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Adult-Related TLDs Considered Dangerous

In an RFC prepared by Donald E. Eastlake 3rd and Declan McCullagh, an analysis is offered for proposals to mandate the use of a special top level name or an IP address bit to flag “adult” or “unsafe” material or the like. This document explains why these ideas are ill considered from legal, philosophical, and technical points of view.

In an October 1998 report accompanying the Child Online Protection Act, the House Commerce committee said, “there are no technical barriers to creating an adult domain, and it would be very easy to block all websites within an adult domain”. The report also said that the committee was wary of regulating the computer industry and that any decision by the U.S. government “will have international consequences” [HOUSEREPORT].

British Telecom has backed adult top-level domains, saying in a 1998 letter to the U.S. Department of Commerce that it “strongly supported” that plan. The reason: “Sexually explicit services could then be legally required to operate with domain names in this gTLD [that] would make it much simpler and easier to control access to such sites…” [BT]. One of ICANN’s progenitors, the GTLD-MOU committee, suggested a “red-light-zone” top-level domain in a September 1997 request for comment [GTLD-MOU].

Some adult industry executives have endorsed the concept. In 1998, Seth Warshavsky, president of the Internet Entertainment Group, told the U.S. Senate Commerce committee that he would like to see a .adult domain. “We’re suggesting the creation of a new top-level domain called ‘.adult’ where all sexually explicit material on the Net would reside,” Warshavsky said in an interview at the time [WARSHAVSKY].

More recently, other entrepreneurs in the industry have said that they do not necessarily object to the creation of an adult domain as long as they may continue to use .com.

Conservative groups in the U.S. say they are not eager for such a domain, and prefer criminal laws directed at publishers and distributors of sexually-explicit material. The National Law Center for Children and Families in Fairfax, Virginia, said in February 2001 that it did not favor any such proposal. For different reasons, the American Civil Liberties Union and other civil liberties groups also oppose it.

Sen. Joseph Lieberman, the U.S. Democratic Party’s vice presidential nominee, endorsed the idea at a June 2000 meeting of the federal Commission on Child Online Protection. Lieberman said in a prepared statement that “we would ask the arbiters of the Internet to simply abide by the same standard as the proprietor of an X-rated movie theater or the owner of a convenience store who sells sexually- explicit magazines” [LIEBERMAN].

In the 1998 law creating this commission, the U.S. Congress required the members to investigate “the establishment of a domain name for posting of any material that is harmful to minors”, The commission devoted a section of its October 2000 report to that topic. It concluded that both a .xxx and a .kids domain are technically possible, but would require action by ICANN. The report said that an adult domain might be only “moderately effective” and raises privacy and free speech concerns [COPAREPORT].

The commission also explored the creation of a so-called red zone or green zone for content by means of allocation of a new set of IP addresses under IPv6. Any material not in one of those two zones would be viewed as in a gray zone and not necessarily appropriate or inappropriate for minors. Comments from commissioners were largely negative: “Effectiveness would require substantial effort to attach content to specific IP numbers. This approach could potentially reduce flexibility and impede optimal network performance. It would not be effective at blocking access to chat, newsgroups, or instant messaging”.

In October 2000, ICANN rejected a .xxx domain during its initial round of approving additional top-level domains. The reasons are not entirely clear, but former ICANN Chairwoman Esther Dyson said that the adult industry did not entirely agree that such a domain would be appropriate. One .xxx hopeful, ICM Registry of Ontario, Canada, in December 2000 asked ICANN to reconsider its decision [ICM-REGISTRY].

In 2002, the U.S. Congress mandated the creation of a kids.us domain for “child safe” material. This was after being convinced that for reasons, some of which are described in the following section, trying to legislate standards for the whole world with a .kids domain was inappropriate.

Legal and Philosophical Problems

When it comes to sexually-explicit material, every person, court, and government has a different view of what’s acceptable and what is not. Attitudes change over time, and what is viewed as appropriate in one town or year may spark protests in the next. When faced with the slippery nature of what depictions of sexual activity should be illegal or not, one U.S. Supreme Court justice blithely defined obscenity as: “I know it when I see it”.

