opinion

Another Look at .XXX

Tom Hymes
My first-glance opinion about the recent resurgence of the .XXX sTLD application by ICM Registry is that powerful forces outside of the adult industry have made the decision that they want it to happen and that nothing short of an intervention by equally powerful forces can stop it. After having made a preliminary assessment of the revised agreement between ICM and ICANN, I am no less fearful for the future autonomy of the adult Internet as we know it than I was before this latest iteration of an agreement, which goes back almost three years. We are not doomed, but we are about to experience a profound change in the level of control outside forces have on our Internet properties.

Since the ICANN board of directors voted in May not to approve ICM's application, ICM Registry and the ICANN staff have been busy negotiating significant changes to the previous agreement behind closed doors. According to a Jan. 5 announcement by ICANN, the registry agreement now contains:

  • A major new section providing specificity with respect to ICM's policymaking and community related obligations;

  • New provisions to ensure that ICANN has concrete and practical mechanisms to enforce the contract; and finally,

  • The Agreement retains all of the standard provisions and appendices contained in ICANN's sTLD agreements.

The statement continues, "These changes, which are unique to the ICM Registry Agreement, substantially enhance ICANN's leverage over the registry operator (ICM) throughout the life of the agreement, and provide robust guarantees that ICM will deliver on the commitments made regarding its operation of the TLD."

And therein lies one of the new rubs. ICANN has been extremely uncomfortable with the level of control and authority IFFOR had on policy oversight of .XXX domains, so much so that, despite ICM's protestations that such doubts were misplaced, ICANN has now reserved for itself an unprecedented level of oversight over every decision that ICM/IFFOR makes, with potential penalties that include termination of the agreement.

To help oversee the space, ICANN has ordered ICM to "engage independent third parties to proactively monitor registrant compliance with registry policies prohibiting child pornography and requiring site labeling."

The labeling of adult websites that come under the control of ICANN/ICM is also a new contractually bound requirement, requiring "clear content labeling by registrants (including labeling of sites to which a user entering the URL for a registrant's triple-X site is automatically redirected)."

To comply with the labeling requirement, ICM has been in substantial discussions with the Internet Content Rating Association (ICRA), which recently changed its name to the Family Online Safety Institute. The founding members of the Institute include, among several other major corporations, AOL, Microsoft, Cisco, British Telecom and Verizon.

Registrants of .XXX domains will have to agree to close monitoring to ensure they are in compliance of IFFOR policies, which could include both manual and automated inspections.

The scheme is a top-down pyramid of authoritative oversight, with ICANN (otherwise known as the U.S. Government) holding the reigns, major corporations somewhere below them developing policy, and ICM stuck between a rock and a hard place, under constant threat of elimination and trying to keep the whole thing together. (It almost makes me feel for them.)

And where are you in all this? Apparently at the bottom, practically voiceless and all but invisible.

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