December 13, 2017

ICANN Challenged on .xxx Domain

The U.S. government has joined other governments and groups in asking ICANN to delay implementation of a new “.xxx” top-level domain, according to a BBC story.

Adding a .xxx domain would make little difference in web users’ experiences. Those who want to find porn can easily find it already; and those who want to avoid it can easily avoid it. It might seem at first that the domain will create more “space” for porn sites. But there’s already “space” on the web for any new site, of any type, that somebody wants to create. The issue here is not whether sites can exist, but what they can call themselves.

Adding .xxx won’t make much difference in how sites are named, either. I wouldn’t be happy to see a porn site at freedom-to-tinker.xxx; nor would the operator of that site be happy to see my site here at freedom-to-tinker.com. The duplication just causes confusion. Your serious profit-oriented porn purveyor will want to own both the .com and .xxx versions of his site’s URL; and there’s nothing to stop him from owning both.

Note also that the naming system does not provide an easy way for end users to get a catalog of all names that end in a particular suffix. Anybody can build an index of sites that fall into a particular category. Such indices surely exist for porn sites.

The main effect of adding .xxx would be to let sites signal that they have hard-core content. That’s reportedly the reason adult theaters started labeling their content “XXX” in the first place – so customers who wanted such content could learn where to find it.

That kind of signaling is a lousy reason to create a new top-level domain. There are plenty of other ways to signal. For example, sites that wanted to signal their XXX nature could offer their home page at xxx.sitename.com in addition to www.sitename.com. But ICANN has chosen to create .xxx anyway.

Which brings us to the governments’ objections. Perhaps they object to .xxx as legitimizing the existence of porn on the net. Or perhaps they object to the creation of a mechanism that will make it easier for people to find porn.

These objections aren’t totally frivolous. There’s no top-level domain for religious groups, or for science, or for civic associations. Why create one for porn? And surely the private sector can fill the need for porn-signaling technology. Why is ICANN doing this? (Governments haven’t objected to ICANN’s decisions before, even though those decisions often made no more sense than this decision does. But that doesn’t mean ICANN is managing the namespace well.)

And so ICANN’s seemingly arbitrary management of the naming system brings it into conflict with governments. This is a sticky situation for ICANN. ICANN is nominally in charge of Internet naming, but ICANN’s legitimacy as a “government” for the net has always been shaky, and it has to worry about losing what legitimacy it has if the U.S. joins the other governments who want to replace ICANN with some kind of consortium of nations.

The U.S. government is asking ICANN to delay implementation of .xxx so it can study the issue. We all know what that means. Expect .xxx to fade away quietly as the study period never ends.

Comments

  1. the real promise in naming a site xxx would come from another law, or requirement, that all porn sites would only be able to exist on the xxx domain. The .com extension could be used to guide users to the xxx site, but without any suggestive graphics, etc. creating the “right wing” web, or one that was child friendly, and the more “radical” or blatently sexual xxx. It would be much easier to block a single extension, than to block whole groups of keywords. Red light districts have been embraced by every civilized society at this point, why shouldn’t the web gain some “civility”?

    All this would require some policing, which I am sure irate parents woud be happy to supply when their kid googles “hole” and gets up close shots of various genetalia. Even free societies set some boundaries to protect children from unwanted interference with their development, and protect them from the predatory methods involved with porn.

  2. Mark Gritter says:

    pesky: A requirement that porn only go in “.xxx” is pretty useless given that the rest of the world is unlikely to go along. There are plenty of porn sites hosted in country code domains as well as .com etc. A U.S. law would probably not have any effect on non-U.S.-hosted sites using .com anyway.

    Policing requires that inappropriately-used domain names be revoked by the registry. The registry doesn’t have the manpower to verify large numbers of complaints— so either reporting inappropriate usage is ineffective or you’ve opened up a nifty new denial of service attack.

    Even if ICANN went along with this, there are also the issues involved with developing a worldwide definition of obscenity (topless women? topless men? body hair?)

