The news of last week sent me reeling. I should have been better prepared but other than assuming the bill would pass, I did nothing. So…I’ve done what many have done as far as my online work persona goes; and thought about things.
As someone who has touted the value of personal privacy for years, you should take steps on that front. Abine’s Delete Me service is not that expensive and very well worth it. If you can’t afford the fee, they show you how to do it on your own (it’s time-consuming). I bought their service a couple years ago and am extremely happy with it.
For years, I’ve recommended How to Stay Invisible and it’s still worthwhile when it comes to offline privacy. The Lifeboat Strategy is very expensive and informative, and best for those with a lot of money to protect. The website does have free information available. I’ve found the best online privacy resource yet to be Hiding From the Internet, written by a former FBI agent. And then there’s the very excellent A Smart Girl’s Guide to Privacy, written by Violet Blue, who is very sex worker friendly.
All of the steps you’re taking to secure your business from FOSTA isn’t worthwhile if you haven’t tightened up the exposure of your personal information, IMO. The US is making this harder and harder to do. Sometimes it seems like the best solution is to just follow your website to another country!
TOR and bitcoin
I’m no expert here because I haven’t jumped into using either one yet. I have a VPN that I use and am considering others, but I haven’t yet gone all Dark Web yet. I use Vanilla Visa when I can, my actual credit card otherwise (though I’ll jump at something that offers cash over the counter or mailed money orders). Yeah, I know, my credit card transactions can be tracked. At some point, paranoia gets tiring. I’ve been doing this a long time.
For your questions regarding TOR and Bitcoin, I strongly suggest looking for other people who can explain it far better than I can and have actual experience with it. (I will very likely have experience with TOR soon, I’ve known about it for many years, I just haven’t done anything with it yet.)
what to do regarding your business
Though I started off following this guide, which is wonderful, I’ve veered off it somewhat. But that’s me and my own decisions. The guide seems to be accurate and for that, it’s very worthwhile.
The term “offshore” is tossed around. It merely means a country that is not your own country. It has nothing to do with oceans or even the US. For instance, someone in France would consider registering a .com domain at US-based GoDaddy to be an offshore domain.
Most of us online own .com domains. This is unfortunate because .com is a US extension domain. FOSTA allows the US to take it right out from under you, if they so choose to do. This means you need to get a new domain to keep your business going in case of the worst happening.
The strategy everyone recommends is to get a domain in a country where sex work is legal. You could go further and cross-reference that list of countries with research on the country’s free speech laws and how eagerly they cooperate with US authorities regarding free speech. Here is a list of domain extensions by country, and here’s a list of prostitution laws by country. I leave your free speech research up to you.
You have to register than domain with someone. Choose a non-US based registrar. Here’s that list.
This isn’t going to be cheap and for someone whose cash is short right now, I think that securing an offshore domain is where your FOSTA-prevention money should go. You can move web hosts very easily with a day or two of downtime (at most). A domain is your little piece of online real estate. Grab it while you can.
Since all of this is outside the US, you’ll need to use your real credit card, or Paypal or likely another form of payment that reveals your real info (most do allow for Bitcoin transactions). As far as I can tell, you can give the registrar whatever info you want for the domain but payment must be real if it’s not Bitcoin. No Vanilla Visa for this.
There are a lot of offshore hosting options, in a lot of price ranges. There’s a super-cheap option that’s not more expensive than GoDaddy. There’s Red Umbrella hosting, which is made for US sex workers and isn’t cheap, but is a one-stop shop.
While you know your site’s needs and your budget best, I recommend getting hosting that has as much bandwidth as possible, allows addon domains, and allows WordPress. Uptime is important but don’t take their word for it, try to find uptime/downtime reports on their hosting.
Addon domains means you could buy your domain name in a couple different countries and point them to your host. Or you could host your .com and .[offshore domain] on the same host. This saves you money as long as you back up your websites off the host and onto your own computer/personal cloud.
I recommend installing WordPress because…duh. I’ve been a huge WordPress fan since 2005. I’m not sure I’ve bothered with anything else since. (WordPress.com is very different from installing a copy of WordPress on your own site. Though the .com is taking down sex worker sites, they cannot touch you using WordPress on your own site.) WordPress makes backing up your database easy and the Duplicator plugin means you can migrate your entire site, including photos and settings, to a new WordPress site in minutes. With the insecurity and instability of FOSTA, having a website that you can easily move around is a worthwhile investment of time and money. (WordPress and the Duplicator plugin are free.)
your website content
Does your content need changed? Most recommend being very discreet about what, exactly, you’re offering. Or you could hide your entire site behind a password that requires minimal screening to access. Or pretend you’re some other type of professional (e.g. life coach) and that none of what you’re doing is sexual. (Though how many life coaches advertise on malls filled with lingerie-covered women?) Do you need to reduce your photos to fully-clothed ones? Or will lingerie be okay? There is conflicting advice over what to do. I think you should do your own research into the scope of the law, the implications of how you present, and do what you think is best for you.
