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A new Google policy change is making quite a wave. And for once, it’s a policy update that doesn’t affect MiKandi and other adult startups. This time, the policy takes aim at Google Play’s registered developers.

Beginning September 30, 2014, Google will require developers who sell their apps or offer in-app payments to list their physical address.

I should note that developers’ addresses are already visible to existing customers through Google Wallet. However this new policy will display the information to all Play users, regardless if they are a customer or not. While it may not seem like a big deal if you work at an establish business, those who work from home find the update unsettling. Many argue that listing a physical address to everyone can put some on dangerous ground with competition, customers, fans, and, well, weirdos, especially indie developers who near celebrity status.

Android kingpin Koush shared his own “creepy story” on G+ of a customer that took it much too far and ended up at Koush’s front door.

The update seems to be a part of Google’s initivative to have a more transparent purchasing process and to tighten accountability of its users, developer and customers alike. As one G+ user comments, “Choosing to sell apps means choosing to be a business. Businesses should be held accountable to be reachable. Not fly-by-night operations which hide their business address.” 

For now, your choices simple: share your address, lose your Google Play app listing, or join the kinky side of Android.

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bitcoin

Despite lingering questions over its legality, a largely uninformed consumer base, and a volatility that is worrisome to investors and merchants alike, cryptocurrency Bitcoin provides an alternative to cash and credit card transactions that is extending beyond the online world into the real world — but are buyers ready to add this new and mysterious payment mechanism to their financial portfolios?

Offering benefits such as greater user anonymity and easy access, even by the unbanked in developing countries, Bitcoin and its brethren cryptocurrencies found many early admirers among adult website operators and among illicit commodity traffickers, such as the notorious (and now closed) Silk Road site, where Bitcoin was the underground currency of choice.

Growing beyond its shady roots, cryptocurrencies are gaining increasing acceptance among mainstream merchants that strive to satisfy a growing customer demand for Bitcoin as a payment option — and who find that the savings on transaction processing fees can be enormous.

Smaller online merchants, for example, may be paying up to 15 percent of a sale’s amount or more to process a credit card transaction, while a Bitcoin transaction can cost around one percent and not incur any risk of reversal. Fees and lost revenues from consumer charge backs plague many online businesses that deal in virtual goods — and few firms would scoff at a 14 percent boost in their bottom line gained from lower overhead costs.

Bitcoin is not just for smaller merchants, however, as it has caught the eye of some major market forces.

Calling fast growing digital currency Bitcoin “an incredibly subversive technology,” Overstock.com CEO Patrick Byrne told FOX Business News in an August 22 interview that the company is averaging $12,500 to $15,000 per day in sales attributed to Bitcoin transactions, since Overstock began offering the option in January of 2014. It is a figure that reflects $6 to $8 million in annual sales this year alone.

Earlier this year, in a May interview with FOX Business, Byrne reported $1.6 million in year-to-date sales settled with Bitcoin sales, which seemed to suggest a drop-off in usage, as in an early March interview, Byrne claimed that Overstock had already eclipsed a million in year-to-date Bitcoin revenues, just a few mere months after beginning its acceptance of the cryptocurrency.

Overstock may have initially predicted as little as $3 million in annual Bitcoin sales, but by the March interview, sunny side estimates were approaching $20 million for this year, which at this point seems overly optimistic.

While those sales may have most likely occurred regardless of whether the company offered Bitcoin as a payment option or not, as one of the first major retailers to begin accepting Bitcoin, Overstock is setting a serious example to other merchants of the potential success of digital currency.

“Bitcoin is tiny at this point, but it’s growing about 25 percent a month,” Byrne explained to FOX News’ Opening Bell financial program. “In terms of actual transactions in a day, I think it is $300 million a day.”

“It’s surpassing PayPal, at this point, in terms of transactions,” Byrne added. “It is growing very quickly.”

While this positive attitude from the head of a major merchant is encouraging to everyone from Bitcoin evangelists, businesses and consumers interested in cryptocurrencies, looking a little deeper will reveal another reason for the cheerful outlook: Overstock is betting on the future of Bitcoin.

Like many merchants that have dipped their toes in the Bitcoin pool, Overstock is reportedly hoarding some of its Bitcoin haul — converting 90 percent of its sales immediately into dollars via its processing service provider, Coinbase.com — and self tithing the balance on speculation of future increases in the value of the digital currency. It is a bullish outlook that Byrne has repeatedly expressed — showing the company’s commitment to the future of Bitcoin.

Other firms will immediately convert all of their Bitcoins to cash to mitigate its rampant value volatility, where significant price fluctuations can yield huge additional profits — or cause major losses.

For its part, Coinbase claims more than 36,000 affiliated merchants, including other big names such as computer giant Dell, travel mega site Expedia.com, multi-market masters Google, Budweiser, Bing and beyond — heck, even market leader 1-800-Flowers is on the customer list, underscoring the “everyday” applications of Bitcoin in the marketplace.

According to Expedia’s Vice President of Global Product, Michael Gulmann, Bitcoin is young, but it is on its way to being more serious and is here to stay.

“Bitcoin is becoming a viable currency,” Gulmann stated, noting that for merchants, “This is no different from going into any market, understanding how we can do business, and offering the forms of payment customers want.”

“The path Bitcoin is on is in some ways what PayPal was on,” Gulmann added, echoing Byrne’s PayPal analogy. “At first it seems strange, but it’s going to become more mainstream.

