Platform Scopophilia: Data, Surveillance, and Pornhub Insights


We tend to watch pornography discreetly, in private homes and on personal devices, so adult media consumption is largely conceived of as a private pursuit. On sites like Pornhub, however, algorithmic curation is optimised around engagement. Content management systems are fundamentally premised on surveillance, meaning that as users watch pornography, platforms watch users.

Rather than shying away from this scopophilic regime, Pornhub routinely circulates colourful infographics and cheeky data visualisations detailing the porn viewing habits of millions of users. By teasing their profit model based on user data, Pornhub Insights doubly capitalise on the productive value of attention. While this marketing tactic has successfully transformed the fraught topics of porn and surveillance into benign PR, it also naturalises the role of platforms. Pornhub is an agent of commerce and technology that profoundly interferes in media ecosystems. Rather than neutrally reporting on user behaviour, it is shaping it through data-driven processes of recommendation, moderation and curation. In this talk, Maggie explores the operational logic of porn platforms and questions the reification of data through Pornhub Insights.

Jun 6, 2024 5:00 pm — 6:30 pm

Maggie MacDonald (she/they) is a PhD candidate at the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Information researching the political economy of pornography platforms. Her doctoral work emphasises industry engagement, public scholarship and policy interventions. You can find her research published in The Canadian Journal of Communication, New Media & Society, First Monday, and Synoptique. Maggie is a Massey Junior Fellow and a 2023 Connaught Fellow for Public Impact, with dissertation research generously supported by the Social Sciences and Research Council of Canada. Finally, Maggie sits on the Advisory Board to Pornhub’s parent company, ECP Canada. You can learn more about her work at