Utah residents are flooding Google with VPN searches after porn law takes effect

Google searches for “VPN” have skyrocketed in Utah after Pornhub blocked the state’s users in protest of its recently passed age-verification law.

The porn site began barring users with Utah-based IP addresses earlier this week and is instead showing a video that urges them to contact their representatives regarding the rule.

“As you may know, your elected officials in Utah are requiring us to verify your age before allowing you access to our website,” adult film star Cherie DeVille says to visitors from Utah. “While safety and compliance are at the forefront of our mission, giving your ID card every time you want to visit an adult platform is not the most effective solution for protecting our users, and in fact, will put children and your privacy at risk.” 

Pornhub argues that the law, which requires users to submit to third-party facial recognition technology and upload a government-issued identification, should be replaced with a solution that makes “the internet safer while also respecting your privacy.”

The requirements, as outlined in SB 287: Online Pornography Viewing Age Requirements, were signed into law in March by Utah Gov. Spencer Cox (R) and took effect on May 2.

The privacy concerns as well as the cumbersome age-verification process, which took one VICE journalist 52 steps to complete, has led countless Utah residents to look for alternative ways to view porn.

Now, analysis from the Cultural Currents Institute (CCI) shows that searches for VPNs or Virtual Private Networks, a tool that hides a user’s IP address and routes their connection through a server in a different state or country, was more popular in Utah on May 2 than any other state with a score of 100.

CCI, which used information from Google Trends for its analysis, compared the data to searches for VPN throughout the entire month of April and found that Utah had only scored a 59.

“Google’s proprietary 100 point scoring system was used to represent each term’s normalized search volume proportional to all other searches in the region or time period compared,” the CCI wrote. “In this system, 100 represents the highest popularity for the term, 50 represents half the popularity, and so on.”

The current law does not just affect Pornhub but countless adult websites. Utah follows numerous other states in either passing or introducing legislation surrounding age verification for online activity.