How Crypto Protects Sex Workers with Ameen Soleimani & Allie Eve Knox from Spankchain
Audio interview transcription — WBD091
Note: the following is a transcription of my interview with Ameen Soleimani and Allie Eve Knox from Spankchain. I have reviewed the transcription but if you find any mistakes, please feel free to email me. You can listen to the original recording here.
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In this episode, I talk with Ameen Soleimani & Allie Eve Knox from Spankchain. We discuss the issues faced by sex workers, including deplatforming, financial censorship and how the industry pressures can lead to abuse and exploitation.
Interview Date: Ameen - Sunday 17th March, 2019 | Allie - Friday 22nd March, 2019
“Porn is the gateway for the governments of the world to stamp out your freedom on the Internet because nobody will come and defend their right to watch porn because of the social stigma attached to it.”
— Ameen Soleimani
Peter McCormack: Allie. Hello. How are you?
Allie Eve Knox: Doing well, thank you. How are you?
Peter McCormack: I’m good, thank you. Had a nice feed. Thank you for bringing me out here to Salt Lick. Is this a famous place?
Allie Eve Knox: It’s so great. It’s one of the best barbecue places in the world.
Peter McCormack: I told you last time I was here in Austin, I was a Vegan and I was getting taken to all these barbecue places and having jalapenos and a bit of bread. So a bit of a change! So listen, thank you for agreeing to see me. I obviously met with Ameen out in Venice and I’m not a huge Ethereum person, but I’m very interested in how Bitcoin and crypto can help sex workers, people who have been censored and blocked by various payment channels.
So before we start talking about the industry, can you just tell me what Bitcoin means for you and what it’s enabled you to do?
Allie Eve Knox: Sure. I started taking Bitcoin in 2014 for Skypes. It was a different payment source because I had had all my payment apps shut down. So I had had my Cash app, my Google pay, my PayPal, everything you could name it had shut down because I violated the terms of service by using it for sex work! It’s kind of funny because the thing that I got shut down from PayPal is somebody was just giving me a tribute, which was, they were paying their money to me or whatever and got it shut down that way.
So it wasn’t like I was escorting or doing anything that was against the law, but they didn’t like it, kept my money, shut my account, whatever. So I was looking for another way to take some cash. I had heard about Bitcoin earlier, probably in 2013 or so.
I had had an argument with the guy I was seeing at the time and he said, “we have to get into Bitcoin, we have to do this”. I was like, “okay, we should get it and we should sell some drugs or some sex or something that people want this alternative payment for, all these things that they can’t use it for.” He was like, “no, we have to go mainstream”. Well turns out we’re both right! So I started taking in 2014 to pay up front Skypes, held a bunch, sold it in 2017 in December and bought a house.
Peter McCormack: Good timing!
Allie Eve Knox: Yeah, it was really great. I’m kind of kicking myself because I sold at $19,000 instead of $21,000 but you know,
Peter McCormack: Come on!
Allie Eve Knox: It’s one of those things where I’m like, “fuck, I had it!”
Peter McCormack: Well I think I sold some all the way down at about $8,000. So, I think you’ve done all right.
Allie Eve Knox: I’ve done all right. In Ethereum this last year I’ve lost like 60% of my paycheck, which is a real fucking bummer.
Peter McCormack: Well, the really interesting thing here is that Bitcoin has enabled you to work.
Allie Eve Knox: Absolutely. Bitcoin changed my life for sure.
Peter McCormack: But you’re working in an industry that’s considered legal.
Allie Eve Knox: I am.
Peter McCormack: And you are working in an industry whereby you won’t be arrested for what you’re doing, yet you are censored by the payment processes. Are you censored by the banks?
Allie Eve Knox: Absolutely. I’ve had my bank account shut down, my PO box shut down, my Amazon wishlist… Yeah, you name it. Again, all legal work!
Peter McCormack: But at the same time we should probably also recognize that there are going to be… I’m going to put this to gender, they’re going to be women out there working in prostitution.
Allie Eve Knox: Absolutely.
Peter McCormack: Whatever moral judgment we make, I have no problem with somebody earning money how they want, but they are also, whilst it may be deemed illegal, there are certain conversations about decriminalization. People still need to be able to earn a living. So it affects everyone.
Allie Eve Knox: I’m not passing judgment on them whatsoever. I’m just making it clear that I do legal work so it’s even more of a problem when I get my thing shut down because it’s like, well I’m just doing things that some people don’t like. It’s not like I’m doing anything that’s harming anyone or anything like that.
Peter McCormack: Is this an industry-wide problem or is this a problem for sex workers but maybe not for the maybe largest sex companies?
Allie Eve Knox: Oh no, they get screwed too. I shot a scene once, I got my cheque and I went to put it in the bank and by the time they had written the cheque to the time I put in the bank, which was, I don’t know three hours or so, they’d had their account shut down. So I had to go back and get another cheque from whenever they were able to open their new bank account. They were just a regular porn company. But banks don’t like it.
Peter McCormack: You have a belief that the people who are making the decisions to close this down are then going home and consuming pornography?
Allie Eve Knox: Yes, I do. Actually one of the people that I got a lot of Bitcoins was from a financial advisor. He was strictly working for a company that shut down one of my accounts, but he would come and do his dirty work with me and pay me on the side.
Peter McCormack: Are there any debates around this? Is anybody discussing this? Are there any financial institutions who are appearing a little bit more open-minded or liberal?
Allie Eve Knox: Yeah, I think so. Somebody recently was talking about making their own coin. Facebook’s pulling in their own coin right now too, which is great in my opinion because it’s going to have this mainstream adoption and that’s what we all want. Is it going to work? I don’t know. Is it going to take some time? Probably. Is the government eventually going to get their hands on it? Probably. Until then, I’m just gonna keep on rolling!
Peter McCormack: How widespread is the understanding and knowledge of Bitcoin and cryptocurrencies in the industry? Do a lot of people you’re speaking to understand it or is it still relatively new?
Allie Eve Knox: Super new. People are still like, “this is scammy. This is strange”. The price volatility is a fucking problem, especially when… On our side, it’s a little bit different because we have a stable coin now, so you’re paid out the same amount, but prior to this, we didn’t. So some models would be paid and by the time they’d get off of their shift, it had already been a different price, which was very problematic for people who were just getting into this and trusting us.
They were like, “oh, this is weird. I went to check my account, it’s a completely different number?” This is how this works. So yeah, it’s still new. It’s a problem for us to find people that are willing to part with their crypto currently, which is a big deal for when I’m showing my tits and you don’t want to part with your crypto!
Peter McCormack: What kind of education job needs doing for the industry and are there “A-ha” moments for some sex workers where you’ve shown them something and they’re like, “oh, okay, this makes sense”.
Allie Eve Knox: Yeah, for sure. I don’t know what Ameen told you about our onboarding tool, which is Crypto Titties?
Peter McCormack: I’m aware of it.
Allie Eve Knox: So that was a really good onboarding. It brought a lot of people in and it got us a lot of attention. It’s kind of fun! You literally put your picture of your tits up and people go and tip you. We have every single gender on there. We don’t discriminate for anything. Anybody wants to apply to our site, they have to put their ID in and everything like that, because they have to verify that they are of age.
So we have to verify your identity to still be in the legal ramifications and everything like that. So you can’t be completely anonymous, but that’s how any cam site works, anything that you’re going to be potentially… I mean, probably even Twitch is that way. Anything where you could potentially show any type of sexual content you’re going to have to identify. So that’s a problem. But it also keeps us safe and keeps others safe and it’s how we run a really good platform.
Anyway, so once you are approved for that and you give us your identification, you can go up on Crypto Titties and people can start tipping you. When you start getting tips and you start getting that money, well people want to learn about it! They want to learn how to flip it or how to cash it out. Once you’re given that money, you’re going to learn stuff. So that’s the tool that we’ve taken. There’s probably some other stuff out there. I know there’s some cam people that get on and will talk about crypto and stuff like that, but it’s still so new.
