The Internet’s Red-light District Domain .XXX is Closer to Arriving, Will It Make a Difference?

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) has finally bowed to pressure to reconsider creating a unique .xxx suffix for adult entertainment Web sites, in spite of objections from both religious groups and much of the adult entertainment industry ending a 10 year battle over what some consider formal acknowledgment of pornography’s prominent place on the Internet.

The move is intended to help parents filter out pornography sites for their children, and give a quality assurance to consumers of adult entertainment, but it does not force adult entertainment sites to use the new domain, and few adult-only sites are likely to give up their existing .com addresses.

The likelihood of the .xxx domain creation is a triumph for ICM Registry LLC, based in Florida, which had applied repeatedly for the domain, and previously been turned down three times since 2000. Their vision is that this will create a red-light district in cyberspace that is a clean, transparent area, regulated to be free of spam, viruses and credit card thieves.

Christian groups object to the .xxx domain out of concern that it will increase the amount of pornography online. Similarly, Diane Duke, executive director The Free Speech Coalition, a trade association representing more than 1,000 adult entertainment businesses, said “there is no support from our community ” for the plan due to concerns of  that the board overseeing the dot-xxx domain could engage in censorship and that the entire industry could come under increased regulation. “If the board doesn’t like what a producer creates, there is the possibility that they could censor it,” Ms. Duke said. “This will ghettoize our industry and make us a target of regulation.”

ICM stands to reap enormous financial gains from the .xxx domain; they will charge $60 per domain registration per year, with $10 going to a nonprofit organization promoting “responsible business practices” for the industry. (In comparison, a .com address costs just $7) ICM”s chairman said that over 100,000 domains had preregistered, and that he expects to have 500,000 sites registered on the .xxx domain by the time it’s rolled out in 9 to 12 months, representing roughly 10% of the five million to six million adult online sites.

The Free Speech coalition believes many of those registering are likely to be doing so “defensively” by businesses that wanted to prevent their names from being hijacked. Mr. Lawley said businesses could ensure that their names were not misused in the dot-xxx world by paying a one-time fee, to be set from $50 to $250.

ICANN, which governs Internet addresses, reversed a 2007 vote to reject the .xxx domains, that was based on technical grounds. Peter Dengate Thrush, the agency’s chairman, said they have no interest or stake in the content of Web sites. “The applicants believe that this will allow people to filter pornography more effectively,” he said. “If they do that and it works, that’s great for them. But that’s not part of our issue.” He shrugged off criticisms that ICANN was creating a new platform for Internet porn.  “We’re not in the content business, and that’s up to national governments and lawmakers and people who are qualified to make judgments,” he said.

Safety experts question the argument that this domain will help block adult content from minors. “If it is still going to be available on other domains, it just sounds ineffective” as a way of regulating adult content, said Cathy Wing, of Media Awareness Network, a Canadian nonprofit that advises parents and teachers about Web use. She also noted that filters are “easily bypassed” and would not stop children accessing porn.

ICANN agency now has to negotiate a final contract with ICM, while religious groups and the Free Speech coalition have vowed to continue their fight against the dot-xxx domains.

The bottom line? Should this domain be approved, it may accomplish the goal of providing a safer online experience for consumers of adult content, but don’t expect it to make a real difference in filtering out pornography for minors. The big winner will be ICM.

Linda

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