NY Times on a self-made child pornographer

Incredible reporting in Kurt Eichenwald’s story about a boy who started his own live porn site on the web, with excellent side stories on the analysis of the customers’ credit cards, child pornography as a growing business, how the story came to be (including what can only be described as a rescue operation for the protagonist), and how it was documented.

Although the story is rather simple, and nobody should be surprised that this goes on, I was very impressed by this reportage – not only did the reporter take considerable personal risk, but The NY Times had to thread very carefully to avoid doing anything untoward.

The story poses problems for a number of online companies, such as Amazon.com (who enable transactions through their online wishlists) and creditcard handlers such as Neova.net. Messages boards and webcam manufacturers could also get scrutinized – I suppose we will see all kinds of calls for filtering software and identification of individuals before they sign up for common electronic commerce sites.

I like the fact that the articles don’t discuss how this traffic should be stopped, and mercifully does not blame the technology for child pornography. They let the story speak for itself – for instance, the journalist documents how vital the credit card operation is to a porn site, which shuts down within hours of losing its credit card agreement.

Once again, technology is neutral in itself, but not in its uses. We want wish lists at Amazon, we want easy payment through Paypal, we want eBay as a channel to market for our few transactions. When it becomes easy to transmit content and set up a payment structure, it becomes easier to satisfy all kinds of demands – also the unsavory ones. Somehow we as a society need to figure this one – an operational way to stop illegal online activity – out without discarding the baby with the bathwater. I for one don’t know how, though I suspect it would involve using normative rather than instrumental initiatives – for instance, exposing the customers, making a trip to a child porn website as dangerous as pursuing that kind of activity would be in the physical world.