.xxx domain

.xxx domain
Plan Revived for XXX Top-Level Domain

Plans for the creation of an Internet red-light district sputtered last year in the face of opposition, but two U.S. senators have revived the proposal in the hope of separating porn from the rest of the Internet's content.

Senate Democrats Mark Pryor of Arkansas and Max Baucus of Montana have introduced the "Cyber Safety for Kids Act of 2006," which would require the Department of Commerce to work with ICANN, the Internet's main oversight body, to develop a domain for adults-only content.

Previous attempts to push through a porn domain have gotten some traction, but also have drawn a great deal of criticism. At a press conference, Baucus said that the .xxx domain would help parents keep kids from accessing adult sites and would help prevent hapless Internet users from stumbling on sexually explicit content.

X-Ray Vision

Under the original proposals for an .xxx domain, it would have been voluntary for creators of adult content to shift their sites to the new red-light arena. But the latest bill would make it mandatory for anyone who creates "lewd" material that is "harmful to minors" to use a specially designated domain, which the senators noted could be ".xxx" or another suffix.

The tenor of the recent proposal also differs from the previous iteration. In the original plan, the domain was discussed as a way for the online porn industry to follow a list of best practices and reduce spamming, among other advantages. Originally, ICANN had endorsed the concept of an .xxx domain, and some adult site operators had been eager to try out the new system.

But in the current proposal, the emphasis is less on creating best practices among adult content producers, and more on protecting children from what the porn producers create. This not-so-subtle shift might spark more arguments than debate, and it remains to be seen whether site owners will reject or agree with the proposal's demands.

Red Light

Also due to be part of the debate is how the proposal is received by watchdog groups like the ACLU and children's protection organizations. WiredSafety.org, an organization that focuses on children and Internet use, has been a strong supporter of a separate domain name for adult content.

"Protections need to be built that don't exist right now," said WiredSafety.org executive director Parry Aftab. "We need controls and measures that can be tracked and examined."

In some ways, the development of a virtual red-light district could act like its real-life counterpart, separating adult-themed material and easing enforcement of child protection policies.

"As kids become more tech savvy, something has to be done," said Aftab. "We can't just tell children not to visit these sites and assume that will be enough. And we've heard that parental control programs are too complex for people, so best of all would be straightforward, easy applications, and some legislation as well."
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