An Honest Assessment of Wix and Squarespace as Website Building Tools for Sex Workers

While I own a website building company, I will keep this review as unbiased, simplistic and authentic as possible. I’m not interested in trash talking my competitors but I am interested in keeping my community well-informed about the tools they’re using to build their business, the associated risks, and some solutions.

Wix and Squarespace are commonly used amongst sex industry peeps for their ease of use, affordability and wide range of options. After FOSTA-SESTA, many sex workers met the boot from platforms and this blog will investigate just how friendly these website creation platforms are to sex workers.

As a general guideline I’ve marked my assessments under these categories:

Sex worker friendly – this assesses the company’s likelihood of targeting and shutting down your business online.

Sex work solidarity – this assesses how supportive and aligned the company is to sex worker right efforts and your freedom of labour.

Privacy protection – this score determines how your personal data is being used. It also examines the potential for your sex worker identity to interfere with your non-sex working life.

Legal severity – generally, a company’s legal paperwork will be written in favour of protecting the company’s interests. This score will determine just how badly the contract you agree to can backfire on you.

As a general disclaimer please note this is a personal review and not to be misconstrued as legal advice.

Let’s begin with Wix. For my assessment I performed the following tasks:

  • Asked my peers for anecdotal evidence of discrimination;
  • Contacted Wix to clarify their policy with sex workers;
  • Read the terms and conditions and privacy policy with a fine comb.

In an unexpected bonus, I knocked head with their marketing team on Twitter which you will see in the sex work solidarity section.

My general assessment for Wix is as below:

Sex worker friendly: 6/10

I found no evidence to suggest that Wix is actively cracking down on sex workers who use their services in response to the FOSTA-SESTA laws. However, there have been accounts of sex workers who have been shut down or services limited. The only time these decisions have been overturned is when sex worker has been operating from a country/state where sex work is ‘legal’ or decriminalised. It is of my opinion that Wix operates with a ‘blind eye’ approach, meaning they are happy to take the money of sex workers and offer their services, but if someone were to report that sex worker in any capacity, Wix would assume no risk on their behalf and shut down their account. If you operate your sex work from a country that consider sex worker ‘illegal’ or criminalised then you are at greater risk of being shut down. This point was furthered when I contacted them asking if I, a sex worker, could use their service and they replied with a copy of their Terms.

 

Sex work solidarity: 0/10

It’s important to know that in the event of unforeseeable circumstances, the company you are paying is on your side. This hasn’t been actively demonstrated by Wix. When directly asked about their policy around sex workers using their service, they dodged demonstrating any solidarity, kept answers vague (in an effort to not be responsible) and reiterated their terms of conditions that stipulate you are to adhere to your local laws. This is not unusual for a company to do, but it does demonstrate a general ambivalence towards sex work. Further, when contacted via email they said I must not act in a manner which might be perceived as damaging to Wix’s reputation and goodwill or which may bring Wix into disrepute or harm, which is easily possible if they demonstrate solidarity with sex workers. My default mark for a company with no demonstratable history of sex work solidarity would be a 5/10 (I’m a glass half full person) but I encountered their marketing team on Twitter. Here, at the mere mention of sex work, they deleted their tweet as soon as sex work was mentioned, thus demonstrated they had no interest in working with sex workers. This was in response to a sex worker who was looking for some digital solutions, to which I replied and so did Wix.

 

Privacy protection: 2/10

Sex workers require privacy more than anything. When I was reading the Wix Privacy Policy and Terms of Use these were my basic findings: they will collect personal info (2.1.1 and 2.), admit to collecting this information for promotional uses and create aggregated statistical data to share with business partners (4.6). They also share your personal information with third party services (8.1). In addition, you cannot backup or transfer any of your data, meaning if you import client information through Wix (such as mailing lists), they have that (6). They comply with local data protection law without notice meaning they will not inform you if any authority has inquired about you (8.2). In addition, they may share personal information ‘in good faith’ if they believe it can protect rights, property or personal safety and, given their score for sex work solidarity, I doubt when tested this clause will favour sex workers (8.3). Furthermore, they also share your personal information within their ‘family of companies’ which would include U.S based companies (8.7) and reserve the right to share non-personal information without approval (8.7). They may use your content for free for marketing and promoting reasons. They last updated their privacy policy on the 31/12/18 meaning their lawyers would have made amendments with FOSTA-SESTA in mind. The good news is that if you delete your account, they should delete all your data.

