TELECOM Digest OnLine - Sorted: Re: Not so Fast! 'xxx' Startup Put on Hold

Re: Not so Fast! 'xxx' Startup Put on Hold

Mark Crispin (MRC@CAC.Washington.EDU)
Wed, 17 Aug 2005 16:59:05 -0700

On Wed, 17 Aug 2005, the News Wire reported:

> That didn't sit well with conservative activists who worry that a .xxx
> domain will further legitimize the porn industry and won't make it
> easier to avoid sexual content online.

Leaving aside their motivations, they are correct in their overall
assessment of the undesirability of a .xxx TLD.

However, an .xxx TLD does not help the porn industry or its customers.
The proper analogy is not with a zoned red-light district, but rather
with a walled ghetto with no requirement that anyone live in the

The basic notion of a zoned red-light district is to create a safe
haven for the "entertainment" industry; if they stay in the district
and follow certain rules, they can ply their trade without harassment.
Another characteristic of the red-light district is that the customers
of the "entertainers" can come and go discreetly without harassment.

The basic notion of a walled ghetto is to lock an "undesirable" subset
of society into one area, and to track all comings and goings. Not
only can't the inhabitants leave, but their visitors can't be

An .xxx TLD combines the worst features of both. The porn industry is
not required to use it; and it is likely that the level of filtering
applied to the .xxx TLD would block many of their customers.

We're not just talking about little Johnny not being allowed to look
at dirty pictures on the school computer. We're also talking about
legitimate adult customers on their own computers being blocked from
their porn because some entity between customer and supplier chooses
to block the .xxx TLD. It also makes it easier to track the
activities of these legitimate adult customers.

There may be no recourse if the only ISP in a small town is owned by
someone who chooses to interfere with his users' access to porn,
especially if the user does not want his consumption of porn to become

An .xxx TLD does not help those who want to be in a "porn-free"
environment either. There's no requirement for the porn industry to
use it. There is abundant motivation for them *not* to use it.

It would be difficult, if not impossible, to create laws to force the
porn industry to use an .xxx TLD. A red-light district or a ghetto
involves a single legal authority to make the determination of what
goes in and what does not. The Internet does not have that luxury.
What is considered to be the vilest porn in Tehran or Mecca may be
normal public art (or even medical information) in Paris or San

If the real intent is to set up a red-light district, a better means
of doing this would be through the means of content tagging. The
tagging must be of a form by which local jurisdictions (and
individuals!) can make their own determination of "porn" or "not porn"
and by doing so create a red-light district customized for their own
needs. For example, Tehran and Mecca would probably rate content with
the "uncovered woman's face" tag as going in their red-light district.

The other necessary part -- and much more difficult to achieve --
would be to have an international body of law (with local versions in
place at all countries with Internet access) which protects content
providers from prosecution if they accurately label their content
according to the content tagging standards.

It must be understood that protection from prosecution is a vital part
of any red-light district.

Finally, it is the responsibility of the authority defining the
red-light district to block content that is prohibited even in the
red-light district. It is not the responsibility of the content
provider; the content provider's responsibility ends with accurate

None of this is simple; and none of this is accomplished by an .xxx TLD.

-- Mark --
Science does not emerge from voting, party politics, or public debate.
Si vis pacem, para bellum.

[TELECOM Digest Editor's Note: I want to just respond to one point
which was stated by Mark ...

Mark said "It would be difficult if not impossible to force the porn
industry to be part of 'xxx'."

Why would that be difficult, Mark? In many communities now, those
places are required (just like taverns) to post notices that persons
of minority age cannot be on the premises. It is not considered a
free-association issue, but rather a matter of public policy and any
challenges to the 'minors stay away' rule are always defeated. Why
would it be a free-speech issue to impose on porn sites in the same
way, with 'xxx' being the equivilent of a 'minors not allowed' sign?
I have never yet seen a tavern, or a gay mens 'bathhouse', or an adult
bookstore for example, which got anywhere trying to argue that that
signs on the wall ordering minors to leave the premises were somehow
an imposition on the establishment (or the patrons therein) rights of
free speech or free association. Or, for that matter, a movie theatre
(adult or otherwise) which attempted to enfore an 'X' or 'PG' rating
making free speech claims, etc. So why would an internet establishment
suddenly have that problem (assuming the law said that public policy
dictated the protection of minors?

Mark also notes that the presence of 'xxx' would mean that snoopers or
other busy bodies could easily spy to see who had been where. While
that is true and it is easier to audit the behavior of others on a
computer screen rather than standing on the sidewalk around a business
place, don't you suppose conservative Christians (not to single them
out but use them as a good example) couldn't observe the patrons of an
'adult' business place by watching from the sidewalk if they were so
inclined? And yes, 'xxx' does not keep detirmined children (nor
conservative Christians for that matter) away from such an Internet
establishment if they wish to sneak inside, neither does a 'we do not
sell cigarattes under 18 nor alcohol under 21' sign prevent kids from
trying to purchase or use or peek, etc. Those signs merely serve as a
reminder of society's stated purposes, and warn of society's intent to
punish offenders.

One thing that 'xxx' _would_ do is provide a good screening and
filtering mechanism for 'adult' purveyors who did _not_ want to be
bothered by kids coming around, etc (when combined with their other
validation techniques such as credit card proof of age, etc.). People
who were so inclined could filter out 'xxx' in the same way they can
filter out other spam and trash. What's your objection to that? PAT]

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