Image: Alex Castro / The Verge
OnlyFans allows social media influencers, including sex workers and adult content creators, to sell photos and videos to their audience through a subscription model. But there are a number of tools that allow internet crooks to download and reshare photos and videos from OnlyFans profiles without their creators’ knowledge or consent.
In a new report, Motherboard takes a look at these tools and the underground rings that take advantage of them. It’s fascinating, frustrating, and worth a read.
According to scrapers who spoke to Motherboard, a user with “some basic technical knowledge” can use scripts called “scrapers” to rifle through the OnlyFans website and download large volumes of content.
“Some people own server farms that download terabytes of data every day from OF [OnlyFans],” a developer of one of the OnlyFans scrapers, who we’ve declined to name in this piece to limit access to their tools, told Motherboard in an email.
Some of these tools were Chrome browser extensions that give users the option to download content directly from the OnlyFans site. Google removed an OnlyFans scraping Chrome extension when approached for comment by Motherboard.
But the types of tools varied, often requiring some coding knowledge to operate. Motherboard used some of these tools to verify that they work.
One data collector, referred to as DHRB, used a scraper to take advantage of promotions that allow users to temporarily subscribe for free. During the promotion, the script grabs as much content as it can, in a technique called “timed promotion sniping.”
“We’ve fully scraped accounts that have thousands of videos. We don’t compress anything either since we prefer quality over storage space. Literally everything gets scraped. Images, videos, audio and text,” DHRB said.
DHRB described what appears to be a supply chain of OnlyFans content, with material being sold from one person to another, and one that original creators may be unaware that their content is ending up in.
“The data I scrape is resold to a few clients who either own adult websites that host pirated content or people who resell content on Discord. I only handle OnlyFans though,” DHRB said. “It really is just going down a rabbit hole. One person sells to another, and then that person sells to another, and so on.”
Motherboard reports that you can find this stolen content on popular porn sites, including Pornhub, YouPorn, and XVideos, which then monetize the content with ads on the sides. Motherboard also found Reddit accounts offering folders full of pirated videos and users selling OnlyFans accounts preloaded with stolen credits that buyers can use to purchase private media. Other users run Discord servers where they sell the content or sell their scraping services for a low fee that undercuts the accounts’ subscription price.
Industry professionals told Motherboard that social stigma against sex work emboldens this theft. “Those stealing the content feel that it’s their right to take it, that the creators deserve the violation by virtue of the work they do,” said Kat Revenga, vice president of FanCentro, an OnlyFans competitor. And multiple performers noted that the risk of theft and piracy devalues their work and reduces the time and effort they’re willing to put into their content.
OnlyFans is far from the only platform where piracy is a problem. But Motherboard’s reporting highlights the unique difficulties that porn creators and publishers face, especially at a time when such content is in especially high demand.