Adult_Store_CUT

“Adult” TLD .xxx is just the beginning

Do you watch internet pornography? Chances are you do: worldwide, there are 72 million visitors monthly to pornographic web sites, and 42.7% of internet users view adult entertainment.

Before you start arguing about statistics, their meaning, their biases, know this: I agree with being critical – but the point I’m trying to make doesn’t depend on the figures.

A lot of online adult entertainment is watched by a lot of people. That’s a fact. Just check out the most popular sites of your country, and you will probably find a couple of pornographic sites among the top 50. They occurr usually clustered, starting e.g. around position 40 for the US, position 30 for France and Great Britain, position 25 for Germany, and position 20 for Switzerland and Italy at the time of writing.

Another fact: The ICANN has authorized, a few months ago, the (sponsored) top-level domain .xxx – after a decade of debate.

There still is some debate today. I will not dig into the historical debate but focus on today, although many of the earlier arguments are still around today. It is extremely interesting to have a closer look on what is declared by whom, and on what ground arguments are made.

Let’s have a look at the different stakeholders…

The adult entertainment industry

…starting with the adult entertainment industry. Because – big surprise – .xxx is “designed specifically for the global adult entertainment industry“. In order to be eligible to register .XXX domain names, you either provide online, sexually-orientated adult entertainment, represent such providers or are a provider’s provider.

However, there’s another big surprise (not ironically speaking this time): the adult entertainment industry is not exactly grateful for that specific design. Diane Duke is Executive Director of the Free Speech Coalition (FSC), the trade association for the adult entertainment industry, is quoted as “disappointed, but […] not surprised by the ICANN Board’s decision”.

Yes, disappointed. She writes that .xxx is “costly” and “dangerous”.

Costly because, if you have an established brand, i.e. a well-known site on .com or .net, you better buy the same domains on .xxx before someone else does.  “If I’d buy every .xxx domain for every .com I have, that would be $12,000 per year. For nothing,” said an outraged erotic-site owner, another one calling it outright “extortion”.

Dangerous because of the easy possibility of censorship. Today, online adult entertainment has nothing in common but its content. It would be much easier to track down and block if all this content shared one common top level domain. The Chairman of the Adult Industry Trade Association (UK), Jerry Barnett, told BBC News that “from the industry and freedom of speech point of view”, he was “concerned that pro-censorship and morality campaigners will use this as an excuse to try and introduce some form of censorship.”

However, Jerry Barnett goes on: “From a business point of view it’s kind of good for us because there are new names available, and that makes branding and site naming more interesting.” He is also quoted to have said it was “nice to have a new namespace. It is reminiscent of the ’90s when you could still pick up decent domain names”. Interesting detail: according to the Independent, Jerry Barnett is also a member of the council that will set the rules for .xxx domains… Hm.

“Pro-censorship campaigners”

What about these “pro-censorship campaigners”? Donna Rice Hughes presides Enough is Enough, a non-profit organization that wants to “make the Internet safer for children and families”. She doesn’t seem to consider censoring .xxx a vital option:

“Expecting pornographers to voluntary give up their successful .com addresses and locate solely on the .xxx domain is both foolish and shortsighted. […] Arguments presented suggesting that the U.S. Congress will be able to pass a law to require all pornographers to leave the .xxx space [NB: I think it should read “to leave the .com/.net space”] would likely not pass, and even if passed, would likely be either struck down in the federal courts or be unenforced. Historically, all attempts by Congress to regulate Internet pornography have not been upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.”

Another organisation, Morality in Media, is warning via their president Patrick Truman, that “the establishment of a .xxx domain will do nothing but increase the spread of Internet porn”. However, he would like “a federal investigation into whether .xxx violates laws prohibiting distribution of obscenity over the Internet”.

Moreover, Mr. Trueman asked, who is this ICM “to be threatening all of us that if you don’t register your blog or your company, someone else can take your name on our system?” “This is a shakedown,” he said. Who is this ICM… Excellent question.

