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ICANN to vote on .xxx domain this week

The idea of creating a .xxx top-level Internet domain for adult content and services dates all the way back to the year 2000, and at first glance it seems like a simple notion: create a domain along the lines of the well-known .com, .org, .tv, and others that would be exclusively for adult content and services. The notion of a .xxx domain is to enable users to easily determine whether a site is likely to contain adult material—they would be easy to spot, since the domain would end in .xxx!—and enable administrators, schools, and companies to set up simple rules if they decide they don’t want their networks to access those kinds of sites.

However, creating a .xxx domain has been anything but simple for ICANN, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers that oversees global DNS, top-level domains, and a number of other global Internet policies and services. Although the idea has been kicked around for years, it has repeatedly been rejected by ICANN for a number of political and policy reasons, and at ICANN’s recent meeting in Cartegena, Colombia, ICANN postponed making any decision on .xxx. However, the issue is scheduled to come up for a vote again at this week’s ICANN meeting in San Francisco—and industry observers expect to see many of the same heated issues get debated again.

Advocates of a .xxx domain note that adult material is widely available online, and creating a kind of virtual “red light district” will enable sites offering adult content to more-responsibly brand themselves, as well as enable administrators and end users to easily determine whether or not they choose to access a site. However, many opposing the creation of a .xxx domain note that there would be no requirement adult sites relocate to the new domain—so adult material would still be widely available across standard TLDs, just like today, negating any filtering or branding benefit to a .xxx domain. Others object on moral or religious grounds, with some arguing a .xxx domain amounts to sanctioning prostitution, sexual abuse, human trafficking, and other criminal activity often associated with adult content.

In the past, consideration of a .xxx domain has also been hampered by the U.S. Department of Commerce, which maintained oversight authority over ICANN. However, ICANN is slowly transitioning to a more-transparent, independent, multi-stakeholder governance model that will not be under the thumb of the U.S. government.

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