Mastercard introduces revised standards for adult content merchants

Web Shield Marketing
April 21, 2021
 min read
A close-up of a silver Mastercard payment card

Card giant takes the lead in announcing new requirements for acquirers and their adult content merchants, particularly around controls, consent and the prohibition of child abuse material.

Mastercard is strengthening its existing Specialty Merchant Registration requirements for adult content merchants. This is to ensure that proper controls and monitoring are in place to effectively mitigate the risk of illegal or brand-damaging activities, as well as prevent the victimisation of individuals.

Effective 15 October 2021, acquirers will need to certify that their adult content merchants have effective controls in place to monitor, block and, where necessary, take down all illegal content.

Drivers for the change

Smartphone ownership has increased. So has broadband rollouts and speed. Almost half the world’s population used mobile internet in 2019, equating to 3.8 billion users – an increase of 250 million since the end of 2018, according the GSMA. It’s now easier than ever for individuals to create and post their own, high quality content online.

In December 2020, a high-profile New York Times investigation into one of the internet’s largest adult entertainment merchants claimed it hosted child abuse content, violence and non-consensual sexual behavior on its site. The major card schemes subsequently pulled card acceptance from the site.

The new requirements

As an overview, merchants that engage in the provision of adult content and services will only be able to allow uploads from verified content providers. This is a significant change. Know-your-customer checks around identity and age are not merely recommended, they are now required.

Merchants must identify as well as verify the identity and age of content providers with “government-issued identification”. That means acceptable forms of ID include passport, government ID card and driving licence, but not bank statements or utility bills. Use of a third-party vendor that specialises in the validation of government identification is recommended.

Staying with the topic of identity and verification (ID&V), individual content providers must also verify the identity and age of all persons depicted in the content. And be able to provide supporting documentation on request. This is to ensure everyone is an adult.

Merchants will be required to enter into written agreements with each content provider. These must specifically prohibit any activity that is illegal or otherwise violates Mastercard’s standards. There are also numerous provisions related to consent.

Individual content providers are required to obtain and keep on record written consent from all the persons depicted in their content. This must cover consent to be depicted in the content as well as consent for the content to be publicly distributed and uploaded to the merchant’s website. If other users are able to download the content, those depicted must consent to this.

Mastercard has also introduced a pre-screening requirement for adult merchants. This is another significant change. It goes much further than the current practice among social media platforms who do not routinely pre-screen user generated content before it is posted.

All uploaded content must be reviewed prior to publication to ensure that it is not illegal and does not otherwise violate Mastercard’s standards. In the case of real-time or live video streaming services, the merchant must operate on a platform that it is able to fully control and that allows for real-time monitoring and the removal of content being streamed.

Merchants must not market the content of websites, or permit content search terms, to give the impression that the content contains child exploitation material or the depiction of non-consensual activities. Similarly, merchants must not attract users to its website by utilising adult content that is illegal or otherwise violates Mastercard’s standards.

Merchants must have effective policies in place that prohibit the use of websites in any way that promotes or facilitates human trafficking, sex trafficking or physical abuse. Mastercard recommends active membership and participation in anti-human trafficking and/or anti-child exploitation organisations.

Merchants must have a complaint process that allows for the reporting of content that may be illegal or otherwise violates Mastercard’s standards. There are time limits for reviewing and resolving reported complaints, and for removing reported material. Merchants must also have a complaint process for individuals depicted in content to appeal to remove such content.

Merchants must also provide monthly reports of any flagged content, complaints, take-down requests and actions taken to their acquirers. Acquirers must be able to share these reports with Mastercard on request.

Web Shield says…

The card schemes don’t want to be associated with any illegal or brand-damaging activities. The Mastercard Business Risk Assessment and Mitigation program or BRAM and Visa Global Brand Protection Program or GBPP have existed for around a decade, so they shouldn’t be news for acquirers.

The significant changes announced by Mastercard for high brand-risk adult merchants will impact how acquirers on-board and monitor adult merchants. For more information on the proposed changes, please see ‘AN 5196 Revised Standards for New Speciality Merchant Registration for Adult Content Merchants’, published 13 April 2021.

Web Shield has a tailored solution to support acquirers in their compliance efforts: the new High-Risk Verification for our InvestiGate underwriting hub. This special version of our tried and tested Full Case Service allows acquiring banks and payment service providers to easily comply with Mastercard’s new rules and keep their adult content merchant portfolio save. If you want to know more, contact us or send an email to

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