Picture: “An Adult shop in Fyshwick” by Bidgee (CC-BY-SA)

ICM

ICM is, above all, its CEO Stuart Lawley, quoted all over the media with a discourse that aims at framing the discussion very differently. According to him, all ICM cares about is IT security, i.e. providing you with the choice to conciliate porn consumption with safety (pun intended), and with the choice not to consume adult entertainment at all:

Using the new domain will make browsing these sites much safer. All the sites in the new domain will be scanned daily for viruses and other malware to ensure the sites are clean. ICM will also offer site owners a payment-processing system that customers will be able to trust. […] Everybody wins. The consumer of adult sites wins. The providers will benefit because more people will become paying customers. Those who don’t want to go there will win as well because the sites will be easier to filter.”
(Stuart Lawley, CEO of ICM, quoted on eweek)

As seen with the previous stakeholders’ statements: what Lawley calls a “win, win, win” situation is not declared as such by two out of the three parties. ICM declares itself a saviour in an environment where no one wanted to be saved in the first place… and where their actions do not actually seem to save anybody.

Have a look at one of their promotion videos – their position is quite obvious:

Those who don’t want to go on adult entertainment sites will win? “Regardless of what your personal views are on the existence of pornography on the internet, at least .xxx will give people the information they need to make a choice,” said Mr Lawley. This is like saying: if the URL in your internet browser is not of the TDL .xxx, you can safely avoid pornography. Which is untrue by experience and clearly a fallacy. (Never mind the opposite is true – time to brush up your knowledge of logic).

Wait, what about the consumers of adult sites, the third party mentioned by ICM? There is no official statement from their side (surprised?), but whether the existence of .xxx has an impact on their consumption is to be proven (my guess is that an efficient “one-stop-shop” search engine might be appreciated, but then again: have you ever not found adult entertainment when you were looking for some?). However, there might going to be an impact or not – it doesn’t change the fact that there is more to ICM’s motivations than the consumer’s comfort.

ICM is a for-profit entity, trying to put across the image of a socially responsible corporation by putting some registration revenues into a “seven-figure legal defense fund”, according to the Washington Times, and underwriting an independent, nonprofit policy group called International Foundation for Online Responsibility. A lot of time, effort and money has been invested for .xxx to become reality: ICM first applied to register the .xxx domain in 2000, applied again in 2004 and was turned down twice.

And now, the self-proclaimed knight in shinging armours fighting for the possibility to access avoid adult entertainment more easily “is set to make at least $200 million a year and see between 3 million and 5 million domain registrations as companies defensively register their domains”, Lawley told Bloomberg.

Celebrities and ordinary people

Yes, you’ve seen correctly: a few lines above it reads “defensively register”. This means blocking yourname.xxx before someone else buys the domain. ICM has already blocked thousands of domains from registrations, including many celebrities’ names.

Aren’t you alerted? You should be – because of the power inherent to the function of categorizing human beings as “celebrity” or “ordinary.”

Who is a celebrity and who isn’t? And who gets to decide? The answer to the last question is easy: ICM gets to decide. Arbitrarily. Why “arbitrarily”? Because they are not able to provide an answer for the first question.

Thanks to The Register we know that who is a celebrity according to ICM can be answered empirically by reverse-engineering parts of the database using Whois tools. From the world of politics, for instance, Barack Obama and David Cameron have both been protected. But while MichelleObama.xxx is also blocked, SamanthaCameron.xxx is not. How come? No answer.

And there is no answer either as to why celebrities’ names have been banned despite ICM’s explanation that there’s a prohibition on anyone registering a first or last name that doesn’t belong to them. And that there would be a rapid take-down process for anyone targeted by .xxx cybersquatters. “The reason we banned the celebrities’ names was because it’s very difficult for them to trademark their names. We didn’t want to have the embarrassment of AngelinaJolie.xxx coming up at the launch of the new domain”, says Lawley. Arguing with “embarassment” – really? It is as hard to judge the degree of embarassment as it is to judge the one of celebrity.

Let alone that theory is not matched by reality, as Forbes explains plausibly:

It sounds like an entirely sensible move. However, it does offer something of a money making opportunity for the entirely unscrupulous. Or for those who think they can make a better guess than ICM can at what names will attract traffic. The trick would be to find a name (or names) which is famous enough that it would attract traffic […] but isn’t so famous that ICM has already thought of it and blocked it from being sold. And the thing is, in these sorts of battles, one of the things we’ve found out from the internet is that the inquisitiveness of the several billion of us out here will always beat, for a time at least, the work of the few hundred or few thousand in there.