In the U.S.A., obscenity is defined as explicit sexual material that, among other things, violates “contemporary community standards”—in other words, even at the national level, there is no agreed-upon rule governing what is illegal and what is not. Making matters more knotty is that there are over 200 United Nations country codes, and in most of them, political subdivisions can impose their own restrictions. Even for legal nude modeling, age restrictions differ. They’re commonly 18 years of age, but only 17 years of age in one Scandinavian country. A photographer there conducting what’s viewed as a legal and proper photo shoot would be branded a felon and child pornographer in the U.S.A. In yet other countries and groups, the entire concept of nude photography or even any photography of a person in any form may be religiously unacceptable.

Saudi Arabia, Iran, Northern Nigeria, and China are not likely to have the same liberal views as, say, the Netherlands or Denmark. Saudi Arabia and China, like some other nations, extensively filter their Internet connection and have created government agencies to protect their society from web sites that officials view as immoral. Their views on what should be included in a .sex domain would hardly be identical to those in liberal western nations.

Those wildly different opinions on sexual material make it inconceivable that a global consensus can ever be reached on what is appropriate or inappropriate for a .sex or .adult top-level domain. Moreover, the existence of such a domain would create an irresistible temptation on the part of conservative legislators to require controversial publishers to move to that domain and punish those who do not.

Some conservative politicians already have complained that ICANN did not approve .xxx in its October 2000 meeting. During a February 2001 hearing in the U.S. House of Representatives, legislators warned that they “want to explore ICANN’s rationale for not approving two particular top level domain names—.kids and .xxx—as a means to protect kids from the awful smut which is so widespread on the Internet”.

It seems plausible that only a few adult publishers, and not those who have invested resources in building a brand around a .com site, would voluntarily abandon their current domain name. Instead, they’d likely add a .xxx variant and keep their original address. The existence of .xxx could propel legislators in the U.S. and other countries to require them to publish exclusively from an adult domain, a move that would invite ongoing political interference with Internet governance, and raise concerns about forced speech and self-labeling.

In fact, the ultimate arbiter of generic top-level domain names—at least currently—is not ICANN, but the U.S. government. The U.S. Congress’ General Accounting Office in July 2000 reported that the Commerce Department continues to be responsible for domain names allowed by the authoritative root [GAO]. The GAO’s auditors concluded it was unclear whether the Commerce Department has the “requisite authority” under current law to transfer that responsibility to ICANN.

The American Civil Liberties Union—and other members of the international Global Internet Liberty Campaign—caution that publishers speaking frankly about birth control, AIDS prevention, gay and lesbian sex, the social problem of prison rape, etc., could be coerced into moving to an adult domain. Once there, they would be stigmatized and easily blocked by schools, libraries, companies, and other groups using filtering software. Publishers of such information, who do not view themselves as pornographers and retain their existing addresses, could be targeted for prosecution.

The existence of an adult top-level domain would likely open the door for related efforts, either policy or legislative. There are many different axes through which offensive material can be defined: Sex, violence, hate, heresy, subversion, blasphemy, illegal drugs, profanity, political correctness, glorification of crime, incitement to break the law, and so on. Such suggestions invite the ongoing lobbying of ICANN, the U.S. government, and other policy-making bodies by special-interest groups that are not concerned with the technical feasibility or practicality of their advice.

An adult top-level domain could have negative legal repercussions by endangering free expression. U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor has suggested that the presence of “adult zones” on the Internet would make a future Communications Decency Act (CDA) more likely to be viewed as constitutional. In her partial dissent to the Supreme Court’s rejection of the CDA in 1997 [CDA], O’Connor said that “the prospects for the eventual zoning of the Internet appear promising”. (The Supreme Court ruled that the CDA violated free speech rights by making it a crime to distribute “indecent” or “patently offensive” material online.)

Privacy could be harmed by such a proposal. It would become easier for repressive governments and other institutions to track visits to sites in a domain labeled as adult and record personally-identifiable information about the visitor. Repressive governments would instantly have more power to monitor naive users and prosecute them for their activities. It’s also implausible that a top-level domain would be effective in controlling access to chat, email, newsgroups, instant messaging, and new services as yet to be invented.

Reproduced with permission. Copyright (C) The Internet Society (2004). To read the full document including “Technical Difficulties” and “Security Considerations” of adult-related TLDs see RFC 3675.

