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SWEET DATA DREAMS

Cheap data is fuelling a porn boom in India

Commuters use their mobile phones as they wait at a bus stop with an advertisement of Reliance Industries' Jio telecoms unit, in Mumbai
Reuters/Shailesh Andrade
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  • Ananya Bhattacharya
By Ananya Bhattacharya

Tech reporter

Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

Rock-bottom data prices are drawing more and more Indians towards viewing pornography on smartphones.

Data from Pornhub reveal that India, home to the website’s fourth-largest audience by country, logged the biggest increase in its mobile traffic share in recent years, jumping up over 121% from 2013 to 2017. The adult site attributes this leap to the increasing popularity of “inexpensive and unlimited cellular plans.” In other words, Reliance Jio.

Though Pornhub doesn’t explicitly name any telecom company in its data, Mukesh Ambani-led Jio has been the single biggest disruptor in the $50 billion sector in India. The upstart, launched amid much fanfare in September 2016, offered the world’s cheapest internet data at Rs50 ($0.7) per gigabyte (GB). It gave away all services—calls, messages, and data—as freebies until March 2017. And even after the paid plans kicked in, its user base grew rapidly.

In 2013, most of India’s porn viewers were logging on from desktop computers. By the next year, however, the majority had moved to mobile devices. This happened due to the proliferation of smartphones—80 million in 2014, compared to 44 million the year before—as cheaper handsets, priced as low as $30, flooded the market.

Affordable data, however, is something else.

“Falling prices for handsets was an expected trend but the falling prices of data became a disruptive enabler,” Aman Kumar, the chief business officer at market intelligence firm KalaGato, told Quartz. Pornhub’s data “is consistent with the data we have seen,” Kumar added. “Since the launch of (Reliance) Jio, consumption of video apps has increased tremendously.”

In June 2017, Noida-based video intelligence platform Vidooly, too, noted that the viewing of adult content in India spiked 75% nine months after Jio’s entry sent data prices plummeting.

At the start of last year, Airtel began handing out 12 months of free 4G services while government-run Bharat Sanchar Nigam (BSNL) dished out unlimited local and national calling and 300 MB of data for a mere Rs144 monthly till June 2017.

“People’s ability to consume video-on-demand has changed dramatically,” said Kumar. “Many Indian smartphone users who would consume and share video over memory sticks are now streaming the same content.” That apparently includes a copious amount of pornography.

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