Recent evidence of this mainstreaming of Bitcoin can be found in Texas, where the state’s Department of Banking declared that Bitcoin, rather than a real currency, is only property, and thus not subject to banking or other financial regulations — a move that paved the way to the state’s first Bitcoin ATMs.  Supplied by different vendors, the automatic teller machines are located inside of retail venues including a gun shop and a 24-hour donut shop, according to an AP report, and allow customers to buy Bitcoin for use in the shops or elsewhere.

Of course, legislators are quickly proposing regulations of these machines, including measures that will identify the purchaser of the Bitcoins, allowing easily traceable transactions — a move that worries the advocates who choose to use cryptocurrencies due to the perception of added anonymity and personal privacy associated with them.

Not every business believes in the benefits of Bitcoin, however — or at least not yet.

“While we are always monitoring all of the payment options out there, this simply isn’t on our radar screen at this time,” Home Depot spokesperson Paula Drake told The Wall Street Journal.

It is a sentiment echoed throughout the retail world, with National Retail Federation VP of Retail Technology Tom Litchford, stating that Bitcoin has not come up for discussion among the big brand and other industry leaders that make up the trade group’s membership.

“Where is the motivation for the consumer?” Litchford asks. “Why would I not use my credit card where I get [airline] miles?”

The answer to his question goes back to the appeal of Bitcoin to the unbanked, which do not have credit cards or access to other online payment mechanisms. It is a signal pointing to the future of e-commerce and cryptocurrencies as having the most traction in the developing world, where consumers in the BRIC nations, as well as the merchants who target them, could see the biggest gains — and where lower sales costs can lead to lower prices, profitably opening these vast new markets.

Regardless of how it ultimately plays out, the use of cryptocurrency in general (and Bitcoin in particular) is becoming part of our daily lives that consumers and merchants cannot afford to ignore. Especially now that PayPal is taking its first steps into the Bitcoin arena via its Braintree subsidiary, which may lead to a rapid uptake of cryptocurrencies by businesses and their customers alike.

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This month, I had the opportunity to participate in Model View Culture‘s sex and technology issue. As an adult app store, MiKandi is in the unique position of having each foot firmly planted in both worlds, so I was excited to share my insight on running a next generation adult sextech company in today’s current business climate.

There are a few misconceptions about runing an adult business that  foster a hostile business climate and ultimately create unsafe environments for adults who wish to access this legal form of entertainment. Most of the time, these misconceptions are based on moral objections to the industy. The differences between ethics and morals may seem subtle, but the implications of regulating industries on one or the other are significant.

If you have a minute, please read SexTech Startups in a Hostile Business World for more.

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By now you all know that some asshole hacker stole a bunch of nude photos of celebrities (most notably, Jennifer Lawrence) and broadcast them to the world via 4chan, Reddit’s nasty little brother. The only thing keeping me from closing my computer and giving up for good is the fact that the glee of misogynist dickheads hiding behind Reddit’s anonymity protections has been equally matched – if not surpassed – by writer after writer pointing out that this is a serious violation, a sexual violation, and an unpardonable crime.

In addition to soaking up all of the great writing from fellow feminists and decent human beings that has come out of this criminal act, I’ve also started thinking about the fact that I – like most adults under the age of 40 in 2014 – have some pretty incriminating images out there, some of which are stored in the cloud just like J Law’s were. What would I do if they got into the wrong hands, either through a vengeful ex or a hacker? How can I work to prevent a crime like this happening to me and what can you, fellow sexy photo taker, do too?

First of all, I’m not going to tell you to not take sexy pictures because taking sexy pictures is fun and if you want that to be a part of your sex life, I say go for it. It’s a great way to keep up the heat when you’re far away from a lover or even just when you want to tease her at work. So, yeah, I’m gonna throw up a swift two fingers to anyone who pulls a victim blaming “That’s what she gets for taking naked pictures.” Fuck you, please, and just stop talking.

Here’s what you can do to prevent your photos getting out there.

The number one thing you can do to protect all of your data – nude photos or no – is create super strong password. I wrote about this after the recent Russian hacker breach, but my favorite tool for keeping track of all of your unique, strong passwords is 1Password. It not only generates super strong passwords for you but also stores them in one place, making them passwords easily accessible – but only to you.

Another important step to take is implementing two-step identification on all of your accounts. iCloud (where the photos in this latest crime were stolen from) has this option, but Apple has never pushed it. Two-step identification does exactly what it sounds like – adds one more step to the process of accessing your data. This often means a text message sent to your phone, which is pretty awesome when you consider the fact that a potential hacker would also need to have physically robbed you in order to get around it. 

For some more help on this subject, I turn to Violet Blue, an internet activist who writes about sex and sexuality. She has a great post on DDNet outlining other steps you can take to protect yourself, including wiping hard drives, using burner phones, taping over your webcam, and never signing in on someone else’s hardware in case they’ve been hacked. She also wrote an entire book on the topic called The Smart Girl’s Guide to Privacy, which is now officially on my Must Read List For All Millennial Women.

But when it’s not hackers but shitty exes putting your photos up…

That’s a whole other story, isn’t it? Since no one ever thinks that the person they sent a racy photo to would ever post it online (why would they send it if they did?) there’s really not a great way to protect against it happening. What you can do, however, is take steps to remove photos once they’ve been posted without your permission.

