TL;DR: If you hate our "freedoms", you will hate bitcoin.
Adult entertainment has driven early usage of a wide array of technical innovations, from VCRs to online video streaming to online video monetization, but has been surprisingly slow to adopt bitcoin.
This weekend the inevitable happened when Porn.com (obviously very NSFW) announced that bitcoin accounts for 25% of their sales, just a few weeks after they adopted it as a payment mechanism.
An except from a safe for work article from the Guardian:
Porn.com started taking bitcoin for its premium services in December, and the currency rapidly came to account for 10% of its sales. But in early January, a post on Reddit's Bitcoin subforum took the news viral, and after a spike where the currency accounted for 50% of its sales, the bitcoin trade settled down at 25%.
Some of the increase will be bitcoin fans rushing to support a site that takes their preferred form of payment, but David Kay, the marketing director at Porn.com's parent company Sagan Ltd, argues that there are other reasons as well:
"Privacy and confidentiality are paramount when joining an adult service for the majority. In general you can surf porn.com for free, anonymously but if you want to upgrade to the premium services you have to enter a method of payment which historically has been credit card. In order for the transaction to process you have to include your full name and address. This is not necessary with BTC."
I don't want to overplay the adult angle the way the Guardian does because it is definitely not bitcoin's killer application (bitcoin is a foundational technology and this is one of thousands of usage cases), but it is a great case study in how bitcoin helps the internet achieve its potential to fully substitute for and improve on offline options and, quite frankly, increase personal freedom.
Imagine our protagonist Sally Sue is looking for videos of Hunky Hunks and what her options might have been over the years. (If this example does not resonate with you, substitute "practicing your unapproved religion in a repressive regime" as all the principles and mechanisms are the same.)
Circa 1485: Obviously a witch; burn at stake.
Circa 1885: Wanton woman; not to be seen in polite company.
Circa 1995: Seedy shops in Times Square in semi-dangerous neighborhoods staffed by men with questionable facial hair. Chance that Sally is going to stop in on the way to Penn Station after work? 0%
So, very little progress for a few hundred years until the internet comes along.
Circa 2013: Free porn widely available online. Paid offerings, however, bring up any of the following risks:
- Husband, boyfriend, parents, roommates see the credit card statement and disapprove
- HunkyHunks.com sells or leaks data to unsavory characters
- Site starts recurring billing (and who really wants to have the discussion with their credit card company that, no, they did not approve the $29.99/month subscription to HunkyHunks.com for the next 3 years?)
- Even if none of the above happen, it is on your 'permanent record' potentially available to thousands of people over time at the merchant, the credit card company, the NSA and possibly someday your credit scoring firm.
Circa 2014 (post Bitcoin): Commerce between trust-less parties is enabled:
- No name, address, email or phone needs to be shared with the fine men of HunkyHunks.com
- No pull capabilities on your wealth (recurring billing) given to random strangers (aka the back office of HunkyHunks)
- Small micro-payments for weekly, daily, hourly passes are possible
- No permanent record*
And the analogy holds perfectly if you are trying to organize a group to pay donations to support a priest in an oppressive regime.
*Note: It is true that in most cases bitcoin is pseudononymous and less anonymous than cash (unless you work at it), but it is much more confidential than credit cards.
I hesitated in writing this article because bitcoin is just starting to shake off its drugs, sex and violence undertones and show its utility in non-anonymous and transparent applications.
But there are still many times and many reasons why perfectly good people for perfectly good reasons will not want to give VISA/Mastercard/random merchants (and everyone around those parties) total knowledge of their activities and this is too good a case study to pass up.