Do we need .xxx?

I was driving home last night when a piece on CBC radio caughty my ear. They were reporting on the progress of an application to have .xxx established as a new top level domain name. Although this application has been in process for the past six years, this is the first I had heard of it. Knowing the potential implications of this, I stopped to listen.

So here's the deal. An internet domain registry service called ICM has been trying to get the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbering to approve their proposal for a .xxx top level domain, to be used solely for adult content. This idea has been brought forward to ICANN and others many times in the past, but this six year battle that ICM has engaged in is not only to have the domain established but for ICM to have exclusive rights over it - ie. if you want an .xxx domain, you'll have to pay ICM and only ICM. Other domains like this exist but they are small and not widely used.

My concern, the second I heard this was that if such a domain was established, attempts might be made to make a .xxx domain mandatory for all adult content on the net. Given the climate in North America around sexuality and pornography, it's not a stretch to be concerned about this. That could put my website and my business, and those of my fellow business owners in the industry in jeopardy. How does one define ''adult content'? I've been lumped in with random porn sites and other adult content industries and denied business services before so this makes me vary wary.

However, after listening to the interviews and doing some digging around, I don't think we need to be concerned about that........yet.

So what is this all about? ICM, and the proponents of this idea claim that it will help internet users avoid unwanted adult content and will help protect children from incidental exposure. They say that it will make filters even more effective because parents can simply block the entire domain.

But if use of the domain is voluntary, will it really make a difference. A .com domain costs anywhere from $7 to $20 a year so what will likely happen is that adult site owners who have a .com right now will simply add a .xxx to increase their traffic. They won't drop the .com. So bam! We've just doubled the number of porn addresses on the web! Great way to control kids access to porn. Not only that, but then everyone will know that there is a virtual goldmine of porn over the .xxx rainbow. Type in anything.xxx and you're sure to come up with some porn. So does this make it easier or more difficult for kids to access porn.

It seems obvious to me that this is nothing more than a money grab. ICM has spent $10 million so far to make .xxx a reality. Yes, you read that right, $10 Million!! So guess how much they expect to make from it? As mentioned before, a .com domain name is, at most, $20 a year. ICM does not state, on their website, how much the domain will actually cost but a rep. from the Free Speech Coalition said she has heard estimates of anywhere from $50 to $275/year. Why so much more than .com? It's because you can only get it from ICM so they can charge whatever they want. The president of ICM did say in the interview that they expect to make up to $150 million a year from .xxx! He said that they already have 156,000 domain names parked - so if all of those end up paying their $50, that's $7.8 million in their pockets before they even start!

In a totally transparent and somewhat smarmy move, he mentioned that 10% of the cost of each domain would go towards child protection charities. What does that have to do with anything? The only reason ICM wants to make that so public is to try to win people over to the idea that this is good for everyone. 10% is nothing to them when they're making that kind of money.

Do I think .xxx is a bad thing? No, not really. My only concern is that we will get some right-wing crazy group lobbying ICANN and their governments to make it mandatory for all adult content. I know how difficult that would be to enact and enforce so I don't think it's something we need to be worried about for now. I don't think it's fair business practice to allow it to be exclusively owned. Website builders know that they'll pretty much have to get the .xxx name for their site or they'll lose a huge amount of traffic and revenue to someone else who scoops it out from under them. It's basically strong-arming them into paying for an extra site. Other than that, is it damaging? No, I don't think so. Will it help to prevent incidental exposure to porn on the net? No, I really don't think it will. Will it line to pockets of some brilliant, but pretty clearly unscrupulous business people? Yes, most definitely.

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