    Tito: I think there is a good argument to be made that meaningful domains are actually worse to add than meaningless ones. A meaningless domain at least does no harm, and may at least provides some competition in price or policies (not really, as it turns out, but…). A meaningful TLD gives gatekeeper status over certain types of speech to a particular commercial entity, at least to the extent to which the domain actually gets used and is perceived as having value.

  3. Oh, and I disagree with Ed’s prediction. .xxx may die this time, but it will hardly fade away. There is just too much money to be made by selling .xxx domains by ICANN’s real constitutiency… and the tantalizing possibility of additional control on the U.S. gov’t side of things. If some of the congresspeople previously pushing .xxx take notice of this the U.S. opposition may not go anywhere. In the long term, we’ve already gone down the road of adding lots of useless new TLDs and .xxx is too attractive to go unused.

  4. People talk about using the .xxx domain to clean up the internet. I.e., force all porn sites to use the .xxx domain. However, the .xxx domain will never succeed in that regard for three reasons: What is porn? Who decides what is porn? And who enforces it?

    In the US the standard is a local one. So, for example, a small and remote town in Michigan COULD define Playboy as pornography and ban its sale.

    If we apply something similar to the net, then the broadest definition of porn would succeed in putting plenty of sites onto the .xxx domain that probably wouldn’t deserve to be there.

    On the other hand, we could be left with a very narrow definition of porn, but it’d be ineffective because so much would slip through it.

    And the chances of getting it “just right” would be next to impossible.

    But that would only take us to the next step, who enforces? The UN? The US? It’s simply scary to think that any single entity could control the world’s content.

  5. I always assumed that the purpose of a .xxx domain would be to allow porn purveyors who wanted to do the “right thing” to isolate themselves, and get themselves off the hook of accusations of pushing to kiddies.

    The various net nannies would presumably be set to filter .xxx sites, and if a kiddie accesses porn, well, it’s not the owner of a .xxx site’s problem (unless they have the corresponding .com, as well). As far as they’re concerned, they’ve done due diligence.

    Would it completely stop kids from accessing porn? No. Would it force porn purveyors (especially international ones) to comply? No. Would it reduce some of the offensive traffic? I think so. At least I would be less likely to stumble on the complying ones.

  6. Anonymous :-) says:

    I disagree this time. The argument that you can avoid porn sites is wrong. In the same sense, I could try to avoid US American sites, and utterly fail (who uses .us domains, anyway?).

    Besides, freedom-to-tinker.za could be bought any time by anybody – the British government, sellers of weapons of mass destruction, and of course our beloved porn industry. It is not a matter of the .xxx domain, Ed.

    But yes, I agree with Mark Gritter, that there is probably more value for porn sites to be less recognizable by choosing an innocent .com domain. Or .uk. Or .iq 🙂

  7. We thought that Australia was porn heaven since there were all those shops advertising XXXX and Video Rental. Wow, were we confused. Four “x”s means Fourex beer down under!

    File this under dumb yank jokes.

  8. You claimed, “There’s no top-level domain for religious groups, or for science, or for civic associations” well there is. What is the point of the .org domain except for organisations. We already separate out names .name and business .biz. .xxx will allow for a element of self seperation to avoid annoying those that want to avoid this kind of content

  9. While there will be a market for “sneaky” sites, the main point is as dmc said: allow some sites to choose the .xxx domain instead. I don’t even think it will be because they want to “do the right thing”.
    There are definitely liability advantages to being there, plus there will be far less competition for some basic domains: sex.xxx will probably be registered by the same people as sex.com, but toon.xxx won’t be the same as toon.com.

    It’s not a matter of “forcing sites” into it, just creating a spot for them to be and allowing some self seperation.

    Actually… it may get people to pay attention to tld’s. I personally found .biz to be extremely funny, since that was the whole purpose of .com (commercial). But because people didn’t pay attention to the tld’s, it became the catchall.

  10. Ed points out that there are no tlds for religious groups, science or civic organizations. I would submit that these are not necessary. We have no laws forbidding access to religious, scientific or civic content by any specific group. (Well, if you’re living in some parts of Kansas, there might be laws against allowing your kid to view materials on evolution. But I digress.) We do have laws forbidding providing pornography to children. And for that reason, using a .xxx domain to segregate (complying) porn providers would not be the same as providing a .rel domain to facilitate access to religious content by scholars of religion.

