RealTime IT News

Will Webmasters Move to .xxx?

UPDATED: After years spent trying to get the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) to approve a domain space for smut, will ICM Registry be able to convince adult webmasters to have a change of heart, too?

Earlier this week, ICANN officials announced they would begin entering commercial and technical negotiations with ICM Registry for the creation of a .xxx sponsored top-level domain (sTLD) to put porn in its own Internet red light district.

Family advocacy groups, politicians and many others championed the creation of the domain space, saying a marked-off area would protect children both from viewing and getting exploited by pornography.

For Parry Aftab, executive director of WiredSafety.org and supporter of the .xxx initiative, the creation of a reserved porn space isn't a definitive answer to protecting children on the Internet, but it's a good step forward.

She believes it will clean up the practices of some in the online pornography industry, forcing adult Web sites to clean up their business practices with the conditions ICM Registry and its policy-enforcement arm, the International Foundation for Online Responsibility (IFFOR), put in place for domain owners.

Those practices, she said, include tricking children into visiting porn sites, what site operators do with the customer data they collect and the reported cases of credit card abuses.

"For kids, it's not a magic bullet, but it's a piece of the puzzle and will stop child pornography and stop child exploitation," she said. "Is it the whole answer? No, but it's an important piece, and little by little we'll be able to deal with this. It's a carrot-and-stick for pornographers on this one."

Those affected by .xxx are not happy about the ICANN announcement, saying there's nothing the new domain extension will accomplish that isn't already being done, according to Connor Young, editor-in-chief of Ynot.com, a resource site for online adult webmasters.

Methods like the Internet Content Rating Association (ICRA) already do there part protecting children from potentially harmful Web sites; parents can then set filters to block any sites they deem offensive.

Parental controls are also provided by many ISPs and can be found in Internet Explorer.

"It encourages further misunderstanding about the industry with people thinking that this is some sort of solution, when it's not," Young said.

Adult webmasters, like any other, spend years and money building up an audience. Most are unlikely to pack up and move to a .xxx address if they don't have to, Young said, but are likely to buy a domain name in the new space in case the U.S. government starts forcing them to move.

Even that couldn't force the majority of webmasters to move into an Internet red light district, as laws enacted in the U.S. would not have any power outside its borders. It would force U.S. webmasters to continue operating their business in countries with more lenient laws on pornography. Instead, Young said, the Internet community should give more thought to the other ICM Registry proposal shot down by ICANN in 2000 -- .kids.

Rather than try to convince adult webmasters to move their established operations off .com or .net and onto the enclosed space of .xxx, he said, concerned parents and groups should instead create a domain space that will only include content that's kid-friendly.

Naseem Javed, an Internet consultant and president of ABC Name Bank, said legitimate adult operations will flock to the TLD to grab domain names that have been taken in the .com and .net realms for years. What's more, unlike other domain name extensions, anything with .xxx at the end will leave no doubt about the site's content.

"From a marketing point of view, .xxx is very attractive," he said. "From a branding point of view, .xxx gives them an instant classification that was not available in .com and .biz because they were generic categories," he said.

What worries Javed is established companies in the business world that might have their names connected to a domain extension specifically tailored to the porn industry.

Companies like Microsoft have the legal firepower to prevent their trademarks from showing up, but it's a different story for smaller companies.

"Companies who do not have have well-protected trademarks are seriously exposed."