According to Violet Blue, the very first step you should take is finding every single photo out there and sending a takedown request to the site’s hosts, while simultaneously documenting everything you can find. This is an arduous, seemingly never-ending process but Violet points out that the images usually pop up in waves, with each wave getting smaller and smaller until it’s basically non existent.

The next think Violet recommends is to stay online – don’t run and hide by deleting all of your social media accounts. While it’s tempting to disappear for a while when private photos of you have been shared without your permission, deleting your positive online presence will only result in the negative stuff surfacing to the top of your Google results. For help with managing your online presence and making sure the things you don’t want seen get properly buried, check out an online reputation management service like BrandYourself.

There are also legal steps that can be taken against people and websites who share your images without your permission but, unfortunately, the law hasn’t really caught up with internet privacy issues and different women have had varying degrees of success with the legal system. 

And, of course, there’s the fact that most police forces don’t have a great track record when it comes to respectfully dealing with violations of women, virtual, physical, or otherwise. 

If you need extra support in your fight against hacked images or revenge porn, head over to Without My Consent and End Revenge Porn. Both sites exist to provide moral, practical, and legal support and empowerment for women who have been targeted like Jennifer Lawrence was.

As Dan Savage has said time and time again, the invention of the smart phone means we all have mini porn studios in our pockets and we’re all making porn. Does the act of taking and sharing these images with our intimate partners mean the internet has a right to see those images? No. Does it mean the internet might see those images? Yes. But that doesn’t make it okay. Let’s take steps to protect our right to free sexual expression – and privacy from the public eye.

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An App Advantage

A little more than two decades into its commercial blossoming, is the web still the preferred online content distribution mechanism it once was, or has it been supplanted by dedicated mobile applications, better known as apps?

I recently had an illuminating discussion with the youngest of my stepsons, a college senior about to earn his engineering degree. It seems that he and a few of his friends have gotten together to develop premium Android apps based upon a class project they worked on. He demoed a new game they made, which used some type of predictive engine to outsmart players, “anticipating” their next move based on their previous moves, in order to counter that move ahead of time. It was a neat game and an obvious time vampire that will suck hours away from many of its users.

The boys have formed an LLC and plan to develop multiple game offers, which they will likely offer free, and then use in-game ads and purchases as the primary revenue streams. It is all standard fare for many of today’s developers, but one aspect that I personally found interesting was the choice of Android apps as an alternative to a web app or responsive website design. Rather than a technological advantage that dedicated apps have over web apps, they made their choice in large part based on what’s “cool” today — as well as the ease of access to established, visitor-rich mobile app distribution ecosystems.

It seems that the web is out and (Android) apps are in, at least with his circle of younger 20-somethings, which makes me believe that web centric operators should not be too quick to dismiss mobile apps as a distribution channel, even if they’re not as easy to deploy and maintain as is a “one size fits all” website.

Another revelation occurred when I gave him the URL of a personal project I am working on: a gamified site on the adults-only .XXX TLD. “That’s right, there is a bunch of new domain extensions coming out,” he replied — seemingly unexposed to .XXX, and happy to live in his app-dominated dot-com world.

That is not a good sign for porn promoters, given his status as a very tech savvy youth, smack dab in the midst of the porn consuming demographic — or the non-porn consuming demographic it might seem, since many of his peers have reportedly moved on from Internet erotica to socialized mobile game play. Perhaps that is why he seemed nonplussed by my suggestion that his game needed tits.

The discussion made me consider how mobile apps fit into today’s digital media landscape.  I will admit that I am an iOS user who has replaced much of his traditional desktop Internet use, such as surfing and watching videos, with the convenience of mobile access and the flexibility and quality of a Retina screen equipped iPad 3 as my viewing platform of choice. My app usage also outweighs my mobile browser use — and I am not alone. Recent statistics from app analytics firm Flurry.com reveal that around 86 percent of the time that mobile Internet users spend online is via apps, with a relatively scant 14 percent surfing the mobile web.

Retailers may face a different set of challenges than do other market segments, with studies showing that consumers prefer to use a retailer’s mobile site than a dedicated app.  From a personal perspective, while I often use the B&H Photo/Video app on my iPad to evaluate competitive products and to read the reviews and other data, when it comes time for me to order a product, I will visit the company’s website using my desktop computer. This might be a generational issue, but for me, the deliberate pace is more “comforting,” while the notion of ordering camera gear on my phone remains quite “scary.”

Banking is another matter however, where my bank’s app seems more secure to me than using the web, perhaps because of the seemingly more personal nature of a phone than a computer. Likewise, when I want to listen to music, I fire up the YouTube app — while the Hulu app augments what is on television.

Apps offer advantages such as the ability to access content without an Internet connection, and more efficient use of the target device’s capabilities, processing power and other resources, such as cameras, location and more. Beyond various technical considerations, apps allow marketers to corral their users, bringing the user away from the wilds of the Internet, into the neat walled garden of their application, which provides a major advantage.

This is great when you want to cultivate a user, displaying your ads and offers to him with less risk that he or she will “click out” to another site (even that of a competitor), as is common on the web. The same level of control is unfortunately extended to the discovery, distribution and installation process, where apps are only “officially” available through authorized channels, such as Apple’s App Store, Google Play for the Android market, or Blackberry App World — a situation that imposes a strict layer of corporate oversight over app content and marketing.