  11. Although I have heard some rattlings about “no defintion of porn” I have to heartily disagree. Nudism is not porn, close up shots of dripping genetalia is. Most adults would be able to agree on about 80% of what porn is, and that content could wind up on .xxx if there was some degree of co-operation between nations on just making sure what THEY thought was offensive on .xxx. If we can’t get together and protect children on the internet, like we do in our societies “in the open” with ratings systems, red light districts or whatever, how will we be able to work as a community, as the United Nations wants to do, to take control from ICANN, and moderate the party themselves?

  12. “who uses .us domains, anyway?”

    I can think of one right off the bat: http://del.icio.us 🙂

  13. You make many good points here. I think that it is already easy to find porn (even when youre not looking). Im not sure what difference .xxx would make. I really liked what you had to say though. I think you should consider posting this at associatedcontent.com. Youll get more readers and may even get paid for it.

  14. I disagree this time. The argument that you can avoid porn sites is wrong.

  15. I certainly agree that children should not be exposed to pornography, but the very thought that an EU institution should administer and sort expressions – scares me. We know that the EU consists of very differnet countries, political spectres, and religious persuaditios. A recent case with an Italian EU PM’s views on homosexuality clearly shows that there are very differing views on morality and acceptable views. So if the EU institution administering the .kids vere governed by deeply religious catholics – what could be the consequence ? Well – we could easily imagine that words or stories containing divorce or other sad facts of life – simply would not be allowed. This is potentially dangerous – a sliding movement towards censurship spearheaded by a self- appointed moral elite.
    The best mechanism against exposing children to pornography is for the parents to step into character- so parent – talk to your children about what they are doing in the internet, surf with them on internet, tell them that pornography is not for children – like smoking and drinking alcohol it takes a certain age – (in order to make a consiencious choice).

    Parent be active- the internet has become an inevitable and integrated of everyday life – step into character and give your children guidence and support on handeling this – like other phenonomens in life. Do not leave this to an institution.
    Jorgen Hede

  16. Well, to my view and given the present state of internet, .xxx TLD won’t solve the problem of mature content being offered via other domain extensions. Its really difficult to pass a law globally and to police it in one shot.

    The solution to policing and controlling the mature content will come gradually in due course of time via “inter-country (governmental) co-operation treties” followed by the enforcement by the “Internet Service Rroviders”.

  17. Edward, you have obviously researched this topic and made some interesting points, let me say while .xxx is well aware of what it wants i am not so sure about ICANN and where their focus is at. I have serious misgivings about one of their board members and his involvement with .xxx and the domain sponser ICM. It has been publically acknowledged that he has/is a consultant to them and is a friend to S.Lawley. Where does this leave his obligations to ICANN? I think this leaves ICANN in a vulnerable position given the dealings of this board member and the fine line he appears to be walking.

  18. Like many people, I dont want to see .xxx be successful in our internet community. I think the arguments for .xxx are weak, the arguments against are strong. ICANN should make a stand for the moral code of the internet. Cerf, Twomey, Niles and conflict man Palage should join forces to stop Lawley and his push to get richer.

  19. Grahame Darcy says:

    Dear Tommy I have watched from a far as my American friends have jostled for position in the .xxx saga. Michael Palage may think he is fooling his fellow ICANN board members but he is only fooling himself if he thinks he can fool the broader internet community. He has made many foolish moves in the past and even recently was recorded as being the only member on the ICANN board to vote again VERISIGN. Not only do I agree of what is being said in the blogs about him recently but I believe he has become an embarrassment and my advice to Michael Palage would be to fade quietly into obscurity.

  20. There will be Press Release on the launching of .xxx system, which will begin very soon. Many more changes are on the way and we all can expect dramatic improvement, especially Google and Yahoo! has decided to not allow any .xxx domains in their Search Engine. Porn web sites will be shared among the adults thru words of mouth. Any sites containing such nudity materials must remain on the .xxx domain or be faced with fines and/or imprisonment.