Techies, Don’t Apologize for Stickam

What to make of the fact that Stickam, a site popular with young webcam users, is run by a Japanese porn magnate?

Here are the facts: The company that owns Stickam, Advanced Video Communications (AVC) owns and operates porn sites; Stickam has no advertising; Stickam has expensive office space; and a disgruntled employee with competitive business interests is concerned about child safety on the site.

Here are the allegations: Stickam employees deleted thousands of customer service e-mails; Stickam uses the same computer systems as other AVC sites that peddle porn.

Here are the possible conclusions:  AVC is simply expanding into other markets served by online video; Or, AVC is using Stickam to market pornography to a young demo that’s already familiar with web video.

The reaction in Silicon Valley is, as expected, droll eye-rolling. “Wait a second,” said one commenter on TechCrunch, “are you saying that my kids are using the same internet tubes that pornographers are using? I sure hope there’s no tube leakage!”

And that’s a fair point. Porn and non-porn, on the Internet, live side-by-side. It’s not as though online pornography is, like adult magazines at 7-Eleven, walled off from casual browsing.

But that tech-centric view also conflates proximity with intention. Continuing with the magazine metaphor, it’s one thing to place adult magazines beside consumer magazines. It’s a whole other thing to place the adult magazines inside consumer magazines. And should the allegations about Stickam be true, that’s essentially what the company is doing: Tricking consumers into exposure to porn.

I don’t know if Stickam is a porn gateway. But you should be wary of apologizing for any company that mixes the interests of children and the adult industry. One of those markets is going to be a loss leader. And you don’t keep loss leaders around unless they funnel customers toward profit. It’s business, plain and simple.