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ICANN announced recently that it has begun negotiations with an applicant for another 'sponsored' (non-open) top level domain, .XXX.

There has been a fair amount of coverage, for and against.

My initial reaction is (with the proviso that the public information to assess these things is always insufficient): .XXX seems plausible for what it is but it isn't what many probably think it is.

First, the basics. The applicant is the ICM Registy of Jupiter, Florida. The sponsoring organization is The International Foundation for Online Responsibility. The back-end provider appears to be Afilias (the .info registry, which itself is a consortium of many registrars). ICM estimates that it will register 500,000 such names so the usual suspects stand to make some money.

The application is here. It states as its purpose:

The .xxx TLD is intended primarily to serve the needs of the global online adult-entertainment community. The online adult-entertainment community is defined as those individuals, businesses, and entities that provide sexually-oriented information, services, or products intended for consenting adults or for the community itself. The terms "adult-entertainment" and "sexually-oriented" are intended to be understood broadly for a global medium, and are not to be construed as legal or regulatory categories. Rather, the referenced Community consists generally of websites that convey sexually-oriented information and for which a system of self-identification would be beneficial.

The application goes on to indicate that benefits include:

"...potential defenses in domain-related litigation, enhanced acceptance by search-engines and therefore increased functionality, better opportunities to negotiate with credit card and transaction providers, and new marketing opportunities."

And that's the key to understanding this. This TLD is intended to be a trade association and is not a form of regulation.

.XXX (and I, for purposes of this conversation) sidestep the hottest hot button issue with porn which is whether it is immoral. 

But .XXX also sidesteps other hot button issues. Consider the various 'harms' associated with 'adult content':

1. Exposure of porn to minors;
2. Involuntary exposure to adults, through misleadingly labeled sites, 'dropped' domain names, spam, 'cloaked' search engines results, etc.;
3. Workplace exposure;
4. Harm to consumers (i.e. credit card theft);
5. Harm to sex industry workers.

It seems that the idea of a voluntary .XXX TLD will have little or no effect on issues 1 to 3 and seems only targeted at 4 and 5.

It's true that filtering will be made easier if an ISP can block anything containing an .XXX but of course if someone's business (or scam) is based on deception of some form, they aren't going to migrate to .XXX (cf. FTC bulletin "Requiring "ADV" Labeling for Commercial E-Mail Won't Reduce Spam”). If adolescents (or employees) behind a .XXX filter want to access porn, then it won't matter that 50% or 95% of the porn in the world has been blocked.

To its credit, ICM Registry doesn't really push filtering as a selling point for .XXX (at least not in its application). IFFOR does make statements that it wishes to combat child pornography. I don't think the TLD itself will do that, maybe giving money to IFFOR will.

The TLD actually targets harms to consumers and to industry workers (which of course serves a public interest). The registry seeks to become something of a better business bureau for the online sex industry, as it promises to 'incorporate a best business practices provision into the registrant's domain name registration agreement and will develop compliance mechanisms to address non-adherence.' So perhaps there would be some harm reduction on that score.

As to whether ICANN should be doing content-oriented TLDs like this at all, there is much discussion on, for example, ICANNWatch.

As to whether Congress may be seek to push all adult content into this TLD, maybe.

As to how not to do a voluntary inclusion zone, see .KIDS.US.

As to how it affects you? Probably not that much.

By Martin Schwimmer, Attorney. More blog posts from Martin Schwimmer can also be read here.

Related topics: DNS, Domain Names, ICANN, Policy & Regulation, Spam, Top-Level Domains, Web

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Comments

Re: Live Nude Domain Names fnord  –  Jun 24, 2005 5:07 PM PDT

Martin Schwimmer writes:

This TLD is intended to be a trade association and is not a form of regulation.

I fail to see the distinction. Many trade associations are also a form of regulation, normally self-regulation, in the (often faint) hope that it will keep governments from regulating.

And:

1. Exposure of porn to minors;
2. Involuntary exposure to adults, through misleadingly labeled sites, 'dropped' domain names, spam, 'cloaked' search engines results, etc.;
3. Workplace exposure;…

It seems that the idea of a voluntary .XXX TLD will have little or no effect on issues 1 to 3

I disagree. I believe it will be far easier to to set up filters or browsers to mask out any domain name ending in .xxx. Assuming that they do self regulate, there shouldn't be any mislabeled sites, spam, cloaked search engine results, or dropped names (at least for the first year :) ). I've covered pr0n as it relates to domain names for quite some time, you link to my ICANNWatch article regarding the failure of kids.us and I'll provide a link http://www.icannwatch.org/article.pl?sid=01/10/28/214046&mode=thread here regarding dropped names used for nefarious purposes. I would like to think that article and my sharing of it with the ICANN braintrust had something to do with them coming up with the Redemption and Grace Period, one of the few times I have had anything nice to say about ICANN http://www.icannwatch.org/article.pl?sid=02/02/15/084429 although I still think dropped names should be mothballed for at least a year (I'd prefer forever but you can't always get what you want).

I'm not a neophyte when it comes to online pr0n, having hosted one of the first ftp depositories of erotica long before the web was a glimmer in T. B-L's eye, and later working for the first website to offer streaming live pr0n (with technology that put the then new realplayer to shame).

I still maintain a few contacts on the shady side and I can say with some hope that the more mainstream of the online adult industry will, well, embrace this. I really don't like the idea of the US Congress mandating that all adult sites move there, and even if they did it is doomed to failure for numerous reasons, including that the internet is global, and that those who don't play nice now aren't about to get religion just because some elected official from Pigs Knuckles, Arkansas, USA mandates it.

I'll go out on a limb here and predict that .xxx will be one of ICANN's few successes, both in dealing with your 1 to 3 and monetarily. -g

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