Last week, Mikandi, the third-party app store entirely devoted to porn apps, published a feature article titled “The FetLife Meatlist: How A Social Network Failed Its Users” detailing the continued regular releases of installments of Mircea Popescu’s infamous catalog of FetLife profiles of young women. This marks the third feature article in a mainstream online media outlet discussing how “FetLife failed its users” in as many months. The first two were the Atlantic’s piece titled “How Kink’s Largest Social-Networking Site Fails Its Users,” on March 3rd, and the DailyDot’s article on April 28th, with its Lifestyle section editor EJ Dickson tweeting:
— EJ Dickson (@ejdickson) April 28, 2015
The latest feature was written by AV Flox, a far more rigorous writer than many others with a similar beat. As a result, her article is thorough, well-researched, and far less fluffy than the first two. She’s also the only one who addresses FetLife’s continued abuse of copyright law, the only one to put this issue into a meaningful historical context with regards to FetLife’s many prior failings, and the only author of the three to point out why and how the feminist blogosphere’s own shortsighted reaction contributes to the sexual commodification of young women—exactly the same thing as what the Meat List intentionally does and what these so-called “Social Justice” bloggers say they are trying to avoid.
Here’s a slightly edited excerpt from Flox’s feature:
Clearly there’s a difference between a person who shares a piece of media of their own free will with a site and a person who is exposed without their consent. But the difference begins to shrink as one enumerates the ways that FetLife has failed users: by creating a false sense of security, by using their media as a commercial incentive by default, and by failing to fully delete their media when users try to take it down.
We — the female-identified users, and especially those of us who are submission-oriented — are FetLife’s meat. We’ve always been FetLife’s meat.
Hacking is like breaking and entering. What Popescu did wasn’t even trespassing. The truth is that users are so easy to enumerate on FetLife, it’s almost as though FetLife was designed for data mining.
And this isn’t the first time it’s happened, either.
In 2012, I covered a number of security and safety issues on FetLife, explicitly mentioning the ease with which the network could be mined. John Baku, the social network’s founder, responded to the piece, saying, “With respect to your technical concerns… I am not sure where you got your facts from but this is not the case. Though, if you can prove us wrong then we would for sure fix the problem.”
Baku had to deflect. Three weeks before my piece, a FetLife user and hacktivist by the name of maymay had, in fact, illustrated just how easily profile information could be mined and exposed outside the walls of FetLife with a simple bit of code that remains available.
FetLife refused to admit it had failed its users. Baku labeled that incident an “ill-intentioned attack” and spun it as a one-time situation — the work of a malicious hacker that FetLife bravely thwarted.
“Within an hour of being notified of this tool we blocked it,” Baku wrote in a post that announced the network’s response to the crisis.
It was a lie that it was an attack. It was a lie that the tool had been blocked — the single server that had been running the code was blocked, not the ability for this or any other bit of code to easily mine everything on FetLife. This has been illustrated twice since: last year, when a site called FetLifeSearcher made it possible for anyone to search through FetLife profiles, and again, with the release of the Meatlist.
It’s not lost on me that maymay’s illustration of this issue didn’t get the media attention that the Meatlist has generated: maymay’s code exposed the profile information of FetLife users in positions of power and overwhelmingly male, rather than focusing exclusively on potentially vulnerable women under the age of 30. If we, the female-identified users on Fetlife, are the meat, then we, the media, are actively contributing to the consumption of female-identified bodies, even as we set out to raise awareness about what this “blatant case of misogyny and predation,” as the Meatlist has been described, says about BDSM culture.
The Other List
By mid-April Popescu’s Meatlist had transcended discussions among users and begun to draw media attention. That’s around the time that an e-mail from maymay landed in my inbox: “[The data mined from FetLife] can be cross-referenced with the database [detailing reports of abuse among FetLife users] collected by Predator Alert Tool for FetLife, and can thus be used to answer questions like, ‘What is the most known dangerous city for submissive-identified women?’, ‘what is the average age of an accused male dom?’ and so on.”
The first thing maymay did with the mined data was release a collection of all dominant, male-identified users with paid accounts on FetLife under the name “The FetLife Creeplist.” The second thing maymay did was put the information to work.
