Programming in the Adult Entertainment Industry is Broken

jwoertink profile image Jeremy Woertink Updated on ・1 min read

I've deleted the post because some of you are [insert expletive]. The client I do work for is not doing anything illegal. There's no money laundering going on. It's a more legit business than some big-chain stores I shop at.

To those of you spreading the "you're admitting to fraud" comments, you're the reason we can't have nice things.

To those of you that supported the article, and were generally appreciative to read this, I want to thank you so much. You gave me a reason to want to continue writing more, but since others can't play nice, I won't be doing any other posts.


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I work for cannabis companies and it's the same story.

You get banned from Paypal, Stripe, Authorize.net, and all the other major services. If you're lucky, you get setup on Shopify and bounce around 3rd party payment processors. Most of the time though, you end up in a similar situation, doing e-checks/wire transfers, or buying "potcoins" that convert currency.

It's hell, and every time I talk to someone outside of my industry about it, they always ask dumbfounded: "Why don't you just use Paypal or Stripe?". And when I tell them I've been banned from them, and had thousands of dollars of money frozen and stolen -- they act flabbergasted, and don't have anything else to add -- because the fact of the matter is - there's no good answer.

I can't tell you how many times I've been approached by scam artists who try to sell me payment processing for my cannabis e-commerce clients. It's popular for a lot of ancillary service firms (like graphic designers) to spin off and create a "payment processing solutions" company that acts as a middleman for smaller banks and processors. They get 1%, sometimes more, of your transaction as an "affiliate fee" from the bank. So it becomes lucrative for these scumbags to try to set everyone up with their shitty service, grab as much cash from the middle, and split once the service stops (whether they get shut down or move on to more legitimate clients). Which sucks for businesses that wake up randomly one morning and have to turn away 50%+ of their customers cause they didn't come with cash.

I wrote an article on my blog about my process of contacting over 100 different processors in the US (and internationally eventually) and getting denied for being a business related to cannabis (not even selling weed! just associating the brand with it and selling services like graphic design or tshirts).

I appreciate you sharing your experience and particularly the technical hoops you had to jump through. It's a struggle few devs understand until they step into the grey area industries.


I don't work for cannabis or adult industry, but I am from Ukraine and that is the only reason why paypal and stripe dont want to let me accept payments and this is the same hell.


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Hey man!!!

I can understand your feelings. I can think of a solution that works well in my country(India).

COD either Cash or Card on delivery.

Flipkart an Indian E-commerce site, faced the same problem, because people didn't trust unknown vendors or 3rd parties for prepaid deliveries.

Flipkart introduced cash on delivery in India. Now even Amazon India has such option.

When GOI(Government of India) banned 500 and 2000 buck currencies, sites like amazon and flipkart issued card processing machines with the delivery guys.

You might try those things if you are selling anything online


What's the reason given, if any? I'm very surprised. Given that it's a legal business in the area, the processors should be happy to have customers, no?


There's usually no explicit reason given. And if you shake them down, they point to their TOS that states no cannabis and say you can't feature any reference to it on your website (or even social media).

It's a legal business in terms of local or state municipality, but it's still illegal on a federal level. And since all banks/credit cards are managed on a federal level by the FDIC. They risk their federal license/status if they operate with federally illegally businesses. So you end up working with smaller banks/processors that are on a lower profile, and are willing to risk their license.

You can find local processors happy to have customers, but they overcharge you 10%+ in fees (versus Paypal's 2.3% or whatever). They take so much risk they overcharge to cover it. And they tend to only offer bank wires/e-checks, since credit card processors/bank debit won't even take the risk.


Also look from the other side. Let's say you are an illegitimate business, actually selling the weed. You notice you are not accepted at any of the merchants. How would you hide your business?
One way would be to pose administratively as a graphics company, having nothing to do with the product itself. And then continue still sell the weed under the counter. Problem solved!
But the merchants covering you, have the same problems as with the actual companies selling weed. So, it's cheaper to deny hundred weed related companies, knowing there will be X in there which are actual proper companies. Way better than either accepting the risk on X or spending money to actually find out who is X and who is not.

I'm a fan of playing devil's advocate, but that wouldn't make sense in practice.

People run fake businesses already, particularly the people who run illegal medical marijuana delivery services.

The easy part? They pose as a graphics company. Not a ganja-specific graphic design company. It's easier to spoof when you don't associate. The issue we faced was that we were up front about our business and practices, whereas the criminals wouldn't be. Why put a weed leaf on my cover business? My dirty accountant would strangle me 😅

It's more of an issue with the federal legislation (with cannabis), and in some cases (like the adult industry) they avoid businesses that receive a lot of chargebacks.

I actually had issues getting processing for legitmate, non-cannabis design companies because professional services are more prone to chargebacks (and more difficult to prove receipt than physical retail goods). I've had clients chargeback, and even with screenshots, server logs, and a contract-- and the bank/credit company still sides with the client. And small claims court isn't an option for out-of-state/international clients (one of the major issues with working remote).


