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All Tech Considered

Who's Opposed To .XXX Domain Names? Not Exactly Whom You'd Think

Originally published on Thu December 15, 2011 4:42 pm

Education has .edu, .gov belongs to the government, and now, adult entertainment has .xxx.

Since last week, anyone can go online and buy a domain name ending in .xxx — but it's not all adult entertainment companies that are rushing to purchase the new addresses.

Colleges and other institutions have purchased .xxx domains pre-emptively to prevent others from doing so and associating their names with adult content. And many big names in the adult entertainment industry are opposed to the possibility of censorship by places that could block the entire .xxx domain.

Stuart Lawley, chief executive officer of ICM Registry, the company that owns .xxx, has been fighting for approval to add the adult domain to the Web for the past 10 years. He says the domain acknowledges adult entertainment exists: People can then identify the content, he says, and either select it or avoid it as they see fit.

So far, more than 100,000 new domains have been registered for .xxx addresses — and some of those are quite specific.

"We've had requests for like 62-character-long names, and I have to admit, [for] some of them I've had to go look them up in the Urban Dictionary to find out what they mean," Lawley says.

These new websites are advertised as virus-free, and they'll be harder for kids to get to. Lawley says every .xxx site is automatically given a child protection label, and browsers can be set to automatically filter those sites out.

It sounds like a win-win for the adult entertainment industry and for people worried about child safety on the Web, but not all agree.

"We don't see it as a silver bullet," says Stephen Balkam, the CEO of the Family Online Safety Institute, which advocates keeping online adult entertainment away from kids. At most, Balkam says, the group sees .xxx as a modest filtering tool.

"It's not a quick and easy way to avoid porn, because there are many other sites, of course, that use the .com space that probably won't be using .xxx," Balkam says.

And that's the problem: Some of the largest online adult entertainment companies hate the new domain.

"We're not a believer of .xxx," says Michael Klein, president of Hustler. "We don't think it should be out there, nor have we registered any .xxx domains."

Klein argues that if the adult entertainment industry moved over to .xxx, adult sites would be too easy to censor, because all a country or a locality would have to do to block those sites would be to block .xxx.

And he says it's too expensive to bring all of Hustler's .com domains over to .xxx. The company owns thousands and thousands of domains, and at $60 to $80 each, it would be too much to spend every year on another set, he says.

Those views are shared by some of the biggest adult companies on the Internet. They say .xxx is too expensive and too restrictive, and they're staying away from it completely.

But so far there are thousands of .xxx domain names registered, so who's buying them? Some have been purchased by adult companies, but others are bought by institutions looking to protect their names.

Schools like Indiana University, Illinois State University and the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, just to name a few, all bought up combinations of their names back in September — so addresses like UNC.xxx are off the market.

Even NPR has bought up NPR.xxx. If you go there, you'll see a message telling you, "This domain has been reserved from registration." And in case you were wondering, there aren't plans to develop it anytime soon.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.

LYNN NEARY, HOST:

And I'm Lynn Neary.

Universities have .edu. The government has .gov. Well now, adult entertainment has .xxx or dot triple X. Starting last week, anyone could go online and buy a domain name ending in dot triple X. And so far, over 100,000 of these domains have been purchased. Our story comes from Jacob Margolis.

JACOB MARGOLIS, BYLINE: Some of the sites that have been registered are very specific.

STUART LAWLEY: We've had requests for like 62-character-long names. And, you know, I have to admit, some of them, I've had to go and look them up in the Urban Dictionary to find out what they mean.

MARGOLIS: That's Stuart Lawley, CEO of ICM Registry, the company that owns .xxx. He'd been fighting for approval to add the adult domain to the Web for the last 10 years.

LAWLEY: Our motto as a company for the product is: Dot Triple X, Let's Be Adult About It. And that's the whole point here, you know, that adult entertainment exists - it's existed forever - and why not acknowledge that, identify the content, and then people who wish to select it can do so, and those people who wish to avoid it, can do so.

MARGOLIS: And along with the new domain comes a new set of rules. Customers have to be approved before they can use .xxx for their websites, and each site is scanned for viruses daily. There's also a list of about 4,500 restricted celebrity names. So if you were looking to buy lindsaylohan.xxx or elvis.xxx, you're out of luck. And Stuart argues that .xxx makes online adult entertainment more parent friendly.

LAWLEY: Every .xxx site is automatically labeled with a child protection label. So the common software - the browsers - can be set to automatically filter those sites out.

MARGOLIS: So the new websites are virus free, and they'll be harder for kids to get to. It sounds like a win-win.

STEVEN BALKAM: We don't see it as a silver bullet. And we don't see it as the answer to everything we've been looking for...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

BALKAM: ...in terms of child protection online.

MARGOLIS: That's Steven Balkam, the CEO of the Family Online Safety Institute. They advocate keeping online adult entertainment away from kids. He told me that at most, they see .xxx as a modest filtering tool.

BALKAM: It's not a quick and easy way to avoid porn because there are many other sites, of course, that use the .com space that probably won't be using .xxx.

MARGOLIS: And that's the problem. Some of the largest online adult entertainment companies hate the new domain.

I called up Michael Klein, the president of Hustler, to ask him if they were going to switch their .coms over to .xxx.

MICHAEL KLEIN: We're not a believer of .xxx. We don't think it should be out there nor have we registered any .xxx domains.

MARGOLIS: Klein argues that if the adult entertainment industry moved over to .xxx, adult sites would be too easy to censor because all a country or a locality would have to do to block those sites would be to block .xxx. He also argues that it's too expensive to bring all of Hustler's .coms over to .xxx.

KLEIN: We have thousands and thousands of domains. And just think about it that it's, you know, anywhere from 60 to $80 a domain. It's a ridiculous price to spend every year.

MARGOLIS: And those are views shared by some of the biggest adult entertainment companies on the net. They think that .xxx is too expensive and too restrictive, and they're staying away from it completely. But there are more than 100,000 .xxx domain names registered.

So who's buying them? Well, some adult entertainment companies but also brands that want to protect their names. Schools like Indiana University, Illinois State University and the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, just to name a few, all bought up combinations of their names back in September.

So names like unc.xxx are off the market. Even NPR bought up npr.xxx. So if you go there, you're going to see a message telling you: This domain has been reserved from registration. And in case you were wondering, there aren't plans to develop it anytime soon. For NPR News, I'm Jacob Margolis. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.