Legal severity: 8/10

Wix can shut your account down or put you into a difficult situation with authorities for a number of reasons. They store data in the U.S and with authorised affiliates (where sex work is criminalised) meaning potentially the U.S can govern and access that data (5.1). For those touring, this can be compromising for immigration purposes. They do use your data to perform legal obligations (such as preventing fraud) and comply with local laws (4.9), meaning they will hesitate to hand over your personal information to the authorities (which include your payment methods, IP address, geolocations etc). Their Terms of Use also stipulate that if you’re sharing account ownership they will require ID to determine ownership. This means that if you have a falling out with your developer, they will ask for compromising information (1.3). They ask that your content not be unlawful to upload meaning if you have anything pornographic (and you’re in Australia) they can shut you down. They also ask that you comply with the laws of your geographical locations (2.2.1) meaning if you tour, it’s basically impossible for you to be lawful. In addition, if your content ‘encourages criminal or harmful conduct’ they can shut you down, meaning if you have a blog about sex work or even sex, this can potentially endanger you. One impossible standard they have is they ask that your content adheres to the laws ‘in the end users’ location’ and that basically means your clients must be viewing your website legally otherwise you are in breach of their terms. They may monitor and screen your website without notice (12) and also ask for no pornography or obscenity or unlawful content. You are locked into their contracts meaning you cannot transfer any of the services you have with them. They reserve the right to cancel at any time (9).

 


I applied the same tests and tasks on Squarespace and my general assessment for Squarespace is as below:

Sex worker friendly 5/10

Squarespace has an Acceptable Use Policy and, in this document, sexually explicit content is banned (6.3). Sexually explicit can be a vague term and many companies do not have any outlines on what that means, so it’s up to a person’s personal interpretation of what they think is sexually appropriate to enforce this clause. Another clause is that there should be no objectionable, unlawful or illegal content and this is a wishy-washy word to say if one of their staff members didn’t like the idea of sex work – your website could be objectionable. Considering they have this clause; I bet they reserve the right to not be sex worker friendly. Squarespace uses Stripe (and sometimes PayPal) for its payment processing, which many companies do, but both companies are strictly anti-sex work. If you wanted to sell content through your website, this would be against Stripes Terms and grounds to close your account. All domains are brought and registered under ICANN which is an American company and in the realm of FOSTA-SESTA.

Sex work solidarity 5/10

Like Wix, I believe that Squarespace operates with an ‘out of sight, out of mind’ mentality where escorts and sex workers can pay to use their services, so long as it doesn’t cause them any trouble or grief. But as soon as shit hits the fan, there is no commitment from Squarespace that they are sex worker friendly and will fight for you as one of their users.

Privacy protection 2/10

Squarespace knows where you live so you’re bound to your location and its laws. Similar to Wix, Squarespace reserves the right to use your content if they should please (2.2) and extend this to their 3rd party hosting providers (and they don’t specify where those 3rd parties are based). Where does Squarespace backup your data? In the US, which means it needs to adhere to FOSTA/SESTA laws. They share a measure of your personal information with: affiliates, users, business partners, service providers, process payments, following the law or protecting rights and interests, advertising, business transfers (6). They also sell your data to third party relations (5).

 

Legal severity: 9/10

Squarespace stresses that you need to follow the law of your local jurisdiction and that they do the same (3.2) If you’re a resident or your principal place of business is the US then are classed as a US-user. If you don’t fall under this category than you are classes as an Irish-user. This is great for everyone who doesn’t work in or live in the US but for everyone else, it means the FOSTA/SESTA laws effect you directly. A condition they have is that you adhere to local laws and considering sex work laws differ from state to state, this is impossible for travelling works to do and can be the basis of shutting down your account (6.6). They reserve the right to close any of their services (6.1) and without notice (12). Their indemnity clause (15) is pretty standard in that if they get sued for your account, you’ll pay for this.


Solutions and strategies for those currently using Wix or Squarespace

The system isn’t perfect but there are ways to work around it. If you’re in a position where Wix or Squarespace is the only or best digital solution for you and you are a sex worker, employ these tips to ensure your privacy, data and account is protected.

  • Use a VPN whenever you engage in their service as they will be collecting personal information.
  • Try to limit using third party services through Wix or Squarespace as your data will be shared and it can be risky (8.5).
  • Backup your data if you haven’t already. This means your content (text), photos and take pictures of your website layout. On the off-chance you get shutdown, this will mean you’re not hit with such a big blow. Every time you update your website, back it up.
  • Ensure your photos aren’t sexually explicit by blurring or putting stickers.
  • Ensure your services comply with local laws. Sometimes impossible, but if you can then you should to cover your ass.
  • Try to keep language vague or non-incriminating. Don’t explicitly say you offer sexual services but rather companionship. You can extend this further by not even mentioning money and substituting it for something else like ‘kisses’.
  • Save up to have your website hosted by a sex worker friendly website building company like Red Cloud. This will ensure your funds stay in the industry, you’re paying sex workers instead of strangers who would happily throw you under the bus, you have someone batting on your side and, in the rare event of profit, we can develop technology to match the competition.

If you found this blog helpful, please do share it around in your network,
Estelle Lucas.

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