Peter McCormack: Have you experienced any problems off-boarding from Bitcoin into dollars?
Allie Eve Knox: I had my Coinbase shut down if that’s what you mean.
Peter McCormack: Okay. For the same reasons?
Allie Eve Knox: I did a show on Showtime called Dark Net where I talked about using Bitcoin for sex work and I was showing my QR code to the camera, so people can send me money through the camera because you can just scan it like that. Coinbase didn’t like it. I had violated the terms, so they shut my ass down and then blocked me. So that was problematic.
I just shifted around to a new place and I now use a place that doesn’t have sex work in their terms. It’s my problem. I violate terms. I shouldn’t be using it for what I am, but again, I’m legal, all those things. How do they differentiate between that and I’m not human trafficking or I’m not using it for escorting, they don’t? So I don’t get upset when those kinds of things happen. It’s a fucking bummer because it’s my money or whatever, but I get it.
Peter McCormack: So we’re dealing with corporate moral judgment?
Allie Eve Knox: For sure, absolutely. But there’s also some reasoning behind this. I mean there is some human trafficking that goes on. There is escorting that goes on. There are things that are illegal that happen and that can’t happen in those kinds of transactions. I get it.
Peter McCormack: But I imagine the more you censor this, the more you push it underground, the harder you make it for people, that probably increases the risk. For example, I support the legalization of prostitution because my belief is a…
Allie Eve Knox: Decriminalisation?
Peter McCormack: I don’t think I have a problem with legalization because I think a regulated industry would probably be a safe industry for people to work in. Does that make sense?
Allie Eve Knox: I see what you’re saying. I don’t necessarily agree because I don’t know that I want the government to regulate my business, but that’s what they’re doing anyway. We as sex workers say decriminalization. It’s a bit safer for us. I can’t really speak to this completely because I’m not super knowledgeable in this. There’s a lot of people that are way more knowledgeable than this. But anyway, continue!
Peter McCormack: But it’s useful for me to hear that and this is one of the reasons I wanted to meet you because I want to learn about this industry. When I met Ameen, he says 70% of people consume pornography. You think it’s higher? I suspect it is higher. It’s taboo. People don’t want to talk about it unless they’re with maybe one or two buddies.
As such, it seems to have a grey cloud over it when it’s probably one of the largest industries in the world. So there’s things I want to learn about it. What would help me is, can you just give me a background as to how you first came into the industry and the various roles and things you’ve done?
Allie Eve Knox: Yeah, totally. Starting in 2014 I graduated from grad school. I was a $100,000 in debt from going to college for 8 years and collecting degrees. So I was working in a job that I went to grad school for and was making hardly any money. I had gone through a divorce. I had taken a huge hit in my divorce. I support my brother.
have an expensive lifestyle that I’ve become accustomed to and my job wasn’t cutting it. So a decade ago I had posed for Playboy and I had worked for them and they treated me like a queen. Playboy is and was the ultimate. They are very structured. They have every single thing together. Every single thing is buttoned up. They’re wonderful. They’re great to their girls, love them!
Peter McCormack: You met Hugh?
Allie Eve Knox: I have a couple of times! So loved Playboy and I knew that from posing and being around this type of interaction with men, I could make a living off of it. So I started camming on Playboy. They had a site at the time, I started camming and my first night I made like $600 or something. I remember I just showed my tits and I didn’t even talk at the time. I just like typed one evening. It was after I got off work and it was so great because at the time I was sitting in traffic all the time. I worked for these people who didn’t even really like me.
I worked a lot and I just wasn’t making any money. Life just fucking sucked and this is what I had gone to grad school for. So what is happening? I just spent eight years of my life and a lot of money to have this shitty lifestyle. So anyway, started camming and made a lot of money and was like, “oh shit, this is great.” So in the fall, maybe winter that year, I just said, “I’m going to shoot some porn. I need it for marketing. I can get my name out there and maybe this will be kind of fun”.
Peter McCormack: But I don’t imagine it was a rash decision?
Allie Eve Knox: Oh No! I’m a thinker first of all and I do my pros and cons list. I knew that once it was out there, it was going to be out there forever. I knew all the stigmas that came with it. I knew all the shitty things, I knew all the wonderful things. I had gone and researched a bunch of stuff. I’d read blogs, I had gone into, there’s this site that tells cam girls and cam models how to cam, how to do this. It was lots of tips from people that had been the business forever. So I researched the shit out of it.
Peter McCormack: Did you discuss it with your family at all?
Allie Eve Knox: No I didn’t. They had known that I had done Playboy and stuff like that. At the time they knew I was camming. My family is all very cool. So it was never really a problem. So then I started shooting porn. I shot boy/girl porn for probably like eight months or so. Then I had an injury. So I decided, this isn’t really for me. I don’t really want to do this.
I was flying back and forth from Texas and I was still camming on the side. I had gone through a round of porn and I sat down with somebody that was in the industry forever. He gave me a whole bunch of advice and he said, “you have to own your own content. You have to do all of the things. You have to cam, you have to make clips, you have to get on phone sex, you have to do every single thing if you want to have some longevity”. So I did.
Peter McCormack: So a bit like I’ve got to be on iTunes, Apple, Soundcloud, Youtube. I’ve got to have a website, I’ve got to be on Twitter. I’ve got a market in social. Pretty similar?
Allie Eve Knox: Yeah! You got to hustle. I mean in the days of Jenna Jameson, she was pulling in so much money from porn, but those days are done.
Peter McCormack: She was also crossover into, didn’t she make films as well?
Allie Eve Knox: Yeah, for sure. But that was a different time. You know they could make $30,000 on a film. You’re lucky if you hit your rate now!
Peter McCormack: What’s your rate? For one scene?
Allie Eve Knox: I mean my rate when I was shooting boy/girl was $1,600 bucks. I don’t know anybody that makes $1,600 bucks now.
Peter McCormack: How long on average is a scene or how long are you there for?
Allie Eve Knox: You’re probably there for five hours because you have to do hair and makeup, then you got to go through all the consent paperwork, all that stuff and then you shoot.
Peter McCormack: Okay. Let me go back a step. So you’re preparing for your first adult scene, are there any licenses you have to get? Any regulatory processes you have to go through?
Allie Eve Knox: You have to test. So you have to make sure that you not have any SDIs or anything, that you have no HIV. So it’s a blood test and a urine test. Then I had an agent at the time and that’s kind of why I stopped shooting, as the agent allowed me to be in some unsafe positions. So I didn’t want to shoot with him anymore, so I actually stopped shooting for a period of time so I could get out of my contract.
Peter McCormack: When you are preparing for your first scene and you’re going into the industry, are there any support networks for people to introduce them, to prepare them for what’s going to happen or prepare them for maybe any emotional difficulty they go through with it?
Allie Eve Knox: At the time, I did not know of any. I don’t know if there are some that exist. There are now and they’re run mostly on donation. I don’t even know how they get their funding, other than corporations that give money to them. There’s one that does mental health. There’s a group of ladies in Portland and in Vegas who are called The Cupcake Girls.
They offer a bunch of different services for free, for sex workers. I mean financial stuff, legal stuff, health stuff, tons of info. I didn’t know about them at the time. I know about them now from being in the industry and I’m doing some fundraisers for them, stuff like that. But at the time I had only known what the Internet had told me! So I had research, which is probably 500 times more than most people that got into the industry.
Peter McCormack: I guess one of the things that I would worry about and I talked to you about this beforehand is, I guess the legal age of consent for this is 18.
Allie Eve Knox: Yeah.