This has been especially problematic for adult content companies shut out of the big, mainstream app distribution channels, leading to the emergence of alternative platforms, such as the adult app store at MiKandi.com, which strikes a nice balance between liberal content policies and consumer satisfaction.

Google statistics show that 48 percent of mobile research will begin at a search engine, with 33 percent starting at a branded website and 26 percent at a branded app — figures which seem to show apps in a disfavored light,  but 26 percent of today’s mobile market is huge, by any measure. In addition, there is the matter of quantity versus quality — there could be more cash value in one branded app user than in a dozen or more search engine users.

Another interesting stat comes from the good folks at Nielsen, which note that more than 89 percent of online media consumption now occurs via a mobile app, with only 11 percent through the mobile web. According to blogger Chris Dixon, this is a worrisome trend for the web at large.

“Mobile is the future,” Dixon writes. “What wins mobile, wins the Internet [and] right now, apps are winning and the web is losing.”

Dixon points to the large number of popup and banner ads on many mobile websites that entice users to download apps — and notes that many mobile websites are broken — with too many companies not noticing their broken sites because of a narrow focus on their apps.

“Resources are going to app development over web development,” Dixon explains. “As the mobile web UX further deteriorates, the momentum toward apps will only increase.”

“The likely end state is the web becomes a niche product,” Dixon concludes, “used for things like trying a service before you download the app [and] consuming long tail content (e.g. links to a niche blog from a Twitter or Facebook feed).”

If this trend plays out, then apps truly will have an advantage — one that mobile consumers, developers, producers, merchants and more, can no longer afford to ignore.

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Crave Vesper wearable tech

Would you ever wear a Rabbit, arguably the most popular vibrator out there, as a pendant around your neck? Just let it swing there, “pearl” beads and wiggly ears on full display? Maybe you’d take a break from your conversations at work to show off just how nicely it can swivel around.

No; the answer is: no. Unless you’re going to some kind of silly themed party or festival, no one with any sense of style or class would ever even consider hanging a Rabbit from her neck.

That’s not to say, however, that the idea of wearing a vibrator as a necklace is in and of itself totally nuts. You just have to reimagine what, exactly, that vibrator would look like.

Actually, you don’t even have to imagine it because Ti Chang, head designer and co-founder of sex toy company Crave, has created a piece that every sex positive fashionista is going to, well, crave. Called the Vesper, this vibrator/necklace is so stylish that I really think it’s going to be my one and only pendant for awhile.

Sexy, right?

vesper

Wearable tech is a relatively new thing and, thus far, it’s mostly been a boy’s game. The majority of objects that we’re talking about when we use the term are part of the Quantified Self Movement, which focuses on monitoring your day to day behaviors so that you can make positive changes. Think Fitbit, Nike+, FuelBand.

When it comes to figuring out how much you’ve been sleeping or how many steps you take in a day, these tools/toys do a great job. When it comes to being something that enhances your look, well… Let’s just say they fault short as soon as your look goes from casual to classy.*

While the Vesper isn’t the same kind of wearable tech as the QSM tools are – it’s not connected to an app and doesn’t record any information about your behavior – it’s undeniably a piece of technology that is meant to be worn, which I think absolutely qualifies it for the moniker “wearable tech.”

While I’m personally looking forward to being part of the sexy group of people rocking this thing in public just as hard as my boyfriend rocks his Fuelband, Ti knows that not all of her customers are going to be into that part of it – and that’s okay.

“This is not something that every woman will want to wear outside,” she told me. “But it’s designed so that you can if you want to.”

For those ladies who are more private about their privates than I am, Ti points out that the Vesper also looks great when worn with lingerie or with nothing at all. Additionally, she designed the necklace so that the functionality of the vibrator is completely separate from the necklace, which means the chain can be removed and it can be stored in the bedside table along with any other sex toys that may be hanging out there.

It’s not a Rabbit. It’s not a FitBit. It’s a whole new kind of wearable tech – and it couldn’t be sexier.

 

*One exception: FitBit recently launched a collaboration with Tory Burch and some of those designs look pretty great.

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future sex vocab

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about Fleshlight’s new iPad holster and dropped a whole bunch of future/sex terms without really explaining what the hell I was talking about. Sometimes when you write about this stuff day in and day out you forget that not everyone speaks the super nerdy, not-really-sexy-at-all terminology that you throw around like grade 5 vocabulary.

While I’m assuming most folks know what dildos and hookup apps are, there are plenty of sex tech words that are super weird. This post is for all of you who are, a) as dorky as me and therefore fascinated by this stuff, b) curious in general, c) slightly perverted and wanna know all of the new ways you can get off.

Really, most of you probably fall under, d) all of the above. I’m cool with that. Come join me for some learnin’, you pervy nerds, you.

Haptic Technology and Teledildonics

Okay, so the very first thing we have to talk about is haptic technology, a term that gives you basically zero clues about what the fuck it means in the name itself. Hapt-a what now?

Wikipedia defines haptic technology as: a tactile feedback technology which recreates the sense of touch by applying forces, vibrations, or motions to the user.

Yeah, okay, whatever Wikipedia. Way to make it even less cool.

The best way to describe haptic tech is to go waaaay back to the old school arcade games where you “race” cars. You know the ones I’m talking about: you maneuver the wheel through a race course and the “car” around you shakes and tilts in response to what you do. That’s haptic technology translating what’s happening onto the screen into physical sensations that you can feel.