You're not really alone actually. I worked for a certain mlm company of only somewhat deserved ill repute (hey, we all have bills). There weren't many issues in the US, but outside in one of the numerous international markets we would end up doing crazy stuff like allowing 5 or 6 credit cards and bank drafts in a single order, and a mechanism for shifting transactions away from banks that didn't like us to banks that did not dissimilar from Cascade billing.

Honestly, your work sounds frustrating in some regards, but the novelty of the processing mechanics is intriguing. Thanks for sharing !


I'm sorry Jeremy. This was a cool post and it seemed like the initial discussion here was quite positive. Things may have turned when it landed on Hacker News, as is often the case. That whole discussion seems to be largely about juvenile accusations, and I'm sorry things leaked here. We'll be moderating.

Thanks for a great post Jeremy. Let us know if there is anything more we can do to help the situation.


^ this just made my day ❤️ I appreciate that. I really wanted to write more on the topic from the dev side of things, but I don't think I can at this point. I'll just keep my posts boring 😅


Reach out to me and the team directly about any issues.

And, while we try to stay on top of these things, jerks filter in. Thanks for understanding.


Fascinating! Would love to read more about it if you ever get the time or know other resources :D


Thanks! I might do more posts on the topic. It's really tough. This post was reviewed by several peers before going live lol. It's heavily edited. But if enough people dig the topic, I have plenty more to say!


Yes, I think it's interesting. Somehow many people make good money with porn, but you can't find many infos about the industry. They shield themself pretty well from disruption :/


This is very interesting, thanks for sharing.

The fact is, this industry leads the technology market.

So many don't recognize this fact. Here's a good article on the subject.

Off the top of my head, the porn industry helped lead the way for domain name speculation, credit card processing, video streaming, etc.


I'd say led the market is more accurate. Yes, they were very early adopters of video streaming, but since then they've been very stagnant. I don't think there has been much innovation in this space for quite some time.


Nice! Thanks for the article suggestion. It's pretty crazy how it works out constantly dealing with cutting edge tech.


This is precisely why cryptocurrency was invented.

Once the average joe starts getting abused by banks/payment processors, people will start to realise just how little they own their "money". Hopefully that will help people shift towards it.


So my take away is what I suspected. Work with shady business and deal with lots of non-sense. Thanks for writing this, it confirms my suspicion that making morally upright decisions makes life easier all around.


Honestly the thing that makes a lot of the shady companies shady is the idiocy of the banks not wanting to handle it and forcing them to be shady. Add in the high horse morality and the ZOMG MAKE IT ILLEGAL TO SAVE THE CHILDRENS knee jerk laws like USC 2257 (forcing sites, not just producers, to keep PII on models) and more recently FOSTA-SESTA which actually causes more sex trafficking and abuse of sex workers.

Similar problems with cannabis. At least in some places people finally don't have to go to a completely illegal drug dealer to get it now.


Kinda missing the point. If you want to pretend that women selling themselves is ok, then go for it. Sure, some sex trafficking is way worse than others. But I don't believe porn, prostitution or any of that stuff is good. Cannabis I could care less about even though I don't think recreational drug use is a good idea in general (from my own personal experience in my younger years). But I think it is silly to complain about "the difficulties" of running an industry that is not in compliance with federal regulations. The banks aren't forcing anybody to be shady... But people are responsible for themselves. I'll never take a job in an industry I think is foundationally wrong. I'm sure sites like Silk Road needed developers, but I would not choose to be one of them. To each his own.

But I don't believe porn, prostitution or any of that stuff is good.

Then don't buy it. It's the performer's or sex worker's own body; it's their choice what to do with it.

I don't buy it. Thanks for the advice. It is also a persons choice to shoot up heroin, doesn't make it a good idea. Never said it wasn't their choice (in fact, I did say "people are responsible for themselves"). I said it was bad.

Good job reinforcing an already incorrect stigma.

You do realise it is entirely possibly to "shoot up heroine" (heroin* FTFY) in an entirely controlled and safe manner, with very little risk involved?

Is every single operation patient a raving addicted madman? Nope. Which is funny, because they shoot up heroin on doctor's permission; in one of the safest buildings you can be in!

It is also possible to abuse it. But that is the individual's choice.

Do you think that cheeseburgers should be illegal? They cause just as much, if not more damage.

Our minds are incredibly complex things and we know almost nothing of the world. Do not draw lines in the sand so easily.

LOL. I don't think considering a heroin dependency being a bad thing is an "incorrect stigma".

Is every single operation patient a raving addicted madman? Nope. Which is funny, because they shoot up heroin on doctor's permission; in one of the safest buildings you can be in!

I don't really understand the point you are trying to make with that. Not really related to anything IMO. Seems like grasping at straws.

Do you think that cheeseburgers should be illegal? They cause just as much, if not more damage. (QFT?)

Really?.. Similar to above. But I'm willing to argue a simple obvious point. How many "hamburger" users versus heroin users are there in the world? Percentage wise, how much greater is the frequency of "damage" (whatever you meant by that term). I don't have any sources, but I'd be willing to bet everything I own that heroin users suffer far greater amounts of "damage" and at a greater frequency per capita than do "hamburger users".