Peter McCormack: I would worry that maybe there are some young girls who out of whatever reasoning they have, can maybe be introduced to some intimidating or quite aggressive requirements early on and maybe don’t have the confidence to protect themselves. Is this a common problem?
Allie Eve Knox: Absolutely. I’m pretty with it. I don’t do drugs, I show up on time, I’m pretty financially stable and smart about it. But I can’t imagine being 18 and not, because when I was 18 I wasn’t and I’m pretty with it! I can’t imagine needing sex work when you’re 18. I came into it a lot older too. I was in my late twenties and so I had a lot of life experience.
I had a lot of sense. I had a plan. But I can’t imagine not. It’s certainly an industry where you can be eaten up and spit out very, very easily. Also replaced! I mean I remember my agent telling me once and this sticks with me, this is like one of those quotes, it’s one of those eye-opening moments and it was, “every single day, another girl turns 18”.
Peter McCormack: Wow.
Allie Eve Knox: And he was proud of that because he was going to get the girl when she turned 18, you know what I mean? So it was just this cycle. But that’s a real thing because if you don’t perform the thing, you don’t meet the rate and you don’t show up on time or if you’re shitty to work with, someone’s going to replace you and then that’s it.
Peter McCormack: I guess one thing I find quite strange there is that at the age of 18 you can legally be a sex worker in the adult industry and you can make hardcore pornography, but you are not old enough to go into a bar and drink a whiskey. I find that kind of confusing!
Allie Eve Knox: Kind of confusing for sure!
Peter McCormack: If anything it should be the other way round? Or there should be some maybe parity?
Allie Eve Knox: I don’t know. I mean maybe there’s some 18-year-olds that are prepared for this. But in my late twenties, I wasn’t. I know when I got into it, after all the research and all the talking to people, every single thing I had done, I got into it and was like, “what the fuck? Like this is nuts!” I didn’t know about this and this and that and this!
Peter McCormack: So what are the things that you didn’t know about, that I or anyone else listening wouldn’t know about or be aware of? What are some of the things that go on that we don’t know about?
Allie Eve Knox: Okay. It sounds like no big deal, but it’s stuff like, I didn’t live there so I would fly there and I would look up a bunch of scenes. I didn’t know that some scenes would get cancelled or some scenes you’d get replaced or some scenes didn’t even really exist because your agent fucking sucks. They just wanted to get you out there, just to shoot because they may only get you out there one time.
So they’re going to try to shoot you up and get as much money from you as you possibly can because you may go home hating this and you never come back. That happens a lot. So I get there, I stay in a model house, which you pay for, which is no big deal because you’d pay for a hotel or anything like that. But the model house I was in was fucking crazy! The girl that ran it was just a drug addict, absolutely nuts. She was constantly doing unsafe stuff with the girls who were there and here I am, away from home, in a different state, alone.
Some of the scenes I had shot, they don’t pay for two weeks. You have to go to set, you have to pay for all your lingerie, all your shoes, all your shit like that. You have to test, so your out of pocket that money before you can even get paid. Well, you’re maybe not getting paid for two weeks. Well that’s a fucking problem when you’re 18 years old and you’ve got one paycheck and you fucking blew it on clothes or whatever for your next scene!
Peter McCormack: So there’s a lot of opportunities for people to be exploited?
Allie Eve Knox: For sure, absolutely!
Peter McCormack: Is there anything that can be done about that? Do you have thoughts on this?
Allie Eve Knox: In my opinion, I think there needs to be, and maybe this is a thing that has happened or is happening or will happen, but it would have been nice for me to have conversations with people in the business, about the business, before I got into the business. I had read stuff online or anything like that, but some sort of mentorship or some site explaining sort of how to do this. That would have been incredibly helpful.
It may exist. I don’t know about it. I think another thing is sometimes agents or production companies or directors, some of them are shitty. Some of them don’t care about their wellbeing. They only want the money and there’s some things that shouldn’t happen that happen. It’s rare but it does and people don’t speak out against it because they need their pay cheque.
So I shot a scene once and I was in fucking pain. I got injured and it was actually the last boy/girl scene that I ever shot. I got injured and I remember the director kept saying, “we have to have two minutes without a cut”, so you have to keep filming. I was like, “listen I can’t, I’m bleeding, this is a fucking problem, I can’t do this”. He was just like, “no, you’re not getting paid until you finish the scene”, and that’s a problem! It’s super unsafe and those kinds of things happen all the time. Well, I’ve never talked about it.
I’ve never said the company. I’ve never said the director. I don’t say those kinds of things because I want to get booked. Well, that even creates more problems. So what is the solution, is maybe coming forward and saying things and people being taken seriously.
Peter McCormack: But the industry does have some quite tough regulations. Are they self-imposed regulations or are they enforced by the law? For example, there’s the two-week testing program. Is that legal or is that an industry-wide?
Allie Eve Knox: I’m certain that’s industry-wide.
Peter McCormack: So does the industry have its own set of guidelines or rules. Does it have its own organization that oversees it?
Allie Eve Knox: They have some volunteer organizations and they’re essentially unions or things that speak out. There’s the Free Speech Coalition, which speaks out on behalf of performers and they do a lot of the legal litigation and stuff like that. Those people are there, they can’t protect you. They can offer some help if you need things. They can offer resources and stuff like that. But they’re not making rules that people are following. They have a consent checklist which they got together, where people can fill out the consent checklists. So if any of your boundaries are crossed, then what? I don’t know! I don’t know what happens then.
Peter McCormack: I guess what I’m thinking about here is if somebody has become injured and they are being pressured or forced into doing something they don’t want, I’m struggling to understand the difference between that and abuse.
Allie Eve Knox: Yeah.
Peter McCormack: Can you talk about that? Do you have a view on that?
Allie Eve Knox: No, that stuff is abuse. I mean there’s nobody regulating it other than the few people that come out and will say something. I mean you mentioned the performer earlier and I told you that some performers had come out. He is still shooting.
Peter McCormack: Yeah. I mentioned to you that I watched a documentary where a clinic is being run by an ex-pornstar and she runs the clinic for sexual health. She’s very regularly dealing with people coming in with injuries and what that’s made me think about is that there are real consequences behind the scenes of this industry and that people aren’t aware of. Are there things that people who consume pornography should be aware of and should care about? Because I think in any other industry… So for example, it’s a legal industry.
So there have been scandals related to say gymnasts for Olympics where they’d been pressured, abused and dealt with in a very terrible way, in trying to get the best out of them to be a performer. As a society, we look on that and we go, that is absolutely terrible. We have the same people who may watch gymnasts at the Olympics, who also watch pornography, who don’t seem to care about the people who are maybe working on camera. So I know you’re going to say yes, but people should care?
Allie Eve Knox: Yeah, for sure. It’s one of those things where if someone was to get injured on the job or to be taken advantage of or abused whatever, a lot of people are going to say, “well, she was just a whore. What did she expect getting into the porn industry”, that shouldn’t be the case. I blame it on lots of things like… I’ll probably never work for their company again and I usually don’t because fuck those assholes, but MindGeek in my opinion completely ruined everything.
They put all the porn up, they allow people to steal all the porn and put it up and now people aren’t paying. So now primarily girls, but men too, they’re shooting scenes for less because the production companies have less. So now they’re having to do things that they wouldn’t necessarily do because they got fucking rent to pay. That’s super problematic. So one thing that we as consumers can do is don’t go to fucking Pornhub, know that that stuff is stolen. Know that that stuff’s not supposed to be there.
Peter McCormack: So it’s stolen?
Allie Eve Knox: The majority of it. Some companies have resorted to putting a smaller cut-down scene on there to drive traffic.
Peter McCormack: Like a trailer?
Allie Eve Knox: Yes. I fucking refuse, because first of all, I don’t want consumers, I don’t want this clientele that’s going to go and get free porn. I want people that are going to pay me money, hello!
