Language Selection

English French German Italian Portuguese Spanish

A new answer to Internet pornography proliferation

Filed under

A red-light district tentatively cleared for construction on the Internet — the ".xxx" domain — is being billed by backers as giving the $12 billion online porn industry a great opportunity to clean up its act. A distinct online sector for the salacious, one with rules aimed at forbidding trickery, will reduce the chances of Internet users accidentally stumbling on porn sites, they argue.

Parry Aftab, executive director of non-profit, favors restrictions on online pornography.

If only it were so simple:

Zoning in cyberspace has always been a daunting proposition, and participation in the porn domain will be voluntary. Critics wonder why ".xxx" got the OK at all when so many other proposals sit unaddressed, some for years.

Nearly five years after rejecting a similar proposal, the Internet's key oversight body, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, voted 6-3 this month to proceed with ".xxx."

ICANN staff will now craft a contract with ICM Registry Inc., the Jupiter, Fla., company that made the bid. If the board and ultimately the U.S. Commerce Department approve it, ".xxx" names could appear in use by the year's end.

The market unquestionably exists: Two in five Internet users visited an adult site in April, according to tracking by comScore Media Metrix. The company said 4% of all Web traffic and 2% of all surfing time involved an adult site.

As envisioned, ICM would charge $60 for each of up to 500,000 names it expects to register, $10 of which would go to a nonprofit organization that would, among other things, educate parents about safe surfing for children.

The nonprofit, run by representatives of adult Web sites, free-speech, privacy and child-advocacy concerns, would determine registration eligibility.

Skeptics argue, however, that porn sites are likely to keep their existing ".com" storefronts, even as they set up shop in the new ".xxx" domain name. And that will reduce the effectiveness of software filters set up to simply block all ".xxx" names.

The ".xxx" domain "legitimizes this group, and it gives false hope to parents," said Patrick Trueman, senior legal counsel at the Family Research Council and a former Justice Department official in charge of obscenity prosecutions.

The adult entertainment industry is also hardly behind ".xxx" as a group. Many of its webmasters consider the domain "the first step toward driving the adult Internet into a ghetto very much like zoning laws have driven adult stores into the outskirts," said Mark Kernes, senior editor at the trade monthly Adult Video News.
ICM insists it would fight any government efforts to compel its use by adult Web sites, but the existence of ".xxx" would certainly make the prospect easier.

"There are going to be pressures" to mandate it once available, said Marjorie Heins, coordinator of the Free Expression Policy Project at New York University's law school. Federal lawmakers have proposed such requirements in the past.

Robert Corn-Revere, a lawyer hired by ICM to address free-speech issues, said the company has pledged $250,000 for a legal defense fund to keep ".xxx" voluntary, and he notes that courts have struck down efforts to make movie ratings mandatory.

"Where governments have tried to use private labeling systems as proxies for regulation, courts have always held those measures unconstitutional," he said.

Even if it's voluntary, supporters say, adult sites will have incentives to use ".xxx."

"If the carrot's big enough, you're going to get sites in there," said Parry Aftab, an Internet safety expert who served as an informal adviser on ".xxx."

Stuart Lawley, ICM's chairman and president, said use of ".xxx" could protect companies from prosecution under a 2003 federal law that bars sites from tricking children into viewing pornography — as ".xxx" would clearly denote an adult site.

All sites using ".xxx" would be required to follow yet-to-be-written "best practices" guidelines, such as prohibitions against trickery through spamming and malicious scripts.

Lawley said those requirements could make credit-card issuers more confident about accepting charges. The online porn industry currently faces higher fees because some sites engage in fraud and customers often deny authorizing payments.

But given the limited effectiveness of a voluntary ".xxx" for filtering, Internet filtering expert Seth Finkelstein calls ".xxx" no more than a mechanism "to extract fees from bona fide pornographers and domain name speculators." (ICANN also gets an unspecified cut of each registration fee.)

Even if it were mandatory, it wouldn't be foolproof.

A domain name serves merely as an easy-to-remember moniker for a site's actual numeric Internet address. David Burt, a spokesman for filtering vendor Secure Computing Corp., said a child could simply use the numeric address when the ".xxx" equivalent gets blocked.

Better technologies exist, he said, including a little-used self-rating system that lets Web sites broadcast whether they contain nudity, violence or foul language, along with the specific forms, such as presence of genitals or passionate kissing.

Burt also favors a ".kids" domain that would serve as a safe haven for children. The U.S. government has approved one under ".us," but support has been cool, with only about two dozen "" sites listed.

ICM proposed both ".xxx" and ".kids" in 2000, but ICANN board members resisted them for fear of getting into content control. Instead, ICANN approved ".info," ".biz," and ".museum" and four others.

But pressure has continued to mount for ICANN to expand the number of domain names, and last year it reopened bidding.

ICM resubmitted its application for ".xxx" only, this time structuring it with a policy-setting organization to free ICANN of that task.

That did the trick.