Filed Under


onson  –  Mar 17, 2004 6:18 AM

So taking property from someone is ok? What about the people who have invested time and effort and resources into a brand able domain name? You want to take (steal) that away from them? What is considered objectionable? Tobacco related websites? Gun related websites? Alcohol related websites? Gambling related websites? Do you want to take away their rights too? Make them exist on separate tld’s? This needs to stop now. Every day more of our rights are taken from us. What about people who have a domain such as SEX.com which is worth millions of dollars? Will you allow that owner to register the domain SEX.xxx before anyone else, so he can retain his value? Oh wait a minute, what about the person who owns SEX.net, SEX.us, SEX.org, SEX.tv etc….....

onson  –  Mar 20, 2004 12:21 AM

So I suppose yahoo.com will have to migrate over to .xxx as well. We all know they allow users to have adult related profiles. We all know they have adult chat rooms. We all know they allow for adult cybering. So therefore we need yahoo to get its arse over to .xxx as well. This also applies to any other website that may have some adult related content.

onson  –  Mar 20, 2004 12:23 AM

So I suppose yahoo.com will have to migrate over to .xxx as well. We all know they allow users to have adult related profiles. We all know they have adult chat rooms. We all know they allow for adult cybering. So therefore we need yahoo to get its arse over to .xxx as well. This also applies to any other website that may have some adult related content or features.

Ron Bennett  –  Mar 20, 2004 2:31 AM

Below is are copies of posts I made on Domain Name Policy List back in 2000:

Date: Fri, 13 Oct 2000 23:52:50 -0400
Sender: Owner-Domain-Policy <[email protected]>
From: Ron Bennett <[email protected]>
Subject: [ICANN COMMENT] .SEX, .XXX, .KIDS TLDs Restrict Freedom of Speech
To: .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

[Copy of my official comment I posted on the ICANN Public Comment Forum regarding New TLD Applications.

(The following is similar to a comment I posted here last week)


First the problems with the proposed .SEX & .XXX TLDs:

The proposed TLDs .SEX and .XXX seem well intentioned as a way of partitioning off adult oriented materials from minors, etc.

But how does one exactly define adult oriented materials? -especially considering the internet is an international medium. What is considered adult oriented here in the United States isn’t elsewhere and vice-versa.

And what happens when ICANN or whoever decides to go the next step and restricts adult oriented materials to *only* certain TLDs - for example .SEX and .XXX only.

And how would such content restrictions be enforced?

In the end TLDs such as .SEX and .XXX will probably result in ICANN dictating content too.

In regards to problems with the proposed .KIDS TLD:

Many of the same points above apply to .KIDS too…

How does one exactly define kid oriented materials? -especially considering the internet is an international medium. What is considered adult oriented here in the United States isn’t elsewhere and vice-versa. For example, nudity in many parts of the world such as parts of Europe and Japan is not considered harmful to children. On the other hand, violence aimed at children is widely tolerated in the United States, but not content containing nudity.

And how would such content restrictions be enforced?

And as I said above, in the end TLDs such as .KIDS will probably result in ICANN dictating content too.

TLDs should be used to better categorize content, but not to restrict it. While .SEX, .XXX, and .KIDS TLDs are well intentioned, all three of these TLDs are all primarily intended to *restrict* content as opposed to merely categorizing it. It’s very important to keep this distinction in mind when considering new .TLDs.

Bottom line is that TLDs should be for categorizing content, not restricting content which is what the proposed .SEX, .XXX, and .KIDS TLDs would do and thus they should *not* be added.

Ron Bennett
.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)


Date: Mon, 16 Oct 2000 12:38:09 -0400
Sender: Owner-Domain-Policy <[email protected]>
From: Ron Bennett <[email protected]>
Subject: Re: [ICANN COMMENT] .SEX, .XXX, .KIDS TLDs Restrict Freedom of Speech
To: .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
In-Reply-To: <[email protected]>


Please read my other posts on this subject for more details, but here’s a sampling of the many problems with the .KIDS TLD in response to your message…

1. Could eventually become *mandatory* for companies wishing to reach minors to having to use the .KIDS TLD

2. Libraries, schools, and other public facilities could be *forced* to block out entire TLDs…and to the extreme there could end up being instances where only persons, including adults, would have access to the .KIDS TLD only.

** In fact I just read an article in the USA Today regarding Congress working on passing a bill that would require *mandatory* filtering as a condition of receiving Federal funds.