Peter McCormack: But are trailers unfair? Because I guess the way people consume pornography, you can survive on trailers.
Allie Eve Knox: Absolutely! Obviously. I mean if you’re putting in 12 minutes up of a 30-minute scene, well 12 minutes… What’s an average wank? Like five minutes?
Peter McCormack: Yeah, I don’t know. So what’s quite interesting there is, when I released my podcast at the start, I always say to people, please listen to the adverts because it’s the adverts that pay for me to do this. I also when people will go on Youtube and they’ll put the timestamp of where the ads finish, I always comment and say, “no, don’t do this because without the advertisers I can’t do it. So you can’t have free content”. Therefore I don’t see any difference between this situation and that because it’s creating undue pressure on the performer!
Allie Eve Knox: For sure. So porn doesn’t have a lot of advertisements. They’ll have those dick pills or whatever like that. But there’s so many companies that won’t put their hands on this. So that’s another problem, is now companies have to make money where they can.
Peter McCormack: So a product that we know is consumed by over 70% of people is struggling because society hasn’t accepted it yet. It’s still too taboo.
Allie Eve Knox: Yeah for sure and I can easily go to Pornhub right now and watch and that’s fine. They don’t have to come to buy my videos, they don’t have to support me in any way. They can just go and buy or rent.
Peter McCormack: So are MindGeek hated by the industry or are they seen as a necessary evil?
Allie Eve Knox: Both, unfortunately. They came through and they bought up a bunch of studios. The one company that I actually do shoot for them, they treat me very fucking well. That’s the unfortunate part of this business.
Peter McCormack: So explain to me the best companies you work with. What do they do differently? How do they treat their performers better?
Allie Eve Knox: The best companies that I work with, they consider us artists. So first of all, even just having that difference rather than a performer, an artist, someone that’s coming in creating content so I’m not just performing, I’ll create stuff and I also edit stuff. There’s a lot that goes behind this process.
So even considering us as… It steps up our professionalism, which is a huge thing. Then sometimes we’re even taken more seriously. People like you get us on a podcast and we’re doing mainstream stuff. We’re talking about how to fix this, how we can bridge the gap between different industries. Those kinds of things are super important.
Peter McCormack: Is there a problem with drugs in the industry?
Allie Eve Knox: I think there’s a problem with drugs in any industry.
Peter McCormack: Agreed. I think the difference here is, I would worry that people who have a drug problem have a very quick way to quick money if they’re willing to lower their standards or do things they wouldn’t want to do.
Allie Eve Knox: That’s right yeah.
Peter McCormack: Whereas if I say was addicted to drugs, I can’t suddenly go out and do some low-value podcast and make some money. Is this monitored at all? Are there any support networks for sex workers who are addicted to drugs?
Allie Eve Knox: Probably, like I was saying with those charities, there’s probably some resources that they have. I don’t know about any of them, but I also never needed anything and had to look into anything. It’s not widely known, I’ll say that.
Peter McCormack: Okay. So what I’m really taking from this interview is that there’s a couple of main issues. Firstly that, I don’t want to say regulated, but it feels like regulations would be very helpful for the industry. To have a set of standards to work by and knowing that if those standards and a line is crossed, that people could be up for criminal charge because there were a lot of industries whereby if you could be injured and you’re at fault for that, you can be held criminally liable. It feels like the industry needs this.
Allie Eve Knox: Some sort of regulation, I don’t necessarily know if it’s government or if it’s industry-wide. I think there’s a lot of people that have, consent checklists or a code of conduct that you have to follow. When people don’t, that needs to be known. People need to know that. Somebody shouldn’t have 12 people have to come forward before we know that this person sucks to work with.
Peter McCormack: It doesn’t need to be based on unsaid reputations or undiscussed reputations, yeah that’s a shame. Then obviously the second issue because we’ve discussed it, is financial censorship, which is a real problem. So what do you think can be done there? How can people help the industry? What do people need to be of?
Allie Eve Knox: To help the industry would be to pay for your content. If you are into a performer or a model or a content maker, buy their stuff, support them because they have bills to pay. If you don’t, we’re not going to make it. I mean that’s the way for me to go away, is to start fucking paying me. You know what I mean?
Peter McCormack: To go away in terms of?
Allie Eve Knox: I’m offering a service that people want. So I am very lucky that I work in the fetish world to where it’s a fetish that people pay me. So my clientele is really inclined to do that.
Peter McCormack: So it feels like that is a bit of a safer area of the industry…
Allie Eve Knox: Absolutely!
Peter McCormack: … Because you have a lot more control over the relationship with the people you have. But not everyone can get to that point?
Allie Eve Knox: That’s true.
Peter McCormack: And that fetish is a specific taste. Whilst that can solve problems for individuals, it’s not an industry-wide solution.
Allie Eve Knox: For sure. My industry solution was I changed my business model to where I was in control all the time. A lot of people can’t do that.
Peter McCormack: So if people wanted to learn more about this, where would you recommend they go? Beyond obviously paying for content, is there any other action that can be taken? Is there anything else you would like to see happen?
Allie Eve Knox: I think just not being a dick. Not going on Twitter, getting in fights with people. I mean come on! It’s just crazy when, if I put out a photo, people will come and comment about your tits being out or you being a whore or whatever. Just don’t! I block a lot of people on Twitter. Probably half of my followers.
I bet every single person that follows me, I go to them to see if they’re being an asshole because it’s typically what it is. If you’re a troll to one, you’re going to be a troll to a whole bunch. So I block them and I don’t interact with trolls, so I don’t get it a lot. But there’s people that get hate all the fucking time and if people weren’t so awful to each other, this whole thing’s going to be better.
Peter McCormack: It’s quite interesting that you are not censored on Twitter for sharing…
Allie Eve Knox: So we are because I have to mark my stuff 18+, so a lot of people won’t even see my stuff.
Peter McCormack: Which is fine. But it’s very easy to register an 18+ account. I obviously did my research last night. I googled you, I’ve seen your work. I’ve seen your Twitter. I’ve seen you naked and I’ve seen that on Twitter. Now you are not being censored by Twitter for uploading naked photos, which ultimately will lead to more traffic for Twitter, but you are being censored by Cash app for receiving payments.
So it feels like there’s a certain amount of hypocrisy there. Actually, strangely, the payments just sit in the background. Nobody really knows about that. If anything, I don’t agree with it but I understand… I can see their thought process for censoring the content because my son can have a Twitter account.
Allie Eve Knox: Yeah and to be very clear, I don’t want people under 18 seeing my content. First of all, they can’t pay me, so fuck them. I don’t want them to see me. Second of all, it’s just fucking weird.
Peter McCormack: I don’t know. My son is nearly 15 now, they have money these days, they have cards, they have crypto! Crypto can’t stop them.
Allie Eve Knox: Really? He didn’t have to KYC onto an exchange that he was of age?
Peter McCormack: My son doesn’t have crypto by the way! But if I turn around to my son and went, “here’s a wallet, here’s some Bitcoin”. I guess we have a problem there, that I’ve just thought of right now that I’ve not really thought through. That’s a slightly different thing.
Allie Eve Knox: That’s problematic.
Peter McCormack: But that then comes down to my job as a parent! So this has been amazing. Thank you. I think it’s really important to get this out there. I’ve got a feeling some of my audience might reject this or might be kind of like, “why are you doing this?” But at the same time, I think it’s an important issue. I’m really glad to talk to you about that.
Allie Eve Knox: Absolutely!
Peter McCormack: I’m glad you’ve been candid. Thank you for lunch. I’m going to pay you in Bitcoin! If people want to talk to you or ask you about this, is there any way they can get in touch?
Allie Eve Knox: Yeah, you can go to my website, allieknox.com or you can follow me on Twitter @allieeveknox. You can buy my content through any of my links.