Or as Techland puts it:

Sounds like a recipe for unanticipated celebrity and branding busywork. Take […] Darryl Hanah (the celeb’s spelling: Daryl Hannah). Or Dru Berrymore (celeb spelling: Drew Barrymore). Who wins in a quarrel over domain rights? According to BBC News, conflicts will be resolved through arbitration. Yep, I’m thinking the same thing: Good luck with that.

(NB: Conflicts will be resolved through arbitration… or in a closed auction depending on the registration period and the conflict.)

Brands and companies

According to The Register, there are not only celebrities’ names among the roughly 15’ooo domains banned from registration by ICM but also names that have been blocked on cultural grounds (the world’s capital cities and half a dozen spellings of Mohammed, for example) and thousands of “premium” names that the company plans to auction later.

However, there are no corporate trademarks on the reserved list. Companies that want to make sure their brands do not appear with a .xxx extension are expected to pay between $200 and $650 to to make sure they are removed from the pool of available names.

This is, of course, always presented as a choice for businesses. An option. An opportunity. As in: “Hey, I have the great chance of avoiding sociostrategy.xxx being registered and filled with pornographic content by somebody else by paying money to the company who is responsible for that threatening situation in the first place. Isn’t this wonderful?”

There are many companies and brands who cannot afford their name to exist with a .xxx domain. And will pay, or have paid already.

And if you think: whatever, I don’t care because this is happening only once – think again. And be sure to read on.

ICANN

A crucial stakeholder in the creation of .xxx is the ICANN. The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers , formed in 1998, describes itself as “a not-for-profit public-benefit corporation with participants from all over the world dedicated to keeping the Internet secure, stable and interoperable. [ICANN] promotes competition and develops policy on the Internet’s unique identifiers.”

Their About Page also states that “ICANN doesn’t control content on the Internet. […] But through its coordination role of the Internet’s naming system, it does have an important impact on the expansion and evolution of the Internet.”

And the ICANN is having an important impact: it is opening the generic top level domain (gTLD) namespace.

.xxx is just the beginning. Or as Guardian’s John Naughton puts it: “the .xxx stuff was really just the ouverture to the main business, which is accommodating the needs of corporations. ICANN has now announced that it will allow them to apply for new gTLDs, such as “.fashion” or “.drinks”, for example.”

For your information: The application will be evaluated – the evaluation fee only is US$185,000 and other fees may apply depending on the specific application path.

Society

Now reconsider everything said about .xxx – and broaden the scope.

Which leads us to questions like the following:

  • Of course, .apple (or .google) might be cool – but is it needed?
  • Could Disney (or Novartis) afford not to own .disney (or .novartis)?
  • Keeping in mind the Bank of Nova Scotia – what chances does the Baltic News Service stand to get .bns?
  • Which governement could rightfully claim .jerusalem?
  • What does the creation of gTLDs mean with regards to facilitating internet censorship?

And, most importantly: isn’t this the formalisation of the new era of internets (yes, plural)?

 

PS: Today starts the landrush registration period for .xxx domain names. If you are in the adult entertainment business without owning trademarks, your time has come…

PPS: Below you’ll find ICANN’s promotion video (also available in chinese, russian, french, spanish and arabic). It does remind me of another video I’ve just watched very recently… what about you?

Top picture by By Bidgee (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-2.5-au (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5/au/deed.en)], via Wikimedia Commons

5 thoughts on ““Adult” TLD .xxx is just the beginning

  1. ann

    ICM is a FOR PROFIT corporation, not a non-profit, as you claim in this post. In fact, the ONLY thing that ICM Registry cares about is profit.

    Reply
    1. Anna Jobin Post author

      Dear Ann, thanks for your comment. There might be a misunderstanding: ICANN is defined as a not-for-profit entity. However, I actually do state that ICM is a for-profit business – it is even one of the points I’m making.

      Reply
  2. Kate Hutchinson

    I work in the domain industry, and I have mixed feelings about .XXX, however, I see it as the first step in the next shift in internet classification. As more descriptive TLDs emerge, .COM should drop in ubiquity, and hopefully domains will help better explain content.

    That said, this is a very well written breakdown of both sides of the .XXX issue. I appreciate your sharing all of this.

    Reply
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