Web to have an official ‘red light district’

By Anne Collier

ICANN, the international body that manages Internet domain names, approved a new .xxx top-level domain late last week, setting in motion the development of a “red-light district” for the Web. Now ICM Registry, which would administer the domain and has long lobbied for its approval, has to show that there is strong support for it among adult content providers, the BBC reports. The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) “demands that new top-level domains, such as .biz, must be ‘sponsored’ in that they must serve the needs of a defined community,” according to the BBC. ICM says it “expects the number of registrations to reach 500,000” by the time the domain launches, ABC News reports (which ICM says will be early next year). That’s 500,000 out of some 5-6 million adult sites on the Internet, according to ICM’s own research, as cited by ABC, and, “if all goes well, [ICM chairman Stuart Lawley] said he could potentially capture 2 to 3 million of them over time.” I see no net loss or gain for child online safety, although ICM says the domain will make it easier to filter out adult content. I think the reality is that a .xxx domain will make it easier to filter out adult sites only within the .xxx domain, not out on the Web at large. Registration by porn operators will be strictly voluntary, and it’s not clear why sites would abandon the .com or other domains in favor of .xxx only (they’ll just want to “protect their brand,” as they say, in the new domain as well. There could actually be a net loss to child online safety if parents aren’t made aware of the need to block all these X-rated sites aggregated into an easy-to-find “district” and how to block them, because it will be intuitive that porn would be there. ICM will need to do some concerted consumer education, which, to its credit, it is promising. In its Web site, ICM says the domain “will be a professionally run outfit that will include Best Business Practices” such as agreement not to market to children, but there will always be irresponsible operators who choose not to assume the costs of “best business practices.” [See also this about how, in my view, a red light district (sequestering adult behavior and content) did make the virtual world Second Life safer for young people.]

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