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Some Notes on the .XXX Top-Level Domain

Yesterday the ICANN board discussed and approved ICANN staff to enter into negotiations with ICM Registry, Inc. for the .XXX Top Level Domain (TLD). I’m sure there will be a longer more complete presentation from ICANN later about this, but as an individual board member I thought I’d post a quick note before people got carried away with speculation based on a lack of information.

I realize that the formal documents on the ICANN page are difficult to read, but I suggest people take a look at the actual application before jumping to conclusions about what the .XXX TLD is. It is actually a well thought out structure that provides a balanced approach to an issue with many stake holders.

The .XXX TLD is a sponsored TLD or sTLD with a sponsoring organization. Policy will be managed by a non-profit organization called the International Foundation for Online Responsibility (IFFOR). (Here is the org chart.) IFFOR will have a board of directors comprised of members from several supporting organizations. These organizations include 1) privacy, security & child advocacy, 2) free expression, 3) online adult-entertainment and board members selected through a nomination committee system similar to ICANN. No one constituency can capture the board and all have a say. There will be an Ombudsman. The organization has demonstrated strong support from all of the constituencies and also the credit card industry. A portion of all of the revenue from domain names will go to a fund that a Grant Advisory Committee will use to support child advocacy. Credit card companies are working with the legitimate adult sites to create incentives for them to switch to .XXX.

ICANN has been mandated with trying to increase the TLD space and the .XXX proposal, in my opinion, has met the criteria set out in the RFP. Our approval of .XXX is a decision based on whether .XXX met the criteria and does not endorse or condone any particular type of content or moral belief. This is not the role of ICANN. I realize that some will view this as ICANN endorsing pornography on the Internet, but this is not the case.

There are people who are concerned about censorship and control. These are issues that have been raised, but I think the .XXX proposal is more about creating incentives for legitimate adult entertainment sites to come together and fight “bad actors” and is not focused on forcing people to use the .XXX domain.

Some people have argued that there has not been enough public debate, but we have been taking public comments for quite a while. We DO read them and have encouraged people to discuss their issues with us through the process. I believe we followed a rigorous process. We started with an RFP and over the last 15 months, we have had independent evaluators, numerous meetings, public discussion and public comments.

I think Bret Fausett summarized the situation well on his blog:

The decision on .XXX may be one of the most difficult ICANN has ever made, and you can expect ICANN to be criticized whatever it decides. I imagine that many of the countries participating in the GAC aren’t ready to be part of a decision that will endorse a space for pr0n on the Internet. The fact that .XXX could be a political hook on which the governments of the world could hang Internet zoning laws could make the decision more palatable, but it’s still a political minefield for ICANN. Again, I hope the proposal is accepted, but it’s going to take a great deal of courage to do that.

I think any decision would have had strong critics. I believe we have made the best decision possible considering all of the issues involved. Having said that staff are now negotiating the contract. If anyone has any thoughts that we should consider in negotiating the contract I would be happy to hear them. Staff are working hard to produce a contract that ensures that the TLD functions as advertised.

By Joi Ito

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Ian Peter  –  Jun 3, 2005 5:13 AM

Joi, it?s great to see your openness and your posting on this topic as an ICANN board member.

However, .xxx is of course front page news today in mainstream media, accompanied by the obligatory ICANN spokesperson response “As a technical coordinator, we don’t pass judgment over content on the Internet”.

It?s na?ve to expect that .xxx will be seen globally as a non-content issue or to believe that content was never a factor in this decision. It?s na?ve to believe that nations with strong religious beliefs will see this as an appropriate decision for an international internet governance organisation. It?s na?ve to think that a decision of this magnitude should be made by a ?technical-only? body without consultation outside of the narrow confines of domain name industry regulation.

This is a global top level domain, not a subset of .us. Wider cultural consultation than occurred is necessary.

It may or may not be a good decision on technical merits, whatever they are in this case. But strategically it?s poorly timed, unlikely to be received well, likely to lead to more right wing calls for greater US government control over the Internet at exactly the time when we don?t need those calls, and also likely to lead for more calls in the WSIS context for international control by governments.

This decision will not help the cause of ICANN in proclaiming its legitimacy as a forum for Internet policy making.

Joi Ito  –  Jun 3, 2005 7:58 AM

Thanks for your comment Ian. I agree about the possible negative impact that this may cause. I would like to point out that although I do not believe it is ICANN’s position to be making a judgement about content, it was not a purely technical decision. We reviewed that there was support from the various affected constituents including child advocacy groups. Governments either directly or through GAC had a opportunity to comment and at least those governments represented in the GAC process were well aware of the process. Clearly we could have gotten even more input, but I believe that a whole hearted attempt to solicit input was made and the responses reviewed. Clearly, we can speculate on what people might think after hearing this announcement, but I believe that turning it down would have been just as upsetting to other people. In the end, we made the decision based on all of the discussion and information that was available to us.

Suresh Ramasubramanian  –  Jun 3, 2005 10:19 AM

Well Joi, ICANN’s going to get hit out at whatever it does, from several quarters.

