Virtual red-light district up for grabs

ICANN likely to make final decision at the meeting in Wellington

In all probability, there will be a final decision about the creation of .xxx TLD at the ICANN meeting in Wellington. ICM Registry, a private company founded in 2000 specifically to seek approval for the .xxx TLD (top level domain), has meet ICANN’s criteria for creating a TLD, according to an ICANN decision in June. Since then ICANN and ICM Registry have been negotiating the contract that would create a virtual red-light district.

The company’s president and chairman, Stuart Lawley, will attend the meeting in Wellington.

“We look forward to the ICANN board ratifying the contract,” he says. “Once our contract is signed, we can implement plans which we expect would lead to the .xxx TLD being operational around six months later.”

Lawley and his business partners say they have no links, now or in the past, to the porn industry. Lawley, a successful entrepreneur, started Oneview, a UK ISP, in 1999 and cashed out in 2000 before the dotcom bubble burst.

He has told AVN Online, a porn industry news website, that it is no secret that he sees .xxx as an opportunity to make money. He says that “the online adult industry, as one of the largest sectors of e-commerce today, is a clear choice for a dedicated TLD”.

ICM Registry would operate the register of .xxx sites, and sell each domain name for US$60. Resellers will be free to add their mark-up of maybe US$10 to US$15 per name.

Lawley describes the .xxx TLD as a “win-win situation”. It would make it easier for parents, schools and companies to block access to porn on the internet, he says.

“It’s also a ‘win’ for the consenting adult consumers … as they can browse and buy with greater confidence in that the .xxx sites they visit will adhere to the best business practices set out in the .xxx registration agreement,” he says.

This increased consumer confidence is expected to increase revenue and lower credit card charge-backs for the online porn providers, according to Lawley.

A not-for-profit, Canadian organisation, International Foundation for Online Responsibility (IFFOR), will be the policy-making authority for the .xxx TLD, says Lawley. IFFOR will be funded through .xxx domain name registration fees and will have its own board of directors, consisting of representatives from the online porn industry, child-safety community and the free speech community, says ICM Registry’s website.

IFFOR will have the somewhat split role of supporting free expression, creating a safe and protected environment for consumers within the domain, supporting business practises that protects children online and sponsoring anti-child pornography organisations, says the IFFOR website.

Registrants of the .xxx TLD are obliged to follow the rules set by IFFOR, and these will include safeguarding children, deploying accurate meta-tagging and not engaging in spoofing, phishing or fraud, says Lawley.

Liz Butterfield, executive director of the Internet Safety Group, says that because the application for .xxx has gone through ICANN’s rigorous process and has met the threshold for becoming a top level domain, the ISG sees no reason why it shouldn’t proceed.

“However, it is important to be realistic about what this can achieve,” she says.

“If the regulation of .xxx is effective, it may indeed mean that member organisations offer less links to illegal material such as child abuse images or bestiality, practice less inclusion of spyware, malware and diallers in downloads, make less attempts to trap unsuspecting children by having a domain name that is one keystroke off a legitimate children’s site.”

She thinks it unrealistic that .xxx will have much impact reducing the illegal trade in child pornography.

“Whether .xxx will make pornography easier to filter will depend on how many pornographers choose to use .xxx.”

Keith Davidson, executive director of InternetNZ, says that the .xxx application has met the guidelines and should “probably proceed”.

Frank March, senior specialist advisor at the information technology policy group, Ministry of Economic Development, says that the government doesn’t have a view of the .xxx TLD issue. “It is a matter for ICANN to decide,” he says. “The New Zealand government recognises ICANN’s right to make decisions of that sort.”

His personal view is that .xxx could possibly have a small positive effect, depending on the capability of ICM Registry to enforce the code of behaviour it says will be required for .xxx websites.

“It’s not likely that the .xxx TLD will make the current situation any worse,” March says.

The worst outcome of .xxx is that it will be completely neutral and have no effect, he says.

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