and shares involve more analysis than titillation. I have analytics, I can see how many of you browse on the clock! No judgment -- I'm honored, actually. But because of this, as a rule, I do not publish images or articles that contain preview images that are not "safe for work" (that is, anything that may make a colleague feel unsafe in their workplace) and I strive to let you know when a link I have shared contains this type of imagery so you don't click it without knowledge.

I am not opposed to pornography, but I do believe in consent -- I do not want to expose anyone to visually sexual content unless they explicitly opt-in to see it. So if sexy imagery is the sort of thing you're looking for, you won't find it here. However, feel free to visit my NSFW love letter to desire on Tumblr. It is overflowing with various degrees of graphic depictions of cisgender, heterosexual sex that I find pleasing. (If cis/het isn't you, try a Tumblr-wide search for a keyword that better speaks to you. Some of the best gay yiff I've ever seen is on Tumblr. And if you do not know what that is, don't look it up at work!)

I also issue trigger warnings and spoiler alerts. 

A lot of people follow me as a resource on issues of sexuality, so I try to keep my social media channels focused, but people are multidimensional and I am no different. Google Plus is where I am most focused. If you want a slightly more varied feed with more snippets from my life, you can follow me on Facebook and Twitter

My Instagram has first publishing rights to much of my life's imagery, so if you like pix, I strongly recommend you find me there. (My Instagram account does not disseminate sexual imagery, but I do post images from events I attend and sometimes these events are adult industry conferences. Don't follow me just for that, though -- I am not all work and no play, so, yeah, you may get to see awesome candids of porn stars, but you'll also have to suffer through, like, a million videos and pictures of an octopus trying to make an escape from its tank at the California Academy of Sciences, or the bacula collection at Natural History Museum of Los Angeles. You've been warned.)

Pinterest is where I put cool stuff that I find online. The first four boards are dedicated to cool products -- and, yes, one of them is devoted entirely to sex products. Go take a look and see if there is anything worth following. (I also have a community here on Plus called The Desire that I hope to develop into a destination that combines relationship resources and awesome products. If you are interested in that, go ahead and request to join.)

I maintain a complete list of my profiles across the social networks I use on About.Me. If you need to reach me, though, your best bet is to mention @avflox on Twitter. I only receive messages from people in my extended circles here and on most other social platforms, so I may not even see that you tried to reach me if you private message me. On Twitter, though, I see everything -- and it's more reliable than taking your chances with an e-mail web form. But if you don't tweet or you want to stay on the DL, you'll probably want to take your chances with that web form or the e-mailing option on About.Me (you don't need to create an account to use it).

I never thought I'd have to mention this, but seeing how many users on this network believe the existence of my profile indicates my sexual availability, allow me to clarify: I am not here to sexy chat with you. I don't usually flirt, even with people I like. I consider joking around an intimate thing so unless we have interacted a few times, I may not respond to your joke. Or at least, I may not respond well. I hate compliments. I reserve the right to delete comments that veer off topic or otherwise blemish my stream. Repeat offenders are blocked and immediately forgotten.

Regarding the many nude photos of me that exist and are said to cause so much "confusion" -- I took them, had them taken, sent them to someone, or posted them myself for my jollies. Personally I think that they represent a woman who is comfortable in her skin, in touch with her body, unashamed of her femaleness, and unwilling to censor it. I am flattered if you have derived some pleasure from their existence, but please note that their existence has nothing to do with you. I did not take them for you. I did not post them for you. I probably don't even know you! They're not for you even if I do know you! (Except you, Grandma, because you made me read Simone de Beauvoir when I was, like, seven and I owe you everything.)

So please -- do not wander onto my spaces online and expect that behaving in an overly familiar fashion is going to endear you to me. We do not have a deep meaningful connection because you saw me naked. Everyone has seen me naked. You are a unique snowflake, but it is not for this reason. 

Nothing I wear or don't wear is license for anyone to treat me like I am a thing that exists solely for their personal entertainment. I am a living organism -- I exist for myself. Just like you. And like you, when I post about something, I want people to comment on that something, not wax poetic about what they want from me. 

I mean, look, I get it. We all have urges. I understand this. I too have seen a picture and thought, "OMGWOULDBANG!!!1!" You are not damaged or monstrous for this. What I am saying is that writing this out as a comment on a person's social stream is not a successful strategy, and doing it when that's not even the topic is outright maladaptive. As someone who writes about getting laid, I feel I am uniquely positioned to speak on this topic, so you should at least consider it. 

Anyway, if for some incomprehensible reason you should wish to seduce me: go for my brain. Flattery is boring. Negs are like little gnats. The biggest compliment you could pay me, the most disarming level attention you could bestow upon me, requires that you only take the time to read something I've posted and have a brilliant conversation about it.

You don't need to be witty or "alpha" or otherwise a perfect specimen of the gender you identify with. You just need to share your views and tell your stories. Treat me like a human and show me your human. Hottest thing ever.

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Some muses inspire artists. I prefer scientists. "You know what you are? You're an idea Hydra. Discuss one idea, and two more grow." -- Fraser Cain
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