After seven years of wrangling, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) has approved XXX as a sponsored generic top level domain (TLD). Curiously, the adult entertainment industry and religious and family groups both opposed this move, though for different reasons. The industry fears easier censorship, resents the creation of a virtual red-light district, and does not look forward to the costs of registering new domain names. Religious and family groups resented what they saw as the legitimization of sexual content online.
It’s easy to be cynical about the decision. It is certainly a windfall for ICM Registry, the company that controls names issued with the XXX suffix. As I write this, 267,772 domain names have been “pre-reserved” (whatever that means – I do dislike unnecessary “pre”) and the prices have not yet been announced. And yes, it will make censorship easier – much easier. An employer, parent, country, or ISP can just block all .XXX addresses.
However, if we look at the model of film rating in Canada, clearly identifying pornography as pornography can actually reduce censorship. Calls to censor typically come from people concerned about unintentional exposure of adult material to minors. For example, parents will plead with government authorities to do something after little Jimmy was shocked to the see that hotchicks.com is not a site about incubating hatchlings. Porn under the XXX domain will only be seen by those that seek it out.
Legitimizing sexual content is also a good thing. Legitimization leads to regulation and control. Sounds oppressive, but regulation and control of the sex industry reduces the oppression and exploitation of vulnerable individuals. Whereas .COM remains the wild west, the ICM Registry requires that companies using XXX domains be authenticated and meet various standards, including a globally defined prohibition against child pornography:
Registrants in the sTLD may not display any photograph, film, video, picture, or computer or computer-generated image or picture, whether made or produced by electronic, mechanical, or other means, depicting child pornography as defined in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. Any sites in the sTLD that appear to be in violation of this policy shall be referred to the child safety hotlines in accordance with IFFOR policy.
The XXX domain could become the equivalent of fair trade chocolate for the porn consumer. The morality of porn on the internet is a moot point – it’s there. So why not make sure it is clearly labelled, honestly presented, and a little easier to avoid if you don’t want it.