FTC Testifies on Peer to Peer File Sharing and Online Pornography

For Release

The Federal Trade Commission today told the Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade, and Consumer Protection of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce that P2P software can expose consumers, to unwanted pornography, as well as games, videos, and music that may be inappropriate for children. Howard Beales, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection said the FTC has issued a consumer alert, “File Sharing: A Fair Share? Maybe Not,” to warn consumers including parents, about the risk that P2P software can pose and to alert them to the “security risks of improperly configuring P2P file-sharing software, including the risk that sensitive personal files inadvertently may be disclosed.”

The testimony also recounts "the Commission’s law enforcement efforts combating Internet fraud and discusses examples of Internet fraud cases where the fraud involved advertising for online pornography. Although the Internet has empowered consumers with instant access to a breadth of information about products and services that would have been unimaginable 20 years ago, fraud artists also have proven adept at exploiting this new technology for their own gain. They are the ultimate ‘early adopters’ of new technology. And, they have seized on the Internet as a ready vehicle to find victims for their scams. To combat these new frauds, the FTC has brought over 300 Internet-related enforcement actions. Many of these actions were against alleged purveyors of online pornography."

“Since September 2000, the Commission has monitored the marketing of violent entertainment products to children by the motion picture, music recording, and electronic games industries,” and issued four reports on its findings, the testimony says.

In conjunction with the monitoring effort, the FTC has examined four popular P2P file-sharing services. None of the P2P file-sharing services label or provide notice about the content of any file. Instead, each user places files in a shared folder and labels them in any manner he or she chooses. “Accordingly, each file, if labeled or otherwise described as having explicit content, would have been labeled by the individual user.” While each of the file-sharing programs examined by the FTC provided filters that blocked access to materials that contained offensive or otherwise adult-related content, “all of these filters . . . operate by only examining language found in the title or descriptor of the file, rather than the content of the file. Moreover, these filters may not be effective when users label files inaccurately, which can result in the transfer of files with pornographic or other unwanted content,” the testimony says.

The Commission vote to approve the testimony was 5-0.

Copies of the testimony are available from the FTC’s Web site at http://www.ftc.gov and also from the FTC’s Consumer Response Center, Room 130, 600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20580. The FTC works for the consumer to prevent fraudulent, deceptive, and unfair business practices in the marketplace and to provide information to help consumers spot, stop, and avoid them. To file a complaint, or to get free information on any of 150 consumer topics, call toll-free, 1-877-FTC-HELP (1 877-382-4357), or use the complaint form at http://www.ftc.gov. The FTC enters Internet, telemarketing, identity theft, and other fraud-related complaints into Consumer Sentinel, a secure, online database available to hundreds of civil and criminal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad.

(FTC File No. P034806)

Contact Information

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