They’re forcing us to toe an impossible line: pretend we’re not sex workers, while still getting clients to understand we’re sex workers.
advertising in the US
You’ve likely heard about advertising platforms going down in the US. Advertising options are shrinking. There are plenty of international sites that also have US cities listed, but a site like Eros likely won’t last long.
I still find most of my clients, and my best clients, from Eros. (I was using BP successfully until it shut down the Adult section and it’s been worthless for me since.) I’m going to clean up my Eros ad, making the text sound more like a personals ad. I’m going to post very discreet pictures, I’m not even sure if I should post lingerie pictures or not.
Regardless of the steps I’m taking to not get kicked off of Eros, the site itself has a shelf life. And that is the problem. I still believe it’s our best advertising mall for US clients (especially if you don’t participate on review boards). Losing it is going to be a huge blow to all of us. I know I didn’t think Eros would be affected by trafficking laws, but I never imagined a law that would essentially turn consensual adult prostitution into a federal crime.
Not all clients are even aware of what’s going on. But they do know what Eros is. So when they look for it and it’s gone…where are they going to go? That’s the million dollar question.
Twitter, though hugely popular for both providers and clients, is on its way to kicking active sex workers off. The same concerns apply to Instagram and Facebook. Will clients be able to find their way to an offshore advertising site? Likely. But then the question is which one? It’s impossible to advertise on them all, especially because being too out there right now could make you a more tempting target for arrest. I don’t have any answer about where to go, I’m still working on that myself.
your real risks
The passage of FOSTA means that local cops could arrest you and literally turn your arrest into a federal case, instead of just a local misdemeanor. Police are going to be completely aware of this new power. This makes tight screening a hugely important part of your work.
FOSTA takes away sites that allow us to communicate. While blacklists are still around, they’re even more fragmented. We lost a major provider community last week. This means it’s harder to know what’s going on and what resources are around. This reduces our safety and increases our isolation and risk. Clients who are scared your business isn’t secure won’t want to screen. (This is the possible problem of an over-informed client. I think I’d prefer the ones who have no idea this bill exists.)
And, because this is going to affect our business so deeply due to losing major advertising platforms, predators are coming out of the woodwork because they know that some providers aren’t going to have the resources to protect themselves and their business, and will be willing to take risks to pay their bills. That’s always existed, it’s now that a federal law directly creates this situation (instead of the individual provider’s life causing a bad situation). A law meant to fight trafficking has done nothing more than empower predators. I don’t think I’m stretching to say this stupid law is creating trafficking situations. It’s certainly creating coercive ones.
Picking up men in bars (or wherever) is likely going to become a focus for many providers. I see Meet and Greets happening more, though vetting for that would have to be extremely well-done. Making and passing out business cards might become a thing more of us do. Having more privatized social media is likely going to become a thing.
Dennis Hof claims he has been flooded with new applicants since the bill passed. Working at a US brothel is legal, though there are a huge amount of cons to it. Some ladies have talked about working internationally but that also has a fair amount of cons (just nowhere near like the brothel list of cons). You can find international touring info here and here. There’s stripping. There’s finding another job in a hurry. There’s wine.
what this isn’t
There is nothing even close to a consensus on what the risks really are and exactly everything you need to do to keep yourself safe. I’m feeling my way around and I may be really wrong about some of the assumptions I’ve made here. And though I’ve been thinking about these issues and dealing with them for a week — just like everyone else — I know I haven’t found all the far-reaching implications and unintended consequences of FOSTA. I’ve not even covered everything I’ve learned here. (I’m perfectly aware that my books are painting a target on my back like they never have before.) This is a quick and dirty overview that hopefully helps someone who is overwhelmed or not sure where to start. I’ve been Tweeting a lot of links over the past week, info that I hope is helpful.
I’ve collected a fair amount of links that I’ve referenced above and here are the rest.
CATO.org thoughts on FOSTA
ACLU open letter on SESTA
how to choose a domain registry
Tits and Sass guide
DMCA ignored hosting
budget offshore hosting
Netherlands hosting reviews
free website encryption
excellent resource for a secure offshore website