ICANN board member Joichi Ito, who backed ".xxx," wrote in his Web journal that the decision wasn't an endorsement of any type of content or moral belief but a chance for "creating incentives for legitimate adult entertainment sites to come together and fight 'bad actors.'"

Anti-porn activist Donna Rice Hughes, however, remains unconvinced.

"They are not going to give up their '.com' addresses," she said of porn sites. "It doesn't take a brain surgeon to figure that one out."

By Nick Jesdanun
The Associated Press

More in Tux Machines

SwagArch 18.02 - U Got Swag?

SwagArch sounds like an interesting concept. The aesthetic side of things is reasonable, although brown as a color and a dark theme make for a tricky choice. The fonts are pretty good overall. But the visual element is the least of the distro's problems. SwagArch 18.02 didn't deliver the basics, and that's what made Dedoimedo sad. Network support plus the clock issue, horrible package management and broken programs, those are things that must work perfectly. Without them, the system has no value. So you do get multimedia support and a few unique apps, however that cannot balance out all the woes and problems that I encountered. All in all, Swag needs a lot more work. Also, it will have a tough time competing with Manjaro and Antergos, which are already established and fairly robust Arch spins. Lastly, it needs to narrow down its focus. The overall integration of elements is pretty weak. Eclectic, jumbled, not really tested. 2/10 for now. Let's see how it evolves. Read more

How Open Source Approach is Impacting Science

Dive into the exciting world of Innovative Science to explore and find out about how the Linux-based Operating System and Open Source are playing a significant role in the major scientific breakthroughs that are taking place in our daily lives. Read more

Programming: Developer Survey, Code That Unmasks, Retaining Newcomers

  • Developers love trendy new languages but earn more with functional programming
    Developer Q&A site Stack Overflow performs an annual survey to find out more about the programmer community, and the latest set of results has just been published.
  • FYI: AI tools can unmask anonymous coders from their binary executables [Ed: Just a kind reminder that if you are e using Microsoft's tools compile source code, there will be surveillance and telemetry in your compiled code]
    Programmers can be potentially identified from the low-level machine-code instructions in their software executables by AI-powered tools. That's according to boffins from Princeton University, Shiftleft, Drexel University, Sophos, and Braunschweig University of Technology, who have described how stylometry can be applied to binary files. That's kinda bad news for people who wish to develop software, such as privacy-protecting apps, anonymously, as this technology can be used to potentially unmask them. It's also kinda good news for crimefighters trying to identify malware authors.
  • How to avoid humiliating newcomers: A guide for advanced developers
    Every year in New York City, a few thousand young men come to town, dress up like Santa Claus, and do a pub crawl. One year during this SantaCon event, I was walking on the sidewalk and minding my own business, when I saw an extraordinary scene. There was a man dressed up in a red hat and red jacket, and he was talking to a homeless man who was sitting in a wheelchair. The homeless man asked Santa Claus, "Can you spare some change?" Santa dug into his pocket and brought out a $5 bill. He hesitated, then gave it to the homeless man. The homeless man put the bill in his pocket. In an instant, something went wrong. Santa yelled at the homeless man, "I gave you $5. I wanted to give you one dollar, but five is the smallest I had, so you oughtta be grateful. This is your lucky day, man. You should at least say thank you!" [...] I still get angry at people on the internet. It happened to me recently, when someone posted a comment on a video I published about Python co-routines. It had taken me months of research and preparation to create this video, and then a newcomer commented, "I want to master python what should I do."

Software: 5 Online Backup Solutions, Lector, Roundcube

  • 5 Online Backup Solutions for Ubuntu Linux
    As the digital age progresses, the amount of data we produce each year is snowballing. There was a time when we could fit all of our personal digital data on a few floppy disks, but many of us now have hundreds of gigabytes, or even terabytes, of photos, videos, music, and documents that we need to backup and protect. Backing up our data locally is essential, but any good backup plan should also include off-site backups. “The Cloud” has promised us unlimited, cheap storage where we can save our ever-growing data. Online cloud backups should be a part of your overall backup plan, but it’s crucial that your data is secure, encrypted, and backed up automatically. Here are a few online backup tools that aim to make cloud backups easy for desktop Linux users.
  • This Qt eBook App for Linux is a Real Page Turner
    Lector a new open-source Qt-based ebook app for Linux desktops. It supports most common DRM-free ebook files, including EPUB, MOBI, and AZW, as well as comic book files in the CBZ or CBR format. In both visuals and in features Lector is something of a page-turner; a desktop ebook reader you can absolutely judge by its cover. So join me as I take a closer look at its features.
  • Roundcube fr_FEM locale 1.3.5
    Roundcube 1.3.5 was released today and with it, I've released version 1.3.5 of my fr_FEM (French gender-neutral) locale. This latest version is actually the first one that can be used with a production version of Roundcube: the first versions I released were based on the latest commit in the master branch at the time instead of an actual release. Not sure why I did that.