Ron Bennett

> At 08:54 AM 10/16/00 -0700, Josh Elliott wrote:
> No one is forcing you to register a .KIDS domain.  If you don’t like your
> content monitored, then don’t register there.
> Josh

Ron Bennett  –  Mar 20, 2004 2:44 AM

Another post of mine in regards to the announcement that .kids and .xxx not being selected by ICANN for the first round of new TLDs back then:

Date: Tue, 16 Jan 2001 14:42:10 -0500
Sender: Owner-Domain-Policy <[email protected]>
From: Ron Bennett <[email protected]>
Subject: Re: Rejected TLDs — .kids and .xxx
To: .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

I’m glad .sex and .kids were rejected. While the idea of such TLDs sound good…they’re not so good when one examines such proposals more in-depth….for example a .kids domain registry would be the position to define what is suitable for children on a global basis.

Also such TLDs would be used as tools for censorship by governments; governments would require schools, libraries, etc to only permit .kids sites to be accessed.

In regards to child porn…that’s a red herring since most child porn makers/traders don’t provide such materials to a broad audience, but rather they privately trade such materials among themselves. Thus the addition of TLDs such as .kids, .xxx, etc will have no effect whatsoever on privately traded materials - be it child porn, music, etc.

However, .kids, .xxx, etc WILL have the effect of BLOCKING LEGAL materials from law abiding citizens who seek them.

The world would be a much better place if people spent more time worrying about their own business and less time telling others what they can and can’t view, etc. My .02

Ron Bennett

> At 05:56 AM 1/17/01 +1100, Patrick Corliss wrote:
> All
> It’s a pity that Jason Hendeles of ICM Registry, Inc. did not get the
> combination of .kids and .xxx that he applied for.  See “TLD Applications
> Lodged” as follows:
> http://www.icann.org/tlds/tld-applications-lodged-02oct00.htm
> That might have gone towards helping the following activists and
> investigators:
> Child Pornography on the Internet and the Sexual Exploitation of Children
> Statement for the record of Louis J. Freeh, Director, Federal Bureau of
> Investigation.
> URL: http://www.fbi.gov/pressrm/congress/congress98/sac310.htm
> National Law Center
> Conservative law group offering legal assistance, training, and education
> regarding obscenity and child pornography laws.
> URL: http://www.nationallawcenter.org
> International Child Center (ICC)
> ICC is the Internet’s world-central bank of child protection information,
> resources and services.
> URL: http://www.icc-911.com
> United States Section of Regulation of Child Pornography on the Internet
> URL: http://www.cyber-rights.org/reports/uscases.htm
> Cases and Materials related to Child Pornography on the Internet Cite as:
> Yaman
> Akdeniz, Regulation of Child Pornography on the Internet: Cases and Materials,
> at…
> Child Pornography - What is it & Where is it?
> URL: http://m-net.arbornet.org/~asp/
> ASP - Looking for kiddie porn on the web? In that case, we’re looking for you.
> Regards
> Patrick Corliss

Ron Bennett  –  Mar 20, 2004 3:14 AM

Final one…to read more download Domain Name Policy archives Dec-14-1999 to May-24-2001 (when it closed)

Date: Tue, 16 Jan 2001 19:14:33 -0500
Sender: Owner-Domain-Policy <[email protected]>
From: Ron Bennett <[email protected]>
Subject: Re: Would .XXX work? (was: Re: Rejected TLDs —.kids and .xxx)
To: .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

At 06:25 PM 1/16/01 -0500, Jay R. Ashworth wrote:
> On Tue, Jan 16, 2001 at 06:29:54PM -0500, Ron Bennett wrote:
>>I disagree, and I’d like to know how you came to that conclusion.
>>  From experience.
> Expand, please.

I’ve read of, and even myself experienced, situations in which many internet filtering programs will block sites that contain words such as “sex”, “nude”, etc. Some even filter on the URL which means if someone is unfortunate enough to own a domain such as “sexton.com” they may be blocked…another example is domains that contain “shit” in them…many Japanese words/phases contain such a combination and thus some are blocked by filters. Even NSI had to totally remove its filtering for domain registrations that contain “shit” in them primarily for this reason.

>> >Putting all the adult stuff in one place would seem to make it easier
>> >to identify, and therefore cause attempts at censoring it to become
>> >easier to avoid, since they’re all aimed at the same target.
>> Putting everything all in one place makes it not only easier
>> to identify, but also easier to censor…RIGHT!!?  Understand?
> What part of [what I wrote above] wasn’t clear to you?