Peter McCormack: Amazing. Well, listen, good luck with everything you do.
Allie Eve Knox: Thank you!
Peter McCormack: I think will probably end up doing this again in the future. All right. Take care.
Allie Eve Knox: Thanks!
Interview Transcript — Ameen Soleimani
Peter McCormack: Good Morning Ameen. How are you?
Ameen Soleimani: Doing well thanks. Thanks for having me.
Peter McCormack: Thanks for coming on. So I was up early this morning watching the football and I read a Decrypt article and I’ve obviously been aware of you for some time, but it said you were in Venice and I was in Venice, so I’ve messaged you…
Ameen Soleimani: Match made in heaven!
Peter McCormack: So normally I prepare about a day for an interview and I’ve done about 30 minutes, so we’re just going to have to roll with this. There’ll be a bunch of things I don’t know, so you’re just going to have to bear with me!
Ameen Soleimani: It’s cool. You caught me right when I was waking up.
Peter McCormack: Perfect. So can you give me the background, the story from how you got to ConsenSys but then ended up doing SpankChain?
Ameen Soleimani: So I was living on the balcony of a rationalist house in Berkeley, paying way too much. It was cold and sometimes it would rain on you. But I had a sleeping bag, it was kind of nice. But then from there, I learned about Ethereum and I read this blog post, “Meditations on Moloch” and I thought Ethereum could be interesting for helping humans solve coordination problems in general.
So I shipped off to ConsenSys, worked for Joe Lubin. I worked mostly on micropayment infrastructure, state channels, I was working sort of on the energy project there, it was called Co-Tricity at the time. Then towards the end of my working there, I moved out to LA to work on AdChain, which was the first TCR, Token Curated Registry. Then I left ConsenSys and I started asking myself, where is adoption going to happen first? What’s a good use case for this micropayment infrastructure that I’ve been working on?
I started looking at the adult entertainment industry and porn. So we built the cam site, we launched SpankChain, did a token sale in November 2017, raised about $6.5 million dollars, hired an elite team and we shipped the first payment channels on Ethereum, it’s like Lightning. But that was back in April and we’ve made a number of upgrades since then, working with Connext, one of our partners and integrating the payment channels into a myriad of SpankChain products.
Peter McCormack: Right. It’s always porn that leads tech?
Ameen Soleimani: That’s what they say. It’s sort of a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Peter McCormack: Why do you think that is?
Ameen Soleimani: Well, for one, they’ll try anything, they’re highly experimental. Two, cryptocurrency is the sort of fringe culture and adult is sort of also this fringe culture. So it’s a lot easier for the two to see eye to eye. The third is that in this particular case, the thing that cryptocurrency offers is a way to store money and transact without being censored and having your funds seized.
That’s exactly what that industry needs because the adult industry, in particular, is discriminated against at the hands of the financial institutions. They have their PayPal accounts shut down, Stripe won’t process their payments, the bank close out their accounts, stuff like that happens all the time.
Peter McCormack: So just regular financial censorship?
Ameen Soleimani: Yeah and so for the adult entertainment industry, there’s a much larger impetus to move on to this new financial system. So one of my thesis’ was the people who are the most motivated to move to the new financial system, are the ones most ostracized by the existing one.
Peter McCormack: So is SpankChain a company that’s building products or are you also building an infrastructure for the adult industry?
Ameen Soleimani: It’s both. We have apps and services, so we have our own cam site, but we’re also building a payment processor that merchants can integrate. The cam site is called spank.live, you can go to it, it’s in Beta. The payment processor is not out yet, but that’s where our primary focus is and that’s called Spank Pay. So you can think of that as like a PayPal for porn and we’ll be building SDKs for other services as we go. For example, we can take the video component of Spank Live, put it into an SDK and allow anybody who’s building their own application to use it.
Peter McCormack: So I read a quote by your head of outreach, Allie Eve Knox and she said, “you have these rich bankers closing performer’s accounts, then going home and jerking off to the women whose accounts they’ve just closed”. I thought it was quite an interesting quote because I guess the adult industry is something which probably almost everybody uses in private and then publicly lots of people take a moral judgment against.
Ameen Soleimani: Yeah, I stand by Allie’s quote, I think it’s hilarious and she’s completely right. We’re in this phase, I think it’s personally a tipping point, where 70% of people watch porn, but we all act like nobody does it.
Peter McCormack: 70% of adults?
Ameen Soleimani: Yes, 70% of adults and that number has only been growing. The biggest resistance to the widespread acknowledgement of the adult entertainment industry as a part of our lives comes from the evangelical right. The number of atheists is also going up quite significantly every year. So you have this beautiful set of conditions, that in my mind will result in the next five to 10 years, the stigma against the adult entertainment industry being eroded significantly.
Peter McCormack: So why you think there is such a huge stigma around porn and what do you think would change it?
Ameen Soleimani: I mean, there’s always been a stigma against it in some sense. It’s just that the reach of that stigma has been pulled back over time. So look, let me give an example. I was reading about early days of Playboy and Hugh Hefner putting titties, bare breasts on a magazine was a big deal in the 1950s. That was like, “ooh, this is weird”. The post office refused to carry his magazines and refused to give him as much of a comparable rate as everybody else who is distributing magazines.
He sued them and won. He won $1 million in today’s value of money, which was a $100,000 back then. But that just goes to show that you take the starting point of this and we haven’t been distributing pornographic media, then you start and you put titties on magazines and that’s the beginning. Now we’re here and so it’s like every year, every generation pushes the boundary a little bit further.
Peter McCormack: But also at the same time, it can get pretty extreme on times online. Is there a limit to what people should see as socially acceptable?
Ameen Soleimani: I don’t know that there’s a limit that you would ever want to die by because what we think is weird, the next generation might pick up and think is fine. We should be prepared for our social fabric to evolve as our society does and as our technology moves us in that direction.
Peter McCormack: Well let’s get into SpankChain itself. So what’s the status of the project? How far have you got?
Ameen Soleimani: We have a small team. We launched the cam site last summer. It’s still in Beta. We’re building the payment processor, talking to potential partners right now. We launched the Spank Bank, which is our algorithmic central bank. You can stake your Spank and it mints Booty, which is our stablecoin.
Peter McCormack: You read that all with such a straight face!
Ameen Soleimani: I’ve done this quite a few times!
Peter McCormack: Spank Bank, where you mint Booty coin.
Ameen Soleimani: Booty is pegged… You know like pegging a booty, like peg the butthole? So it’s pegged to the Dollar. Then in the next version, in the next year to say 18 months, I plan to introduce a Booty Call, which is similar to a margin call. But it will be for keeping Booty stable by using the Spank stake as collateral. Can’t wait to explain this to Congress!
Peter McCormack: So tell me how the Spank Bank works then. Because I tell you what, there was another thing, recently I said to somebody, there is no sense in any, DApp or utility coin being anything but a stable coin.
Ameen Soleimani: Yeah, I agree.
Peter McCormack: And you’ve figured that out!
Ameen Soleimani: We figured it out the hard way because we had tens of thousands of payments on the cam site being processed and the earnings were all in Ether. We launched with great fanfare midway through 2018 and everybody who held ETH, at that point lost a bunch of money. So we realized that this is a UX problem. People want to earn and spend in a medium of exchange that is correlated with the stuff that they regularly spend money on.
Peter McCormack: Why do you think so many other apps, DApps and tokens won’t be a stable coin? Do you think it’s just because they want the value of their token to grow and they’re treating it like stock?
Ameen Soleimani: No. I mean most people just raised money with bad plans and they’ll probably change those plans. Their plan was like, they saw somebody raise money with a token model that will have this two-sided network and the medium of exchange will be our token and therefore it will be valuable, which is stupid. Many people pointed out it was stupid, but the wave of people pointing out it was stupid did not stop them from raising money. So the feedback loop continued and grew. Until people actually try to use that in production and realize it’s dumb and that they’ll have to figure something else out.
