Relax, Don’t Do It: ICANN Delays .XXX Domain

Some people think the Internet is nothing but one giant red-light district, but the International Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN)—the folks who decide what can and cannot be a top-level domain (TLD) like .com and .net—were going to look at making it official at their 37th ICANN meeting this week in Nairobi, Kenya. Up for consideration again: the creation of a .xxx top-level domain for adult content and services. The idea is not only to make one-stop shopping for anyone looking for adult material online—we understand there are one or two of you out there—but also to make it easier for schools, businesses, and other organizations to block out adult content simply by disallowing access to the new TLD. However, rather than give a yay-or-nay decision, ICANN has decided to postpone a decision for at least 70 days, and has given its CEO and head counsel two weeks to recommend options.

The proposal has come up three times before (originally in 2000, and more recently in 2006 and 2007) and been rejected in each case. However, in both those cases ICANN was more directly under the control of the U.S. Department of Commerce, and the Bush Administration considered maintaining final authority on ICANN’s operations a matter of U.S. national security. ICANN is more independent now, and the thought was that perhaps the time was right to set up an adult top-level domain—after all, the idea has been kicking around for over a decade.

Aside from U.S. government objections, key criticisms of previous efforts to set up an adults-only .xxx top-level domain have centered around access and enforcement. Under previous proposals, existing adult sites on the Internet—and we understand there are one or two—would be permitted to keep operating in their existing TLDs, such as .com or .net. Thus, the creation of a new adult-only TLD wouldn’t significantly aid educators or others in filtering out adult content. If existing adult content would be required to move to the new TLD, it’s not clear who would enforce that move, or what legal liability ICANN and other registrars might incur if adult sites continue to operate outside a .xxx TLD, or if new sites set themselves up in domains other than .xxx.

Given the volume of adult content on the Internet, many registrars are eyeing a .xxx domain as a significant revenue opportunity that could generate a landrush of new domain registrations.

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