When we’re talking about haptic tech and sex, though, we’re usually talking about apps that control some kind of sex toy. Instead of using your own hand or even a remote control, haptic technology toys utilize bluetooth and wireless networks to control toys.

Which brings us to teledildonics, a word that I still have difficulty saying out loud. Teledildonics refers to the toys that haptic technology controls. They’re the bluetooth-enabled vibrators tucked in the people’s underwear as their partners get them off from as close as face-to-face or as far away as the other side of the world. Honey just clicks on the phone like she’s texting and bzzzzzz, it’s fun for everyone.

If you’re interested in this kind of play: Definitely check out OhMiBod, one of the current leaders in haptic tech and teledildonics.

Oculus Rift

Oculus Rift is the name of the now Facebook-owned virtual reality technology that raised almost $2.5 million on a goal of $250,000 on Kickstarter two years ago. While the original use of Oculus Rift was gaming, companies are obviously developing porn for it already.

Utilizing haptic technology, OR has the potential to truly change the way we have virtual sex. While we’re not there yet (the only OR porn so far is pretty, um, rough…) OR creates the possibility of impossible sex, gender exploration, sex with mythical creatures… The list of possibilities is limitless and endlessly exciting.

If you’re interested in this kind of play: Check out what Wicked Paradise and Lucid Dreams are up to. (OBVIOUSLY NSFW)

3D Printed Sex Toys

I guess this isn’t so much a sex tech vocabulary item (I mean, it’s pretty self explanatory, right?) but it is a very future/sex thing. 3D printing is crazy popular these days, with stores cropping up that can do it for you and Amazon even offering a 3D printing store. It only makes sense that sex toys would be popping out of those bad boys as soon as people figured out how to design them.

The biggest issue right now with 3D printed sex toys is that the printers aren’t yet able to print in body-safe, non absorbent materials. However, for those of you who can’t stand the thought of not owning a Justin Bieber head vibrator, there are sealants you can buy to make sure all of your toys are fuckable and cleanable. There’s also one company that says their toys are made of medical grade silicone so… There’s that option.

If you’re interested in this kind of play: Makerlove and Dongiverse have been on the 3D printed dildo game for awhile, but I recently discovered French Coqs, a relatively new site that appears to be more up to date and will take care of the whole process for you.

Future/sex

So there you have it, pervs and nerds, a quick little rundown of the most common future/sex and sex/tech words out there today. I’m sure some of you know even more than I do, so if I missed anything, leave me a note in the comments or tweet at me @MissEmmaMcG? I’m always excited to learn more.

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This month, Sssh.com hosted a live event called Women in Porn: Shattering the Myths, an interactive panel discussion that brought together prominent women working in the adult entertainment industry against porn’s harshest critics to debate the nature of the industry and women’s changing role in it.

Featuring Kelly Holland (Penthouse managing director), Cindy Gallop (MakeLoveNotPorn), Ashley Fires (Clips4Sale Spokesperson), Frederick Lane (author and lecturer), and moderated by sociologist Dr. Chauntelle Tibbals.

If you have an hour to spare, the video of live debate is available online.

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Last month, bill AB1576 passed through the California legislature. Known more commonly as “the condom bill,” AB1576 is a workplace safety bill that requires condoms be worn on all porn sets during any and all instances of anal, vaginal, or oral intercourse. Basically, if you’re going to be sticking it into anything, it better be wrapped up.

The bill also requires that actors be tested every 14 days, a requirement that the porn industry already follows. The biggest difference between this part of the law and the industry’s current system is that the cost of the tests would be transferred from the performer to the studio.

Sounds like a great idea, right? Promoting safe sex is a no-brainer in the sex-positive community and – considering the popularity of porn these days – barrier methods in porn could be a great way to normalize everyones least favorite form of birth control. Then there’s the added benefit of protecting performers, people who are simultaneously cast as whores who deserve what they have coming, victims to be saved, or paragons of personal choice – depending on who’s doing the judging.

And judge they do. With the introduction of AB1576 to the legislature and the subsequent hearings, blogs posts, and articles promoting one side or the other, it seems that everyone wants to claim the safety of performers as their tantamount concern. Both Michael Weinstein of the AIDs Healthcare Foundation (AHF) – the original force behind the bill- and Dr. Isadore Hall, III, of District 64 in Los Angeles – the Assemblymember who first proposed the bill – have insisted from the start that performers (and women in particular) are not being adequately protected from STIs under the porn industry’s own self-regulation. 

Is that true? Are women being exploited under the current system? Or is AB1576 a paternalistic governmental move in a sex negative society? Because performers are the ones most affected by this bill (and therefore really the only ones whose opinions matter),I reached out to three performers and one filmmaker to see if I could get a deeper understanding of what, exactly, is going on inside the porn industry and with AB1576. Here’s what I heard. 

Alana Evans, veteran performer

“We’re not bringing the diseases to the general public. The reality is, they’re bringing them to us.”

alana evansAlana has been performing for 17 years, no small feat in an industry known for its insatiable desire for new talent. Back when she first started, porn was a totally different place and largely independent studios worked with equally independent contractors. Today, the landscape is totally different. “Corporate America is basically running porn,” she sighed over the phone line when I spoke with her last week. 

Alana went on to explain that part of that corporate control can be seen in the fact that most performers today work with agents who, theoretically, work for the performers.

“They’re supposed to be working for you, but a lot of girls are young and they end up working for the agent instead,” Alana described. “With that being said, girls aren’t always going to push for things that are best for them because of the way the industry is.”