Peter McCormack: Okay. So I’m guessing the reason you didn’t work and adopt a different stable coin is because none of them has really truly censorship resistant? You see the terms and conditions for the various stable coins that have been released and they all have something in there about the ability to block and censor payments.
Ameen Soleimani: Yeah. So we could use Dai and I would prefer Dai over anything else, just because we have enough trouble with banks. If you know it’s easy for them to flip a switch and make our money worthless, then I’m never going to hold it. Whereas with Dai, it is legitimately decentralized and I know that I can go… I can’t go get Ether, but I can sell it to somebody and if the value of the underlying collateral ever drops enough, then there will be a way for me to buy it with Dai in auction.
At some point, SpankChain held 1% of all the Dai. It was something like $600,000 that we cashed out when the markets were crashing. So we could use Dai in our system as well. We haven’t yet just because of the complexity of having to explain it to people, like “what is this new other token?” So it’s a little bit easier to be, “here’s Booty. This is what we mint and operate and it’s basically used as our sort of internal accounting system”.
Also, I think stable coins will get easier to build the whole maker model. One of the things that they have is that they hilariously and ingeniously named their variables totally… Nobody understands anything about their smart contracts because it’s so hard to read, sort of like Da Vinci encoding his scriptures in whatever. But eventually it will get copied and I think that the cost of operating your own central bank like a thing as a community will drop and we’ll see thousands of these spring up, that are more on the spectrum of being like “harder money”. Bitcoin is maybe the “hardest money” and then you have central banks that can arbitrarily change the rules as the “softer money”.
Then you might have something where you have a central bank, but its operation is following some rules that it encodes on a smart contract and so you have a credible belief that it won’t break them in certain ways and that might be better. If the benefits of the operation of that piece of financial infrastructure benefit the community that it’s intended to serve, then I think that’s better for all communities that wish to operate their own financial infrastructure for their own gain.
Peter McCormack: So how does the Spank Bank work and how are Booty coins minted?
Ameen Soleimani: So we have the fees that we collect. So we take 5% on the cam site right now. We burn those fees and the Spank Bank targets Booty generation of 20 times the total amount in fees that were burned. So let’s say we collect $20,000 in fees. Well, 5% of that is $1,000. So we burn $1,000 and the Spank Bank targets a total Booty supply of 20 times that. So then there would be 20,000 Booty that should be in existence and if, let’s say there was 20,000 Booty, let’s say we’re at equilibrium and 1,000 gets burned, well then now we’re at 19,000. Then 1,000 will get regenerated and then distributed to all the Spank stakers.
Peter McCormack: So you use the Booty as the tip for the cam models.
Ameen Soleimani: You don’t have to. We could use something else.
Peter McCormack: You could use ETH or Bitcoin right?
Ameen Soleimani: We’re using ETH. Happy to use Bitcoin, it’s just hard. I’d have to build a whole other wallet in the thing and okay, now you have two different types of keys that you have to think about. But I’d love to see a wrap Bitcoin or something, come to Ethereum and then make it really easy for me to integrate that with my existing wallet.
Peter McCormack: There is a wrapped Bitcoin now.
Ameen Soleimani: There is. I haven’t integrated it yet. I’m still looking into it. I’m a little uncertain about the federated models.
Peter McCormack: It was interesting, another quote I took out was from Molly Meows and she said, “even accepting Bitcoin for her services, a popular choice among sex workers, required going through exchanges such as Coinbase themselves beholden to old school regulations”. So actually the offboarding back to fiat is still difficult with Bitcoin.
Ameen Soleimani: It’s difficult with everything like Ether is no exception to that rule. We read discourage Coinbase for performers and users. Mostly for performers because Coinbase explicitly in their terms of service says you cannot use this for adult entertainment adjacent stuff. So we recommend Gemini and others.
Peter McCormack: I don’t understand the adult industry that much at all and it’s definitely out here in the US a bigger industry than where I’m in the UK and a little bit wilder a little bit more free. So can you tell me some of the myths about the adult industry that circulate?
Ameen Soleimani: I’d say the biggest one is that they’re dirty. People think that, because you’re in porn, because you’re having sex with somebody three times a week, maybe more for your job, maybe multiple people, that you’re unclean or specifically at a higher risk of sexually transmitted diseases.
I think that’s completely untrue, because everybody in porn who performs, gets tested every two weeks. It’s all of the “normies” as they say. We call the no-coiners “normies” in this community, but if you’re an adult performer, you call it, the less sexually gifted normies! So they’re worried about catching things from normies who then don’t protect and fuck around.
Peter McCormack: Are there any risks for models going into the industry? Can it be a gateway to potentially even prostitution or things like that?
Ameen Soleimani: Yeah. Personally, my view on prostitution is that it should be decriminalized. But I think…
Peter McCormack: Yeah I’m not saying that with any judgment on prostitution, but they’re are higher risks, I guess.
Ameen Soleimani: Yeah and in one case, you have performers who are used to, they want to go shoot a scene, they want it to boost their presence and some agencies cut back bad deals where they either use financial pressure to get a performer to sign a contract that is disadvantageous for them or they encourage them to shoot scenes where it’s like a dude with a camcorder in a hotel and this guy doesn’t have a page and it’s not legit.
If they were escorting, they would be making three to five times as much money, but because it’s a seen as a shoot, they make way less. So it’s unfair even from an economic standpoint, let alone the security risks. Thankfully you have people like one of my lawyers, Al, who just sued that guy and won, for representing a number of the performers that he was abusing.
Peter McCormack: Wow! Okay, so I’ve checked out the website, the application to become a cam girl. I guess I could become a cam boy if I wanted. So it’s from 18 years…
Ameen Soleimani: We’re pretty inclusive. I’ll tip you!
Peter McCormack: Yeah. I’m not sure I’ll try it. I don’t think anyone would pay. I would tip you not to see me with my clothes off. So it’s from 18 years of age. It’s obviously a legal age of consent. So I’ve got a son who’s just about to turn 15 and he still seems very young. So I still consider 18 pretty young. Are there any protections you put in place or any processes you put in place for people who come on board? Any kind of things to help them deal with potential, I don’t know, because it could be quite a scary industry to move into.
Ameen Soleimani: Yeah and camming is the safest possible version of that you could do. You’re in your house. I mean there are some instances where camming is done in studios and in the worst case, it’s like a Mafia boss owns it or something. But in the happier case, it’s you with your laptop and your decorated room in your house. You stream for a bit, people cheer you on and it’s fun.
I guess I’m less concerned with that than like more hardcore stuff, which can be a little bit more intimidating. You’d go into a room, there’s five, eight people there watching you have sex. That’s your job, you’d go and you perform and you do it for several hours. On the user side, it’s interesting that you bring this up, especially being from the UK because in the UK…
Peter McCormack: Yeah I know what you are going to say!
Ameen Soleimani: I know you know! Well, they had an ID card that you now have to buy in a store in order to verify that you are above 18 and you can watch porn. These are the kinds of rules that get made when old people still make the rules. But as they die and the people who grew up with this stuff and aren’t terrified by it, treat this as normal, start making the rules, we’re going to see people look at that and be like, “this is completely insane”.
Peter McCormack: People don’t want to be tagged and ID’ed as a porn user.
Ameen Soleimani: So it’s not so much that porn is a gateway drug. Porn is the gateway for the governments of the world to stamp out your freedom on the Internet because nobody will come and defend their right to watch porn because it has the social stigma attached to it. So if you want to defend the Internet, suddenly the government has put you in a position where they’re like, “oh, you want to defend sex traffickers. That’s what you want to do by keeping the site up”.