Analyzing 15,495 premium FetLife accounts — that is, the network’s paying customers — maymay discovered that 73 percent are men. As has been pointed out, this stands in contrast to trends on social networks, where women tend to dominate, but is more in line with porn sites, where one third of users or less are women.
Of these male users, the majority (42 percent) identify with a dominant type of sexual role (daddy, dom, master, sadist, and top), compared to 11 percent who identify with submissive roles (babygirl, bottom, brat, kajira, pet, slave, sub). Only 18 percent of all paid users identify with a submissive type of sexual role.
Suddenly, it makes sense that Kinky & Popular would be dominated by imagery of sexualized, submissive women.
Next, maymay looked over data collected by the Predator Alert Tool for FetLife, an add-on independent of the social network that users can install to read and report consent violations while browsing FetLife. This add-on came into being following a 2012 campaign by FetLife to silence victims of sexual assault; it’s been available for almost three years and holds reports on 652 individual FetLife users.
Paid users make roughly over one percent of total users on FetLife, but they make up 13 percent of alleged abusers. Of these, over 60 percent were male-identified, with the most likely roles for abusers being “dom,” “sadist” and “switch” (someone who alternates roles between dominance and submission).
“If you ever wanted a clear idea of why FetLife.com [ … ] continues to insist on the protection of rapists time and time and time again ad nauseum, here’s a big clue,” maymay wrote, referring to FetLife’s policy of removing posts that accuse people — by username — of sexual assault or other types of consent violation.
The Nonsense[, The Abuse, and The Aftermath]
When it learned of the Meatlist, FetLife did the same thing it did when it became aware of FetLifeSearcher and maymay’s 2012 so-called “attack”: it issued a copyright takedown notice under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) to Popescu’s host and other online service providers. […] FetLife uses the DMCA process in lieu of real security mechanisms because it’s very easy to abuse it. To avoid liability, the host of the content that receives a DMCA takedown notice may disrupt access to the content, pending a response from the person alleged to be infringing copyright. For users who are unfamiliar with the DMCA process, the disruption of service often intimidates them into backing down — even in cases where takedowns are fraudulent or the work said to be infringing is protected by fair use.
After BitLove issued its DMCA notice, Popescu took down the Meatlist and sent a counternotice. BitLove’s next move would have been to file a lawsuit against Popescu to keep the content offline, but the legally-mandated 14-day window in which BitLove could have brought legal action came and went and Popescu made the Meatlist available once again.
The lack of legal action on BitLove’s part is telling, as are the FetLife content guidelines that illustrate that BitLove’s officers have at least a basic understanding of how the DMCA process works. Nevertheless, almost two months after failing to file a suit against Popescu, BitLove issued a takedown notice to maymay’s host, which took the post down pending maymay’s counter-notice and the expiration of the 14-day window for BitLove to file a lawsuit.
Two days after Popescu published the eleventh installment of the Meatlist last week, FetLife’s founder John Baku [claimed] in a podcast interview […] to have no knowledge of the Creeplist or the Predator Alert Tool for Fetlife.
Today, Mircea Popescu published the twelfth installment of his list of FetLife women under 30. The Creeplist will be legally clear to return to maymay’s blog this week as well — but then, the Creeplist never left the internet. In a clear illustration of how inadequate the DMCA takedown process is as a security mechanism, someone captured the contents of the Creeplist with a internet archiving tool before the post was taken down. This capture was almost immediately indexed by Google, meaning everything on the list has remained only a search away despite BitLove’s legal maneuvers, and very well could remain available, even if maymay decided not to republish the post.
As Flox predicted, the FetLife Creep List is indeed back up on my blog following my own successful DMCA counter-notice against FetLife’s frivolous takedowns (something I’ve gotten quite practiced at over the years). Of course, the Creep List is also still up at the half dozen or so other archiving sites where it was copied. Moreover, I’ve written a summary of the preliminary data analysis I’ve done on the more than 1.5 million FetLife user account records that were mined, for those who want more hard numbers, whose key conclusions are that FetLife is a porn site, not a social network, and that FetLife customers are 13 times more sexually predatory than the porn site’s non-paying users.