Japan Child Porn Websites Draw Overseas Users; Experts Seek Measures as Operators Defiant

The Yomiuri Shimbun

Sexual images of children that were likely created by generative artificial intelligence are proliferating on the internet. While many Western countries have introduced regulations to deal with such imagery, Japan has done little to address the matter, and as yet, there have not been much substantial discussions on the issue.

Japan has previously faced international criticism for being an “exporter” of child pornography, and experts are calling for measures to tackle the current situation.

In October, the 45-year-old president of an Suita, Osaka Prefecture-based IT company that operates a website that hosts such images said, “If [the material] isn‘t prohibited by law, we don’t intend to remove it.”

According to the president, the site was launched in September 2018. Initially, it was operated by a different firm and used to host illustrations. When the current company took over a year later, the site only had about 3,000 users. However, that number had jumped more than 30-fold to 100,000 after the company announced on social media in May this year that it would host AI imagery.

The website in question has a page for paid subscribers who can purchase images, with the company receiving 10% commission from each sale. Though it had operated in the red for many years, the site began turning a profit in May, according to the firm.

“We operate the site as a business,” said the president, who runs several other companies. “The site is accessible from overseas, but we’re only making a profit of a few hundred thousand yen a month — we’re not pulling in a fortune. We delete graphics that are too obscene, but some people like such imagery. I don’t think we can keep hosting [such images] forever, but we don’t intend to stop unless regulations are introduced.”

40% of page views from overseas

Utilizing software developed by site analysis company Similarweb Ltd., The Yomiuri Shimbun found that about 40% of the site’s hits emanated from outside Japan during a period from July to September this year.

The Yomiuri Shimbun has also confirmed that other Japan-hosted websites have posted sexual images of children that were likely created by AI.

A 29-year-old man living in Germany told The Yomiuri Shimbun that images on Japanese sites would be deemed illegal in Germany, adding that German laws were too strict. He also noted that large amounts of similar dubious content are available in Japan.

A 62-year-old man who lives in the United States said the AI images on Japanese sites are similar to photographs of real children.

A man in the Kanto region who posts such images said: “My graphics are also being viewed from abroad, and many users have made requests in English. It’s legal in Japan, so I’ve no intention to stop [posting the images].”