It’s really hard to counter that narrative because it’s really easy to just pile on against sex traffickers, even though it’s totally uninformed position. Basically, if we want to defend Internet freedoms, we have to start… the adult industry for us, for people in Bitcoin who value freedom, it should be the place where we start to take a stance against the government encroaching on our rights online.
Peter McCormack: So do you as SpankChain have any campaigns that you’re working on with this?
Ameen Soleimani: We have made a number of donations to people who were supporting sex workers and combating FOSTA-SESTA. I can’t remember them all but something, but $25,000–50,000 range of donations that we’ve made. We can’t do as much as I wanted to do when we all had way more money last year. We have to be a little bit more focused on building a sustainable business and I hope that as we continue… One of the things we’ve done is within the Ethereum community, we’ve been embraced.
At first everybody thought we were weird, “I don’t know, these SpankChain guys, it’s a porn thing”, but then I think our message came through, which was that this is actually a group of people who really need what it is that our community is offering and we shouldn’t turn them away. So I think that our community has seen that and I know that they value it a lot. So I hope that we can continue to bring these two communities together, in order to bring the benefits of crypto to performers and also have performers, models and sex workers who could actually benefit from this, bring adoption to our industry.
Peter McCormack: You did offer your bounties, didn’t you? Your $25,000 bounties. That was kind of interesting, but I didn’t know… See, this is where I haven’t had much time to prepare. I didn’t know about this Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act. Can you tell me about it?
Ameen Soleimani: Yeah FOSTA. So it stands for Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act and that’s basically what Congress use. This is the only thing that everybody in Congress can agree on, it was like 97–2 in the Senate, it was like 500+ to one or three in the house. It’s sort of crazy to think about that.
More or less, what it does is it removes, I forget what exact Act it is, but it removes the liability protection for website operators for user-generated content. So normally or how it was, was that you were not liable as a site operator for something that somebody posted on your site. If you owned Reddit, you weren’t liable, Craigslist and so forth. What we see as a response to this, it was passed into law last year. What we’ve seen as a response is Reddit took down their personal section, Craigslist took down their personal section, Tumblr banned porn and no action has actually been taken.
So the founders of BackPage, which was the largest online escorting site in the US were raided and imprisoned. But it wasn’t actually anything to do with sex trafficking. It was money laundering and other things. But they use these things as the scapegoat.
So the EFF, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, they’re actually suing over this. They’re suing Congress. They’re saying that this is unconstitutional. So if you would like to get involved, that’s a good way, to support the EFF and maybe we should ICO the lawsuit and make Congress pay damages.
Peter McCormack: So you were offering bounties of $25,000 to catch politicians, caught sleeping with sex workers who support it?
Ameen Soleimani: So we briefly offered $25,000 bounties for information from sex workers who could provide evidence that politicians who did vote “yes” on those bills were using sex traffickers. Because do the math! How many of them do you actually think have never slept with an escort? It seems vanishingly low. Given that it was basically unanimous. It means that the probability that somebody voted “yes” on it and also has done this is very high
This brings me back to Allie’s point, where it’s like these guys are shutting down performer’s accounts and then going home and jacking off to them. It’s exactly the same with the wankers and I have trouble using this pejoratively because there’s nothing wrong with being a wanker. But these guys, they have taken the position that this should… To discriminate even further, using the adult industry as a scapegoat, rallying everybody against sex trafficking that isn’t going to be solved by this.
It’s actually going to get made worse because people are going to end up back on the streets where it’s less safe. Then what? They’re going to go home and still be a hypocrite, watch porn and sleep with sex workers and that’s what they do.
Peter McCormack: Did you pay any bounties out?
Ameen Soleimani: We did not. We quickly decided to stop doing that and then use the money more productively to donate it towards the advocacy organizations.
Peter McCormack: All right. So let’s talk a bit more about SpankChain and the cam site.
Ameen Soleimani: Maybe one day we’ll go back to it when we’re a bit bigger!
Peter McCormack: So let’s talk about the benefits because there is a natural fit between crypto and what you’re doing. There’s no chargebacks. So how big a problem is chargebacks for adult performance?
Ameen Soleimani: It’s a pretty big problem. I mean, it’s classified as high risk and all the payment processors that serve them charge, around 10%, which was three times as much… 10% is a decent rate. It goes up to 15%, but that’s just for stuff that everybody else takes for granted. Everybody else expects 3% as sort of the payment processing rate. But there’s more chargebacks in adult; somebody steals a credit card, it goes on it or somebody’s wife finds out and they say, “it wasn’t me, it was stolen”.
That’s what the adult industry has to deal with then because the double spend window, of the legacy financial system, is 30–90 days and not 10 minutes like in Bitcoin. Then you have this possibility being able to use something like payment channels or even just accepting crypto means that those kinds of chargebacks are impossible and the transaction fees can be way lower because you don’t need a fraud department.
Peter McCormack: I think tied with that, you’ve also got anonymity for customers because one of the things about paying for porn is that if you are using a credit card, you have to create an account, it’s got your details. I guess there’s also the risk of the hacks. I can’t remember there was the dating site, Ashley Madison that got hacked and everybody who was a user was publicly announced on a website as being the user of a cheating website. So I guess the anonymity which comes with customers is another great benefit.
Ameen Soleimani: Yeah. So if you want to today, you sign up for your Spank Live account, you don’t actually need to use an email address or password. You can use a key as your authentication mechanism. We’re going to add the user name and password option because there’s many people who just want to watch, they don’t care as much.
But if you do, then I don’t think there’s a whole lot that beats being able to sign in with a key, not needing a username attached to it and not needing your bank attached to it. Because as long as you put the money in the account, it came from somewhere. It could come from an exchange, a tumbler, you can pay with Zcash. That’s pretty good.
Peter McCormack: Then in terms of the adult entertainers, you only take 5% of fees. I saw on your website that they can be charged up to 50%?
Ameen Soleimani: Yeah, most cam sites charge 50% right now. We charge a lot less.
Peter McCormack: Does that mean you’re getting quite a lot of adoption?
Ameen Soleimani: It means that we’re well positioned for growth. But it also means, for us, the big problem after we solved instant payments with the payment channels and adding the stable coin to get that, still, our biggest problem is a KYC. 99% of the people who come don’t have crypto already because that’s the state of the world that we live in. So we’re leaving a lot of money on the table by excluding them because for them, the story is, I show up, okay, I want this, this is a good way to support the performers that I want.
They’re going to get way more of it than if I was going to tip them on some other site. But now I can’t because I don’t have crypto. So I go to Coinbase, I have to upload an ID, I have to connect my bank. Okay, no, I don’t really feel like doing this. Thank you. Now maybe for them, the better alternative is to invite them in, have them learn over time and then pass savings on to them. Like you can save 10% by coming in if you don’t use a credit card. Then after a while, they’ve gotten more used to it, they see people talking about it, that’s the sort of gateway I see.
Peter McCormack: So can somebody signing up, use their credit card on site to buy Booty coins?
Ameen Soleimani: Soon.
Peter McCormack: Okay, so you’ve almost got an exchange option for them?
Ameen Soleimani: Yeah
Peter McCormack: But aren’t you then going to have your own KYC demands?
Ameen Soleimani: So there’s ways around it. The way we’re going to use is basically when you buy with a credit card, it’ll be as if you’re buying into a normal cam site. You’re not getting the ERC-20 Booty, you’re getting some database entry. Then it’s on us to actually abstract all of this away at the UI level. So whether you’re buying in with credit card and getting database Booty, DBooty as I like to call it, or if you’re buying in with crypto and getting a real ERC-20 token, then it looks the same and works the same.
Peter McCormack: I guess sometimes centralized components like that aren’t bad?