You’re stating the opposite…you’re claiming that by putting it all in one place it’s more difficult to censor…that’s nonsense!!! Putting everything all in one place makes it EASIER to censor, not harder. Also, .xxx and .kids are primarily intended to restrict information and not just merely to categorize it.

>> >It would also deprive the “we must outlaw it so the kids won’t
>> >*accidentally* trip over it crowd of their primary argument, which
>> >would seem to be a good thing, to me.
>> Nonsense!!  Many of the loudest proponents of filters, bans, etc
>> won’t be satisfied until any and all controversial materials are
>> wiped clean from the face of the Earth! Save the children is a red
>> herring
> Um, I just *said* that?

No you didn’t. But I’m glad you agree with me now :-)

>> and anyone familiar with history is well aware of how
>> arguments such as “save the children”, “it’s for your protection”,
>> “the government knows best”, etc have been used throughout
>> history to control and suppress people. Censorship is a slippery
>> slope and often happens slow and insidiously. A better approach
>> is education and tolerance. Censorship TLDs aren’t the answer.

> Defining this thing you don’t like with the > pejorative term “Censorship TLD” isn’t the
answer *either*.  Your argumentative approach > doesn’t do you, or your side of the argument, any credit.

Really?? .xxx and .kids were denied. My approach works fine :-;

> If you have *examples* where this sort of problem has cropped up, please share them.
> If your concerns are merely concerns, well,
that’s ok; they happen to be *valid*
> concerns.  But they’re merely concerns, until they actually *happen*.  My information > is that people commercial involved in the
business think that .xxx is a good idea. If
> you have counter-evidence, or if you *are* such a person, please do let us know.

Of course people who are commercially involved in the business think .xxx, etc are a great idea…more TLDs equals more domain registrationswhich equals more money. That doesn’t mean such TLDs are a good thing. Perhaps you yourself have a stake in the introduction of .xxx, .kids, etc…from your last paragraph it sounds like you do…do you??

Ron Bennett

jer  –  Dec 3, 2004 3:22 AM

I read Donald’s RFC and I think it makes a lot of valid points. On the other hand, I Think Talented Fools’ post also makes a good point.

onson’s Yahoo example doesn’t quite hold water, in that a majority of sites like Yahoo which have areas with mixed “levels” of content (say, ‘generally safe for the public’ vs. ‘potentially or obviously adult in nature’) already have disclaimers and warnings posted voluntarily before allowing you in.

It would be technically feasible to cordon off areas of the sites which allow for or provide adult content to be provided via a .sex / .xxx domain instead of the main .com domain.

I think what many people (including Donald, who obviously has spent more time considering this than I have) is that a majority of adult content providers would *gladly* move their content to a .xxx domain and have a .com portal with generally “safe” content to it. The adult industry is always looking for ways to make themselves more legally defensible (particlarly in the US).

So the huge problem of “who decides what is prurient or unsuitable for general consumption” is one that has already been solved to some extent by existing decency laws in countries around the world. Every nation with the Internet has some form of legislation about what is and is not appropriate for the general populous to see without being warned first. It is up to the content peddlers to disclose the nature of their wares and, in some locales, “wrap them in brown paper” if it’s not legal for everyone to see it.

I do not believe that it would be technically burdensome to have a master list of policies (maintained by an international consortia) that provides a simple set of content bracketing rules for the various locales and domains. Each web user agent (browser) would periodically check for a copy of this “rules file” and apply it to all names based on their locale.

If you are 16 years old and live in the USA, then you will be warned (or blocked) when requesting a site (or a section of a site) that has a .xxx.foo or .sex.foo extention, even though in the great country of Foo, it would be legal for a 16 year old to see said content.

These warnings/blocks could be bypassed altogether by policies set on the user-account level or on the local machine (by the parents, who should hold the digital keys to the computer until their children are of an age that they deem appropriate).

So an international community would be responsible for deciding what constitutes an “Adult” rating is in the USA vs. an adult rating in other counries and publishing a basic mapping between .xxx.nl and .xxx.us

Of course, all this becomes somewhat circumventable if you address sites directly by IP… but I digress.

LOL ;-)



jer  –  Dec 3, 2004 3:24 AM

That 4th paragraph was supposed to start:

I think what many people **overlook**

...but I myself overlooked adding that word. ;)

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