As a journalist I get hundreds of pitches a day for various products and services. A few weeks ago I received one that stood out.
From: firstname.lastname@example.org Subject: Drone Catches Steamy Couple in High Rise Window; Keeps Recording
Hey there - how's it going? Wanted to get in touch and let you know about a rather peculiar video that just got uploaded on the Pornhub site. Turns out a drone pilot managed to stumble onto a couple getting hot-and-heavy in their apartment - windows open and everything while he taking his gadget out for a spin. Strange part is, the guy kept on filming like some sort of amateur porn director as this unsuspecting couple kept going at it, then uploaded the footage to our site.
Thought this would make for a really cool...and maybe creepy story about drone tech. Anywho, here's a link to the vid on our site - some really weird/creepy stuff, I have to say. Let me know your thoughts on this when you get a chance. Looking forward to your feedback. Thanks!
I assume I got this pitch because I do lots of writing and reporting on drones. The video (NSFW) appeared to have been shot with a drone outside the window of a hotel. If it was real, it was indeed very creepy. The clip had been uploaded to Pornhub by the anonymous user Droneman1 and tagged as amateur, implying it was a real couple. But I noticed a watermark on the video for a site called DroneHunter.com. I asked Mike about that, but he was adamant there was no connection to his company.
At the time the website for DroneHunter.com was just a landing page with a cartoon drone and some text informing visitors it was "under construction." But when I clicked through the link at the bottom for customer support, I was redirected to a service site run by Mofos.com. That turned out to be a porn company owned by Mindgeek, a massive conglomerate that owns dozens of different sites, including, you guessed it, Pornhub. I emailed Mike to ask what was happening, but he plead ignorance, saying Mindgeek was a sprawling empire where lots of sites act independently.
A concept even adult industry publicists pitch as "creepy."
I find that hard to swallow, but this isn’t a story about the slippery practices of Pornhub’s PR. It’s a story about the fact that Pornhub, or its sister company, or its parent company, or some combination of the three, is creating an standalone website devoted to the idea of drone porn — a concept even adult industry publicists pitch as "creepy."
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Porn, as it has throughout history, is experimenting at the fringes of our legal and cultural norms, helping us to process exactly what it is we are afraid of or excited by, and why. But in this case, drone porn is also playing on real life fears generated by stalkers and peeping toms who have been testing the limits of the law in their experiments with drone technology, and the fetishes of those who crave "illegal" or amateur voyeurism.
"Porn takes advantage of an interest in seeing a new technology used."
"Porn takes advantage of an interest in seeing a new technology used," says Clarissa Smith, a professor of sexual culture at the University of Sunderland. "The laws and ethics kind of follow the technology, we’re not sure where it will go, and we have to learn and adapt. People in the porn industry can afford to take risks, to explore areas of society that others won’t."
The real-life drone users are pushing the limits in their cities, enabled by a Wild West landscape with little legal oversight. At the same time, the FAA is in the process of creating broad federal rules that will determine the future of the technology, and in the interim, states and even cities are stepping in to craft their own legislation, some of which is frighteningly restrictive. Concerns over privacy are as paramount as safety.
The video Mike sent me depicted exactly the nightmare privacy scenario that have legislators worried: a couple being secretly filmed in the intimacy of their own home. That frame is a good tease, the classic "peeping tom" setup that so much of pornography is premised on, just updated with modern technology. By calling it "creepy" in the initial email, Pornhub was either expressing genuine concern or hoping I would take the bait and sound the alarm.
It doesn’t work too hard to maintain the illusion.
DroneHunter.com launched a few weeks after Mike’s initial email. It doubled down on the use of technology by adding FPV glasses in with drones. The fantasy it’s peddling is that the women involved were being filmed, without their knowledge, both by their partner and from the sky. Like most pornography, it doesn’t work too hard to maintain that illusion. Lots of the shots were clearly made on a set with standard film equipment. But Smith says that rarely matters.
"Drones are a framing device, that idea that you’re peeping in on something that we construct as really private." Unlike the anatomical close ups that typify a lot of porn, Smith says the thrill of these videos isn’t what you see, but where it comes from. "People will put up with crap visuals because they want to see how the new technology will be used. What’s arousing is the idea of new possibilities for voyeurism, more than the actual footage itself."
What matters more, in other words, isn’t the technological breakthroughs that drones enable for filming. This was not just sex filmed from the sky, but pornography in which the drone plays a central character. For a site like Pornhub, the key isn’t that this amateur porn is real, just that it’s really creepy.