That doesn’t mean, however, that she thinks AB1576 is the best way to protect those young women. While Alana personally has no problems with condoms, she believes that whether or not to use one on set should be the choice of the performer, not a requirement imposed by the state. She also pointed out that she has watched the porn industry do a great job in the past 20 years of tightening up testing laws and self-imposing moratoriums when performers test positive and that, “when you have outside forces telling us what to do, it messes up our system.”

Rather than a measure to protect performers, Alana sees AB1576 as a way for Michael Weinstein and the AHF to garner as much publicity as possible, a point that Weinstein himself more or less conceded when he told the LA Times, “We got more publicity for safer sex and condoms than we ever could have gotten any other way.”

Christopher Zeischegg, aka Danny Wylde, former performer

“I think the industry has done a very good job at self-regulation but I don’t know if it’s enough.”

zeischegg_wyldeRecently retired from the porn industry due to health problems brought on by the use of erectile dysfunction drugs, Christopher was extremely active in opposing an earlier version of AB1576, an LA-only law called Measure B. This time around, the 28 year old performer who had been working since he was 19 sounds… Tired.

“It’s a huge clusterfuck,” he told me. “And I’m glad I don’t have to deal with it.”

Christopher described an industry that is less and less able to provide work for its performers, one in which people are taking the small leap from porn to illegal (and therefore unregulated) sex work – such as escorting – as the jobs dwindle. It’s there, he tells me, that their exposure to STIs increases tenfold. 

He doesn’t, however, think that AB1576 is the answer to the problems the porn industry is facing, problems more to do with economics than the safety of workers. One thing he does know? Imposing criminal penalties on performers isn’t going to help.

Mike Stabile, public relations for Kink.com, filmmaker

“There’s a long history of people coming in from the outside and saying, ‘You don’t know better. We’re going to save you.’”

Stabile Headshot CropMike Stabile doesn’t bite his tongue when discussing AB1576. Describing the language used by both Assemblymember Hall and AHF as sounding like “obscenity crusaders from the ‘80s,” Mike, like Alana, thinks that the whole thing is a publicity stunt for an election year. 

“If you really want to make something that’s going to improve sex worker safety, you need to talk to those communities, learn what their concerns are, and handle them properly,” Mike said.

In addition to calling out Dr. Hall for the high HIV rates in his own county, Mike emphasized that condoms in porn can actually injure rather than protect. Another performer and former nurse, Nina Hartley, has been quoted in multiple media outlets on the fact that the average length of intercourse for most Americans is 10 minutes, while the average length of intercourse on a porn shoot is between 30 and 60 minutes and that the difference in time has a huge impact when you’re talking about condoms. 

Condom use on porn sets can cause abrasions that limit the number of shoots a performer can participate in, both Nina and Mike pointed out, potentially drastically reducing their already suffering incomes. Additionally, the prolonged banging with lager-than-average penises can open up abrasions that actually increase the performer’s risk of contracting an STI, both on set and in their personal lives. 

Veruca James, performer

“They’re creating a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist.”

verucaA former accountant, Veruca had forgotten how serious official buildings could be until she walked into the government buildings in Sacramento for the most recent hearing on AB1576. While she didn’t speak herself, Veruca felt that Lorelei Lee (performer) and Diane Duke (executive director of the Free Speech Coalition) – the two people representing the opposition to the bill – did a great job outlining all of the reasons that so many performers don’t want to see AB1576 enacted.

She also felt like their voices were heard at the hearings and that certain as yet unexplained nuances of the bill – like exactly how studios would pay for STI tests – were brought to light.

Pointing out that most porn performers are independent contractors who work for multiple studios, big and small, over the course of the two week period that each new test covers, Veruca asked, “Which producer pays for the test?” Would the big studios cover the cost? Would smaller studios piggyback on a test paid for by a larger one? Would there be some kind of communal kitty that everyone pays into that covers the costs? What initially seems like a cut and dry element of the bill becomes imminently more complicated when you really dive into the logistics.

Echoing the voices of her fellow performers, Veruca said she’d be happy to work with the government to figure out the best way to protect performers. In fact, APAC – the for performers, by performers advocacy group that Veruca is a part of – recently met with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration of California and, Veruca reports, the meeting was promising. 

So what does this all mean?

The creation of APAC and the fact that OSHA is not only willing but eager to meet with its members is a sharp deviation from what appears to be a pattern of government disregard for the lived realities of many porn performers. Rather than stepping on the backs of performer health and livelihood as a way to gain publicity, HIV/AIDs advocates would do well to really listen to what is being said.

After all, I’d say they’ve made it pretty clear: They’re happy to work with you. 

All images used with permission from the subjects.

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Immersive technology is poised to reshape digital media consumption — if the price is right.

virtual reality

It is the stuff of science fiction and of science fact: Total and believable sensory immersion into a virtual world, known as “presence,” is the future of media consumption, as well as the future of engineering and medicine, education, combat, real estate, tourism — even porn and sex itself. In short, this rapidly evolving technology holds no less than a full promise of revolutionizing human existence, our daily lives, and our livelihoods.

For now, however, it’s a gimmick that is as likely to make you physically nauseous from using it, as it is to convincingly transport you to another realm. Think of it akin to 3D video, which after nearly 100 years of development, remains an immature technology that still leaves much to be desired. While the current crop of immersive devices remain more idea than ideal, the development of this technology is such a big deal for so many stakeholders that it is not a matter of if, but of when — and of how convincing a user’s perception of presence will ultimately be.