Some will rail at this apparent support for further “pollution” of the internet

Others will decry - quite possibly with reason - the ostensible segregation / gulag-ization of sexual content, and the attempt to lump all that is sex related into the convenient label “.xxx”

There is a widespread concern that non pornographic depictions of sex (Rubens nudes? medical sites discussing infertility?) are going to get caught up in .xxx and ostracized by censorware software makers, government operated firewalled internets etc, possibly supplemented by legislation that forces porn sites to be registered only under .xxx and not .com, .biz etc.  As Bret Fausett said “Internet zoning laws”

The general structure of this tld administration does appear to have been defined with careful attention to the free speech and other implications of the TLD, and it must be pointed out that governments which will protest against this are quite likely to be the ones that already do all that is in their power to block pornography from their citizens, and that there’s a flourishing cottage industry that keeps giving people access to proxies etc.

The .xxx tld gives porn sites a foothold for themselves on the ‘net, and a chance to engage in what gets conveniently called “self governance”, and what I would call “being a good internet citizen”, without fingers being pointed at them.  Much like the arguments that are often heard by various countries who consider a ccTLD their virtual presence on the Internet and wish to exercise sovereignity rights over it, the .xxx tld gives adult entertainment providers a space / foothold of their own, where they have the chance to work together to rid themselves of what usually brings them into disrepute - porn spammers and child pornographers, for example.

I applaud ICANN’s courageous decision on this.

Ian Peter  –  Jun 3, 2005 11:55 AM

Courageous, yes.

Well timed? no.

Strategic? that didn’t seem to come into it. It’s hard to see what this achieves that furthers the cause of a globally accessible Internet.

Effective? I doubt it will have any self regulatory effect on either porn spammers or child pornographers.

Rather, I think it will be seen as Internet endorsement of behaviour seen by a significant number of diverse minorities across the planet as offensive. For what specific gain?

Suresh Ramasubramanian  –  Jun 3, 2005 2:00 PM

> Rather, I think it will be seen as Internet
> endorsement of behaviour seen by a significant
> number of diverse minorities across the planet
> as offensive. For what specific gain?

Gives the pornographers a lobby of their own as I said - and quite possibly a power base of their own when dealing with the descendants of Dr.Thomas Bowdler.

Coincidentially, it also gives the religious right and other censors a convenient target to expend their energies on, without railing at the rest of the Internet.

Jothan Frakes  –  Jun 3, 2005 7:54 PM

This is fairly evolutionary to see this Sponsored TLD move forward. 

I got the opportunity to hear ICM talk about .XXX at the Domain Roundtable Conference in a joint session with .JOBS / Employ Media.

.XXX is quite different in form from what someone would initially assume without review of the plans.  Different in a good way, for most every stakeholder and internet user from my perspective.

Stuart and the folks at ICM Registry have put together a sponsored TLD.  They should be commended on the structure of their plan, and their patience for the process.

ICANN has been very progressive and should also be commended on releasing this TLD.  As Bret Fausett identified in his comments, they were certain to be villified, in some form, for the .XXX domain regardless of outcome.

Quick humorous comment:
The media hype on this is quite high, yet hopefully the term ‘Sponsored Top Level Domain’ would not be abbreviated by accident in the media as ‘STD’ in referencing this new extension.

Leonard Holmes  –  Jun 4, 2005 3:40 AM

I think that the proposal makes a lot of sense.  I can see regulators eventually limiting adult content to these domains, and that would certainly make filtering easier.  It would allow freedom-of-expression while protecting children from stumbling upon Online porn.  I’m not sure if that will ever happen, but this proposal seems to make it possible.

Doctor J  –  Jun 8, 2005 4:37 PM

Approval of .xxx needs to be seen in context. This approval by a quasi-public body will advance the public interest if it sets the stage for various governments and major market participants (e.g. credit card companies, Google, AOL, MSN, Yahoo, et al) to push pornography away from places where it can be readily seen by children, and those adults who don?t want to see it.

Complaints from porn operators and those who are worried about censorship won?t be nearly as persuasive if the porn site operators aren’t being put out of business or censored, but are merely being pushed into an ?adults only? district.

In fact, a virtual red light district will be more convenient for consumers of pornography, who know what they are looking for, and will be able to find it more easily. Creation of a virtual red light district will improve the situation from the perspective of society in general if (and only if):

1. The porn industry moves into that district (it becomes the only acceptable neighborhood for pornography). This could be due to voluntary action, market pressures, technological change, and/or government regulation.

2. Major companies involved in providing internet access (ISPs and distributors of browser software)  make it easy for owners of computers (e.g. parents and employers) to block access to that district. For instance, computer owners should be able to ensure that their computers aren’t able to access content within the .xxx TLD without proof of eligibility, such as approval by a parent or supervisor.

Hence, the ultimate outcome of the .xxx approval will depend almost entirely on what happens next?both with regard to the details of the ICANN contract that will be negotiated, and with the regulatory and/or market forces that evolve out of this decision.  Will pornography come to be located exclusively in this virtual red light district? Will it be difficult or impossible for kids to enter the neighborhood? If so, this approval will be good for the pornography industry, as well as society in general.

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