Ameen Soleimani: I mean look at Coinbase. What is Coinbase? It’s a bunch of wallets and a UI. The hard parts of what they’ve done are security and paperwork. Everything else is pretty straight forward.
Peter McCormack: Well Brian Armstrong admitted that himself. I can’t remember the quote, but he talks about that, a lot of the business that will be built will be centralized companies built upon decentralized technology. So I guess there’s only certain aspects that you need for decentralization, which is for the censorship-resistant money, that component.
Ameen Soleimani: Yeah.
Peter McCormack: What’s the off-boarding process for entertainers to receive their money?
Ameen Soleimani: So they get it in the wallet, in Booty and then they click a button and it sends them Ether equivalent. We have ETH and Booty reserves on-chain, on our payment channel contract. So it makes administrating it a little bit easier because we can do an on chain exchange as part of a withdrawal.
Peter McCormack: So they still have to use an exchange?
Ameen Soleimani: Well, they’re getting it in a channel and so then they just cash out of the channel in Ether. Some of them might even trust us and be like, “it’s fine if you just hold on to this credit for me, this Booty.” It’s essentially them giving us a short term loan. Then like at the time that they want, then they click the button, they get Ether and what they do is they go to an exchange, we recommend Gemini and then they cash out to their bank or spend it.
Peter McCormack: Why is it you recommend Gemini?
Ameen Soleimani: It’s one of the more well-known ones that are not Coinbase. For all Geminis, “we need regulations” and sort of silly signalling, well they don’t have it explicitly against their terms of conditions to affiliate with the adult industry.
Peter McCormack: So you really don’t like Coinbase?
Ameen Soleimani: I love Coinbase. I think it’s great. I can’t recommend it for anybody in the adult entertainment industry. I think that the hacking team stuff was unfortunate, but I think they did the right response and stuff like that.
Peter McCormack: So also, as an entertainer, you can’t have your account closed?
Ameen Soleimani: You can have your account closed. We follow laws. We have terms and conditions. We are about as lax as it gets, in terms of… Most of the rules on content come from payment processors. They don’t want to process payments for things like blood. If you’re on your period, you can’t really perform because that content cannot be displayed anywhere, even if there’s people who are into it, which many are.
Urine and faeces are also there and it’s not something I’m personally interested in, but I can understand that there are people who are and the rules against that are from payment processors. So if you come in with crypto, you can get all of that without any sort of rules. We’re not going to block you for showing that content. But at the same time, if you make an account and somebody underage comes on and streams, you’re pretending that that’s you, that’s something that we have to take quite seriously. We’ll have to shut down the account.
Peter McCormack: So you have to take a lot of responsibility, that you have to take seriously because you are trying to build a business.
Ameen Soleimani: We are trying to build a business. We operate compliantly in all the States in which we operate.
Peter McCormack: Have you had any legal pressure at all?
Ameen Soleimani: Not yet. We’ve been pretty careful.
Peter McCormack: In terms of the structure of the company. It seems to me, that you’re run by people who understand the industry?
Ameen Soleimani: I’d say we understand or are trying to learn more every day.
Peter McCormack: Okay. So what are your biggest challenges you’re facing?
Ameen Soleimani: I think the biggest challenges will be just unifying our sort of two accounting systems. It’s going to take work and then having a nice interface on top. So that’s internally, that’s for our own products first. Then externally it’s convincing merchants in the crypto winter that they will see more payments and save money on the crypto payments, that they get and that they should integrate with our payment system.
Peter McCormack: How much did the bear market affect you guys?
Ameen Soleimani: I think it affects us in terms of sentiment and excitement. For example, building really technologically advanced systems to help with marketing to the Ethereum community. It was great when Ether was $1,000. It was a much more viable strategy than it is now. So how it has affected us is needing to focus more on beautiful fiat dollars, because at least they still have them. Then making it work with the stuff we have.
Peter McCormack: So I’ve got a couple of questions to finish out on. You won an award at the Adult Video Awards?
Ameen Soleimani: That’s actually incorrect.
Peter McCormack: But it’s in the articles.
Ameen Soleimani: I know! So we were nominated for a number of awards at AVN. We didn’t win any. But we did win DApp of the year at Devcon. So the part of that article that is correct, is that we did win the award. It just wasn’t at AVN.
Peter McCormack: So did you go to AVN?
Ameen Soleimani: Yeah, we went to AVN this year and last year.
Peter McCormack: What’s it like?
Ameen Soleimani: It’s a lot of fun. It’s what you might expect when basically all of the porn stars on Earth get together and have a party!
Peter McCormack: All right. So then I want to ask you about is the tech. So you are doing some quite innovative stuff with state channels? It’s way over my head. Can you just talk me through it?
Ameen Soleimani: Well it’s like the Lightning network, but if the Lightning network is a fast calculator built on a slow calculator, state channels are fast computers built on a slow computer. So the thing about state channels is that you can do anything on it, that you could do on a smart contract, as you could do on Ethereum, not just payments.
But payments are a really great use case and so the way to build payments on state channels is to implement the logic of a state channel, where the state is the balances of the two parties and the state transition is that one can pay the other. So we’ve done that a couple of times. So we built the first payment channel system in April. That was unidirectional Ether only and then we upgraded it.
So now we have a noncustodial payment system. So you open up a bi-directional channel with a hub. So you and the hub both can have money in it. You can both send money back and forth. So that means you can send in the channel, you can also receive in the channel.
Then you can open up threads or some people call them virtual channels, which are unidirectional and can be opened directly with a counterparty that also has a connection to that hub. So if you don’t have a connection with somebody, that’s fine. You can still pay them through the system.
Peter McCormack: Are you building this yourself, or are you building on top of others?
Ameen Soleimani: We already built this. We built this in collaboration with Connext, who’s now marketing the technology to the rest of the Ethereum ecosystem and we took an equity position in Connext as part of the deal. We’re still collaborating with the counterfactual guys, they’re a little bit behind in terms of their client implementation.
But the idea is to take our use case to drive their development of the more abstract, more general-purpose version of this because ultimately we should be able to use the same smart contract base because they’re building very generalized state channels, which means that it should be able to do anything. Our use case included.
Peter McCormack: Much of a headache?
Ameen Soleimani: Yeah. I mean, I think building for like a specific use case makes a lot of sense. You wouldn’t have wanted to build Ethereum before you built Bitcoin. That would have made no sense. But building Bitcoin helps you understand… Well, let’s rewind a bit. Ethereum was invented by Vitalik when he went around to all the people who are trying to build coloured coins and whatnot and wanted some specific change in Bitcoin but needed to fork the protocol in order to add that op-code in or whatever.
Then he realized, “oh, what if we made a thing that could, had a generalized system of law codes that could process anything”. That’s what inspired Ethereum to be built. So I think state channels, you can see the same contract core being used for anything from games to gambling to payments to data storage even. Correlating those two, you promise that you’ll lock up some or store some data for me and then I’d give you a micropayment every month, so long as you can prove you still have it.
Peter McCormack: All right, so what have you got coming up? What should we keep an eye out from SpankChain?
Ameen Soleimani: Keep an eye out for merchant adoption, SpankChain growing up, becoming a real business, getting partnerships, making deals, keep an eye out for the cam site, dropping it’s Beta, expanding internationally, adding private shows and adding fiat out payments. Keep an eye out for a clip site that we have on the way after that, so that you can upload videos and sell them for crypto.
Peter McCormack: Cool man. So how do people stay in touch? Who do you want to hear from?
Ameen Soleimani: Yeah, sure. Feel free to reach out. I’m on Twitter @ameensol. We’re @spankchain also. Join our discord. We have a vibrant community of performers and crypto enthusiasts that are all teaching each other about our communities.
Peter McCormack: Brilliant, look thanks for doing this at such short notice!
Ameen Soleimani: Yeah, thanks for having me!