Pursuing Virtual Reality is Nothing New

While younger generations may want to claim the concept of virtual reality (VR) and augmented sensory displays as their own, the fact is that the predecessors of today’s prototypes can trace their lineage back 60 years or so — to devices such as the Sensorama of the mid-1950’s — think of an old arcade size- and style machine, where the user sits down and places his or her head into a viewing hood. The Sensorama featured a vibrating chair, plus a pair of stereo speakers, fans to provide airflow intended to simulate wind, and odor emitters for added realism, while the Sensorama engaged its users by mimicking motorcycle and helicopter rides.

A decade later, towards the end of the 1960’s, the first 3D head-mounted displays that altered the user’s view and perspective based on head movements emerged. These units were so bulky that they wore the user as much as the user wore them — requiring an articulated mount to suspend the hefty “headset” from the development lab’s ceiling.

Fast forward 15 years to 1984’s release of William Gibson’s “Neuromancer,” which dealt with a virtual realm that users could immerse themselves in. Fifteen years later, “The Matrix” popularized the notion of a Borg-like collective consciousness, where individuals interfaced with machines as their sole existence — conceptually similar to the “Man-Machine” — a modern corollary to Fritz Lang’s silent film masterpiece, “Metropolis,” which so powerfully warned of an invasive merging of man and machine, back in 1927.

Although we have not yet entered the era of “The Matrix” as Hollywood envisions it, the boundaries of technology are continually pushed — with the U.S. military on the forefront of immersive technology. This is exemplified by the new generation of helmets being developed for F-35 pilots, which will provide jet jockeys with an all-encompassing 360 degree view of the aircraft’s immediate battle space, by using advanced sensor integration — a far cry from when pilots would jury-rig an automobile’s rear-view mirror in their cockpit, in hopes of grabbing a glance at any enemy aircraft approaching from the rear…

Closer to home, and much less expensive (unless you are Facebook, which paid $2 billion for it), is the much ballyhooed Oculus Rift — which the social media giant wants you to have in your home next year.

Oculus Rift: The New Standard Bearer

Beyond effective presence and an inherent “cool factor,” headsets such as Oculus Rift, which will be first marketed to the gaming community, will need a low price point, simply due to its target demographic —a factor that Oculus founder Palmer Luckey concedes, while noting that the retail price of Oculus Rift has yet to be determined.

“I’ve always said is that if VR isn’t affordable it might as well not exist for most people,” Luckey stated. “We’re not looking to make a rich person’s toy, we’re not looking to make a research tool. We want to make a consumer VR headset that pretty much anyone can afford.”

Luckey explains that available content is the commodity that sells hardware, and if the hardware is too expensive, then developers will shy away from supporting it.

“You can’t sell an expensive piece of hardware and expect tons of content to show up,” Luckey said. “We’re not doing market research around what’s the breaking point for people to buy a VR headset; we’re just trying to sell it as cheap as we can while still existing as a company.”

According to Oculus VR CEO Brendan Iribe, the company hopes to bring Rift to market at around $300 — the same price as the development kit — but Iribe wants the device to eventually be free to acquire, noting that “the lower the price point, the wider the audience.”

“Obviously it won’t be [free] in the beginning,” Iribe says. “We’re targeting the $300 price point right now but there’s the potential that it could get much less expensive with a few different relationships and strategies.”

The company’s focus on finances goes beyond considerations of product price, however. Originally funded through Kickstarter donations, many early Oculus supporters reportedly felt “betrayed” when the company “sold out” to mega-brand Facebook — so a free or low cost offering could placate frayed community feelings and lead to a resurgence of support for the company.

For its part, Facebook believes that virtual reality could be the next great evolution in computing.

“Oculus has the potential to be the most social platform ever,” Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg stated.

“Imagine sharing not just moments with your friends online, but entire experiences and adventures.”

The persistent problem of reconciling potential with profitability extends to Oculus Rift as well, with Facebook noting that while it has yet to develop a solid business model for the device, it hopes that revenues will not depend on selling headsets or other hardware — with Zuckerberg envisioning people visiting virtual worlds that are supported by advertisements and that have a retail shopping component (think visiting a shopping mall without leaving home, where social inputs influence purchase decisions).

“We feel like we should be looking ahead and thinking about what the next platforms are going to be,” Zuckerberg said, adding that “We think vision is going to be the next really big platform.”

With a reported 75,000 Oculus Rift developer kits already shipped, Zuckerberg’s hunch seems to be on the right track — but Oculus Rift is not the only freight train roaring down the track to virtual reality…

Google’s “Mockulus Thrift”

For all the fanfare surrounding Oculus Rift as being a technological marvel, the basic premise of it is a simple one, with an example familiar to old-school film photographers: who despite investing countless dollars into high-end gear, still marveled at the images made with “pinhole” cameras, which were often constructed for free, using an old shoe box.

Google took this into the digital age, when it gave Google I/O event attendees a slab of cardboard, which when folded, tabbed, and an Android phone inserted inside, became what some call “Mockulus Thrift.”

A small magnet on the device’s outside acts as a control switch, while a pair of plastic lenses provides the big-screen illusion of other wearable vision devices. No audio component was included.