Are you literally trying to argue that you think shooting up hard drugs recreationally is a good idea? You would tell your children when they grow up, or a sibling or best friend. "I think you should go get some heroin and shoot it up. That will help you out and improve your overall quality of life" ???

Also, I never stated that drugs or porn or anything should be illegal. I will emphatically state however that some things are "bad" (as in the literal definition of the word).

I have no expectation that what I post here will change anybody's mind. But it is the internet and I can voice my opinion (as can anyone else). I'm not attacking anybody (I've made many "bad" decisions in my life). But I will state my opinion on some things and then politely defend them if somebody takes the time to try and refute a statement I make. I can't make anybody believe something is "bad" or "wrong". But I can say it and let them decide for themselves.


Aww man, I would have liked to have read this one.

You gave me a reason to want to continue writing more, but since others can't play nice, I won't be doing any other posts.

You gotta protect yourself, but I wish you would reconsider.


Thank you. I'll probably do more posts, but maybe not around this same topic.


Interesting :D

I know a camgirl, who told me their UIs were pretty shitty and if I couldn't build a competitor to chaturbate or manycams, haha.

But building a streaming service is hard enough without the "customers" being so secretive about their work practices xD


The thing with the cam sites is the amount of bandwidth it takes to run these, and the resources just costs so much. The billing side is all messed up, and you have to have a way to get money to the camgirls, and then have ways for lots of people to spend small amounts of money and keep all the transactions as secretive as you can. It's like major work arounds. If you built one as a legit site (as any other site would be built), the question becomes, would it be sustainable?


I've thought about it several times. The issue isn't really writing the code. It's the bank backing part. Most banks won't go near that industry. So finding a bank that will actually handle the transactions would be the first step. Writing the software to add in a pleasant wrapper for all these broken services would be easy (ish), but time consuming. But yeah, I think it would be a serious money maker. Even at 5% per transaction in a multi-billion dollar industry, that's still hundreds of millions of dollars.


Can't you simply sell them something different instead so they never get charged for porn in the first place?

That sounds like a good idea; just handle the cascading yourself. Couldn't you sell access to - say - some music site or sell bitcoins and - as a kind of "bonus" - give access to the porn site itself? Just hide the main product behind something innocent like a premium account or something that won't raise eyebrowses from spouses.


And I thought my area of finance got weird, huh. It's neat seeing what sides of the tech industry there are :)

This is fascinating, especially since there's been an open data analyst position for a site in Canada that I've been enticed by but never tried for since I'm not Canadian.


A lot of the big tube sites are owned by some canadian companies. I was pretty surprised to see Toronto is a major hub for this industry.


I always wondered where do the adult site gets their programmers from !!!

From a technical point of view, they have one of the largest video hosting sites and I saw many times that even youtube copies some of their features...

But I never had a chance to read any of their technical posts...

I really wish to know how the technical side operate.


I kind of want to do a post on the video side of things. Encoding, hosting, streaming, etc... Maybe if I stay super technical, I won't have people all up in arms about stuff.


Thanks for sharing , my final tought is than the industry have to make their disruption and maybe create their own bank and clearing house.


Cryptocurrencies have no charge backs and no bank statements


Yup! Porn sites have been using bitcoin for payments for almost 8 years. The issue is getting customers to use that method of payment. Our sites have it implemented, and customers have a choice of paying with bitcoin or credit card to start, and they almost always choose credit card. I think if we had a way for them to buy bitcoin right there, then use that, it would be better.


Seriously tho, do you get to meet all the stars?


Just the ones that show up to the company christmas dinner.


That sure would have been a wild party x)


@Jeremy look into

Should fix a lot of your credit card issues.

Not sure how well it works these days, but used to work great.


Very interesting stuff. Thank you for sharing Jeremy!


What does it take to be a designer and developer in the Adult entertainment industry?


Just did a quick search and saw that Mindgeek is hiring for UI/UX. A lot of these sites have a parent company that isn't as well known. Finding these parent companies, and then searching for a job. Or knowing someone on the inside that can get you in.


Thanks Jeremy. Perhaps, can you kindly list a few of these parent companies?


Sorry to see it gone. I had saved it to read but never got to do that.

Best of luck it whatever you do next.


Interesting stuff, thanks for sharing


Well, i started reading the article and had to pause to do other stuff, and when i came back... well, i understand you!


Are you playing a rusty trombone in your profile pic mate? ;) hahahahaha!


Tuba, but I get the reference.


I'm sorry about the reception you got and what I assume the article was.
Is there anywhere else I can read it?


Damn it. I spent a while just now looking for this exact post to share with someone, and it's gone! I'm sorry you felt obliged to delete it, I found it really insightful.


You are knowingly admitting to committing money laundering and wire fraud, both in the main posts and in the comments. Adult services providers left and right are getting actioned for money laundering, and they are doing the exact thing you are describing: systematically disguising the nature of transactions. You really, really, really, really, really should take down this post and request that anyone who has archived this post take it down as well.