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.xxx

March 20, 2011

On the 18th March 2011, ICANN, the organisation in charge of assigning numbers and letters to the billions of IP addresses throughout the world, approved a new top-level domain, ‘.xxx’.

.xxx is intended to be used for pornographic websites, presumably to draw a line online between the adult and the general content out there. It comes in a time when internet filtering and blocking is a hot topic on everyone’s lips, with even Ed Vaizey, the Culture Minister, advocating that ISP’s block pornography at the source.

So what could this mean for the internet? Apparently there have already been 110,000 pre-registrations for .xxx domain names, so there is clearly a demand although it would be interesting to see how many of those were just cyber-squatting. For the online adult industry it is clear that being more overt would work well for them, as a type of online red-light district, and it would also make it very easy to block adult content delivered to children. This was a route that was argued by Lawrence Lessig in his book, Code 2.0 as a method of filtering in the internet, although he talked about a ‘.sex’ domain, he was pretty close.

This move comes after the US Supreme Court told ICANN (which is resident in California) that when it dropped the consultation process last year after pressure from conservative groups, it was acting beyond its remit. Indeed, ICANN is meant to be neutral, and to bow to pressure from those groups demonstrated that it could be swayed to change its mind on things, which it should not. It should be there to serve the internet and facilitate speedy use.

I, for one, think this is a good thing. With the ease at which content can be filtered to a domain, it would prevent children going where they shouldn’t. But there is a problem in the fact that none of this prevents the continuing use of any other domain by adult websites. That is a booming business. Sex.com has been valued at between $11m and $16m and has even had a book written about it. Maybe the only other website to have that kind of attention offline is Facebook. If .xxx is intended to be a filtering tool then there needs to be legislation in every country in the world banning adult content from using any other domain. It is also worth asking – where is the line drawn? Would the Sun’s Page 3 website be required to make the switch? Or does it have to be more hardcore than that? Should profane content be required to move or just pornographic?

The problem that then comes after these filtering ideas is that this technology and division could not just be used against pornographers, but it could be seen as a restriction on free speech everywhere. The IWF came upon controversy a few years ago when it blocked an image of a minor on Wikipedia, and found it had to back down. That type of controversy shows that there is an active body that would resist any similar regulation.

It seems that in opening this avenue, ICANN might have opened a can of worms that it is not prepared or intended to deal with. But, with the internet and pornography so closely linked in the mind of the public (Avenue Q’s ‘The Internet is for Porn’ or Dr. Cox from Scrubs ‘I am convinced the internet is full of porn and if it was banned there would only be one website left, and that would be called “bring back the porn”’) it is hard to justify turning a blind eye to it’s regulation. It seems that .xxx will have a long and troublesome early life, and it will create controversy for years to come. But we should all have faith in the Internet and the people who use it. Pornography is not the only purpose of it, even if it is cited as being between 40% and 12% of the Internet (the author would like to think it is the latter). A future with even more Internet pornography seems nightmarish, but even then I think we will all still be stuck on Facebook.

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