Andreas Weigend | Social Data Revolution | Fall 2016
School of Information | University of California at Berkeley | INFO 290A

Contributors: Derrick Harshberger, William Ton, Jerry Chen, Heraa Ali, Garima Raheja

Topic 13: Cam4

Cam4 is a website that features live webcam performances, which has everything from nudity to all kinds of sexual activities, by female, male, and transgender amateur performers. In the presentation by two employees of Cam4, Ryan Maule and Derek Devlin, the world of online caming is explored through issues related to social expression of individuals that use or perform for the site and the financial aspect of the business. In particular, the issue of sexuality in social media and marketing is explored first through Ryan Maule. Then, Derek Devlin discusses the demographics and implications of the social data in online caming for financial considerations. This is followed by a wrap-up with some points about the class discussion on ethical issues related to the content featured on Cam4.

When it began in 2007, Cam4’s premise of pay per minute for online caming enabled it to grow quickly because of how a sense of “personal community” with the user is fostered through real actors versus professional ones. Since anyone can come, register, and broadcast content, Cam4 offers flexibility and diversity unlike any other competing service. From allowing people that enjoy performing to an audience the ability to do so to the viewer that enjoys being part of that audience, Cam4 brings a new lens into sexuality and its influence in social media. Consequently, the issues of freedom of expression, sexuality, and openness are explored in the points expanded upon by both speakers below:

"To be the adult industry's most ubiquitous brand; helping to eradicate the porn taboo and bring sexual expression further into the mainstream."

One of the most prominent distinctions between Cam4’s business direction and the standard social perspective is its vision of breaking down the “taboo” of expressing oneself in a sexual manner and offering its ever growing community of users access to content, financial support, and a platform that promotes discovery, diversity, and interaction.

On the surface, it would seem unlikely that such a business would be leveraging data by the people, of the people, and for the people to build its business to achieve this mission. But from this week’s discussion, Derek and Ryan explain that they do collect data, and a lot of it.

Analysis Paralysis and Storage Costs: the issue of Big Data
Collecting the right social data instead of all social data is paramount to any company because there are costs associated with storage. Another issue around storing the right data is the ability to make the right decisions on what to store, which can often lead someone into “analysis paralysis,” which is in essence the overwhelming possibility of Big Data leads someone to avoid making any decisions on what to do with it. Fortunately, Cam4 has mitigated this paralysis by focusing solely on how this data can be better used to understand and serve it’s customer base; they aren’t simply trying to find out whatever they can.

For example, by narrowing down to focusing on their user demographics, Cam4 knows (in aggregate) a lot of who uses their site (e.g. what their gender, age, and occupation are) with some surprising insights.

Figure 1: About two-thirds of the user base is male and heavily skewed to the younger to middle aged demographic.


Figure 2: About half of Cam4's users identify themselves as straight and a third bisexual or bicurious. This must be qualified by the fact that some users choose to identify themselves as "bicurious" as a marketing tactic.

User-lead Categorization and the right to experiment
One such method of supporting “data for the people” is allowing the user to lead their own categorization on the site, in essence the ability to play with the controls. Instead of simply catering the website to the general public by attempting to sell what is most popular, the site allows the user full control on what type of content they wish to see, what communities they wish to be a part of, what acts they want to view. They are even allowed to search by location, such as seeing performers in England or nearby. This is very different that many other sites, which instead use the data generated to create a finite categorization of options.

Social data for social bonding
Currently there are many social networking sites that allow for social bonding, however, Cam4 has has innovated a more progressive approach; namely, that people can connect via sexual stimulus.This is important to those who enjoy certain sexual acts which are socially sanctioned, for they probably have a more difficult time in finding another person to engage with. Given that sexual satiety is an important part of intimacy, Cam4 is allowing for another method of relationships to develop without fear of rejection from society. By using geolocation data of site user and performer, Cam4 can allow for people to engage within their local community, which can lead to offline relationships. In a few cases, these relationships have even lead to marriage.

Pornography as A Window Into the Human Psyche
By virtue of being a taboo topic, pornography is conducive to secrecy. Our class provides an invaluable opportunity to learn about the secrets of an industry traditionally not discussed openly. We can learn about the need for human connection-- those seeking out pornography are craving attention and interaction just as much as they are seeking sexual pleasure, and this is exhibited by the massive success of the chat room and the "roll dice" option, where viewers can pay to interact with performers and request certain acts. We also see huge tips-- up to $4,000 for a single performance! This is stunning-- one would think that a viewer would like to keep his pornography viewing private, but it seems that viewers are willing to pay noticeably large sums and risk exposing their pornography-viewing habits to their families and their banks. The behavior of the performers is quite interesting, as well: performers will often list themselves as "bicurious" to appeal to the male fetish for viewing girl-on-girl action. In today's economy, it seems that performers are willing to go any length-- even alter their own sexualities-- to make money. There is lots of data on pornography, but it is never made freely available. The opportunity to interact with the Cam4 executives through the SDR class was an invaluable experience-- it is exciting to get a peek into the shrouded mysteries of the pornography management world.

With almost a million hours a week of content, it’s vital to make sure that all content on the website is both ethical and legal. The question is, how to ensure that when across all boards, Cam4 has a staff of about 100 people? And then there is the thornier question of moderating chatrooms.

The way CAM4 operates is by first ensuring that no video goes online without first passing a manual inspection. After that, they rely on community moderation to ensure no performances involve illegal or unethical acts (such as involving minors, animals, etc.). Right now, the response time for getting something off of the website is about 60 seconds, and this is something they are trying to improve. Machine learning is one avenue by which they are hoping to improve moderation, by way of automating the moderation process. This is still in the introductory stages, but they are looking into using artificial intelligence to create automated, more accurate predictions of age and number of users on camera and detect illegal activity, and match faces in the IDs to faces on the cameras. Gamification of moderation is a possible strategy, but it backfired on YouTube, so Cam4 is slightly hesitant to jump on that. Finally, another way they monitor content on the website is to make performers sign a release before they get paid.

Right To Amend Social Data
In particular, the issues of right to amend the information users and performers put online is crucial. It is important to note that a user's history of requests and messages to one another and even performers, which may consist of varying degrees of compromising information can perhaps be accessible to unintended third parties. If we consider the fact that some of the large demographics of users at Cam4 are both government and military employees and how some may hold security clearances and access to information related to national security, the potential for blackmail and humiliation by both their peers and society as a whole is very real. From a national security standpoint, this presents a great risk because people can be manipulated to disclose information that can be very damaging on a national scale. On a civilian lens, the potential for blackmail and humiliation extends to both the corporate and normal world, where persons may share confidential secrets that can change the dynamics of economic and social tides in America. As a result, the right to amend-delete messages and other information shared between users and performers or their amendment- should be discussed since it has far reaching implications.