Officially known as “Project Cardboard,” Google’s Mockulus app offers seven “experiences,” including a YouTube theater simulator; a Street Vue function that provides a VR version of the company’s street view mapping, and a Photo Sphere Viewer that lets users examine images produced using Android’s 360 degree panorama function.

Although some observers characterize Google’s ploy as a joke, others see it as a declaration that the tech giant could easily wade into this arena with its own technology and disrupt everything.

What About Google Glass?

To use the well-worn “Star Trek” analogy, the promise of total sensory immersion is akin to the idealistic vision of Star Trek’s Holodeck — whereas Google Glass is more akin to character Geordi La Forge’s visor, which not only gave him sight, but also informational overlays that provide a more comprehensive view of the world(s) around him.

Perhaps best illustrative of the ideal of “stylish” functionality for everyday usage (it is easier to imagine consumers wanting to wear a Google Glass style device out in public, than wandering about with a big helmet on their heads), the capabilities of the two product types is too divergent to compare as equals.

While an immersive headset could do what Google Glass does, the streamlined device may not be able to emulate the isolative presence of a full headset; so today, it is an apples versus oranges comparison.

Sony’s Morpheus

Perhaps the most “finished” of the commercial options (although not expected to be released this year), Sony’s Morpheus shows the technology powerhouse is not relinquishing the virtual reality space without a fight.

“We really focused a lot on technology in the past, and [now] we really want to focus more on the new experiences that technology enables,” PlayStation’s Magic Lab Director, Richard Marks, says. “One of the things that we believe strongly in is actually prototyping things; we call it: experiencing engineering.”

One of the biggest engineering challenges in bringing virtual reality to market is to affordably deliver a consistently high frame rate along with low-latency, which with today’s technology, requires compromises; but this is not the only technical challenge facing device developers.

“There’s a trade-off. There’s a fixed amount of resolution. So you can either give that to a really wide field of view or you can make [the resolution] feel higher, but the [field of view] narrower,” Marks adds. “We’re trying to get a good balance of that.”

“Right now we’re still working on the issue of the display,” Marks intimates. “Right now we have a great prototype system for our developers … [but] for the commercial system, we’re still working on that.”

Two of the unique aspects differentiating Morpheus from Rift are concept and completion. The former is illustrated by the company’s move from using traditional eye tracking, to focus on “gaze tracking” and the ability to sense non-verbal communication cues, as humans do when communicating face-to-face.

“A lot of different people are looking at how to track your eyes,” Marks offers. “Our focus is more on, if you can track your eyes, what do you do with it?”

“Where someone is looking conveys a lot of information about what the person is interested in, what they intend to do, and it’s a very unconscious thing that people do,” Marks concludes. “You can make the characters smarter because they kind of react in a way that is more intelligent because they know what you’re looking at.”

As for the latter differentiator, completion, Sony has a display device on sale now that will give users a glimpse of tomorrow’s technology today: the $999.99 HMZ-T3W Wearable HDTV. Boasting 2D and 3D video capability along with 7.1 surround sound, the device uses a pair of OLED displays to give users the perception that they are viewing a whopping 750 inch screen from a distance of 65 feet — emulating a real world theatre experience.

Eying Oculus’ pricing trend, Sony claims that while Morpheus will use similar hardware, it won’t cost a thousand dollars — and given the company’s massive content library (an asset not shared by Oculus), back-end monetization is a much more realistic option for the firm.

While the future of these devices is tantalizing, their current reality is one of providing a better viewing experience for users — but the promise is not one of watching, but of doing.

Immersive Interactivity: “The Killer App”

“Up until now, the most immersive medium on the planet has been a five-story IMAX screen,” 3D filmmaker D.J. Roller says. “Now it’s a phone-size, head-mounted screen.”

Consumers really don’t need just a new way to watch videos, however — so it is not only a matter of size or form factor — these “phone-sized” personal devices have buttons so that users can control them.

For better or worse, immersion and interactivity have been tied at the hip. After all, there is little value in entering a virtual world if you are unable to interact with it. Back to the 3D movie analogy, today’s tech may provide “depth” to a scene (with an occasional butterfly or other element seeming to flutter past and behind you), but without the ability to change the movie’s outcome, or to involve yourself with any of its elements, then you are merely an observer in the story, rather than a participant.

Additionally, actively participating in a virtual realm is better when you can do it anywhere, at any time.

This tie in to mobility is perhaps the most important next step for these devices, as this evolution will offer several benefits: For example, by providing a “big screen” alternative to the current small screen of mobile devices, these platforms will take a step toward being integrated personal communications, data and entertainment hubs for consumers — and perhaps ring the death-knell for traditional in-home PCs. This next generation tech model envisions the use of a headset as a remote display for a smartphone, tablet or other device — a personal theatre, if you will.

Another milestone will arrive when immersive wearables shed their wires (as well as their reliance on an additional computer or other device to power and feed media to them) — evolving into “IP headsets” — similar to the way webcams evolved from PC-dependence to IP-addressable, connected self-sufficiency.

An ironic aspects of immersive interactivity is that videogamers, utilizing the technology as a toy, may likely be the mass-market segment the provides the commercial traction needed to develop mankind’s greatest tool, to be used for more “serious” applications. Given the half-plus century scientists have already put into immersive technology, expecting perfection in the near term is wishful thinking; but the palpable sense of presence is improving with each generation and the long term promise is bolstered by the benefits that immersive interactivity will bring to mankind. It really is just too big a deal to ignore…

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