August 8, 2018

Roku Gives Exploitation a Platform While Its Competitors Don’t

In both 2017 and 2018, Roku earned a spot on our annual Dirty Dozen List for facilitating sexual exploitation. Roku, a leading media streaming company, provides its users with the ability to stream television programs, movies, music, and more. Unfortunately, Roku also facilitates access to hardcore pornography channels through hundreds of private and hidden channels while its competitors, namely Apple TV and Amazon Fire TV, refuse to allow these channels.

Why is Roku the only mainstream media streaming system to allow incest, rape, sexual torture, racist, and teen-themed hardcore pornography on its systems?

By enabling access to hardcore pornography that depicts incredibly violent themes, @RokuPlayer streams #MeToo culture. #StopTheStream Click To Tweet

Roku’s brand & logo are plastered all over pornography websites and are included in advertisements at sex industry events. Yet, Roku also builds itself up as a family friendly system.

A screenshot from a Roku ad promoting itself as ‘family-friendly’ entertainment.
A porn advertisement openly using Roku’s brand and logo to promote their graphic content (black bars added by NCOSE).

Roku devices allow users to download apps, called “channels”, which provide access to various content. Popular channels include Netflix, YouTube, PBS Kids, Disney Jr., etc. Channels such as these can be downloaded and installed from the Roku Channel Store.

Roku has kept pornographic content off of their Roku Channel Store under their terms of service but has allowed easy access to this content through a loophole. Roku allows developers to host private, or “non-certified,” channels indefinitely on its systems. As a result, there are hundreds of hardcore porn channels.

Users are able to add these non-listed channels onto their device through the Roku website by giving an easy to find unique channel code.  Roku explained to NCOSE that these non-certified channels were originally meant as a developer tool to beta-test their channel. However, Roku has allowed, and is now defending, this backdoor which has been co-opted by the sexual exploitation industry.

.@RokuPlayer Stop enabling sexual exploitation by allowing access to hardcore pornography through private channels #StopTheStream Click To Tweet

The porn industry widely advertises for their channels and applauds Roku in forum after forum for being the one streaming device to permit this material. It is even more alarming that many of these pornographers are creating two porn channels on the Roku system. One channel is clearly marked as pornography, while another that they call “discreet” has a misleading name and cover graphic so as to “hide” these channels in one’s homepage.

Private channels have gotten Roku in trouble in the past. Roku sales were banned in Mexico as a result of pirated content being streamed through private channels. Roku, which was preparing to become a public-traded company, knew it needed to clean up it’s act. In response, Roku removed some private channels (though pornographic channels went untouched) and added the following warning when installing a private channel:

THIS IS A NON-CERTIFIED CHANNEL. Roku requires all channels to abide by Roku’s terms and conditions, and to distribute only legal content. Roku does not test or review non-certified channels. You acknowledge you are accessing a non-certified channel that may include content that is offensive or inappropriate for some audiences. Moreover, if Roku determines that this channel violates copyright, contains illegal content, or otherwise violates Roku’s terms and conditions, then ROKU MAY REMOVE THIS CHANNEL WITHOUT PRIOR NOTICE, AND YOUR ACCOUNT MAY BE BLOCKED FROM ADDING ANY OTHER NON-CERTIFIED CHANNELS.

While Roku states that all channels must abide their terms and conditions, they also claim to not test or review non-certified channels. This shows great carelessness on Roku’s part. Pornographic channels violate their own policies. In addition, pornography has created a public health crisis. Numerous scientific studies have shown that pornography fuels sexual violence, child sexual abuse, compulsive sexual behavior, sex trafficking, and more.  Roku has shown the ability to remove these private channels and yet Roku does nothing.

Roku is currently battling for the top spot in streaming devices against competitors such as Amazon Fire TV Stick and AppleTV. All of these competitors have been diligent in preventing access to hardcore pornography while Roku has defended its platform’s offerings  of sexual exploitation. We highly applaud the efforts that Amazon and Apple have made in restricting access to hardcore, degrading content. It’s time that Roku follows their own industry’s standard.

.@Amazon and @Apple rightly blocked hardcore pornography on their streaming devices. Why won’t @RokuPlayer do the same? #StopTheStream Click To Tweet

If you would like to take action, complete this form to send an email to Roku executives telling them to stop hosting pornographic channels:


You can learn more about this issue by visiting our Dirty Dozen page for Roku. We also highly encourage you to become active on social media regarding this issue with #StopTheStream and tagging @RokuPlayer. With enough public awareness, we hope that Roku will feel pressured to close this loophole. You can instantly click to tweet any of the prepared tweets above or share any of these graphics:

 

Ben Miller

Digital Strategies Coordinator

Ben joined the National Center on Sexual Exploitation as Digital Strategies Coordinator in July of 2018. As Digital Strategies Coordinator, Ben raises awareness for issues of sexual exploitation through digital media, email marketing, and website development. He works to create a community of activists who are enthusiastic about combating sexual exploitation and changing culture.

Ben earned his Bachelor of Arts from the University of Wisconsin – Madison. He graduated with Honors in the Liberal Arts and was elected to Phi Beta Kappa. During his college career, Ben spent a semester studying in Washington, D.C. and interned for a member of Congress. On campus, he actively sought to change Greek culture, especially with respect to sexual exploitation, through his membership in Phi Kappa Theta fraternity. Ben also supported his peers who were afflicted by the harms of pornography through a weekly men’s purity group.

Ben’s deep commitment to fighting sexual exploitation was ignited in part by the work done by NCOSE. While writing a research literature review for a public policy class in college, he came across Porn Harms Research and the initiatives being carried out by NCOSE. Ben, a strong anti-pornography activist at the time, began to learn more about the connections between all forms of exploitation and how prominent these issues are in today’s society. He devoted himself to raising awareness about the web of sexual exploitation and is deeply grateful for the work NCOSE has done on these issues. Ben is excited to be a part of the team at the National Center on Sexual Exploitation and to contribute to this important cause.

Further Reading