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Dot-xxx porn on the brink

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A new generation of dot-coms will edge closer to reality next week in Brussels, with one – dot-xxx – possibly being approved on the Friday.

The tri-annual meeting of Internet overseeing body ICANN in Brussels will focus on the fourth version of an “applicant guidebook” for those who want to start up and run new Internet extensions.

The process for liberalizing the domain name system at its “top level” has been years in the making, but the fourth version is expected to finally tackle the concerns of trademark holders and governments who have been worried about the impact a large expansion of the Internet’s naming system.

But even if the changes in the fourth version are accepted, Internet users will still likely have to wait until early 2012 before they can register domains under most of the extensions.

In the meantime, a range of new “internationalized domain names” or IDNs have started going live. The government-run extensions allow the non-Western alphabet to be used for the first time on the right of dot in Web addresses.

So far, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Russia have all had their extensions added to the Internet’s “root”; a further nine have already been approved; and another seven are in the pipeline (one from Bulgaria has been turned down for looking too similar to another).

More immediately, the organization’s Board has put discussion of an Internet extension specifically for pornography at the top of its agenda next week.

The dot-xxx application has been outstanding since 2004 and at one point was actually approved, but following a campaign by right-wing Christians in the US and subsequent pressure from the US government, the ICANN Board denied the application in 2007.

Fast-forward three years and the company behind dot-xxx has won an independent review into the decision to reject its application. The review panel found that ICANN had broken its own bylaws as well as international law in denying dot-xxx. As a result, ICANN’s Board is due to consider what to do with the dot-xxx application and is under pressure from all sides to make a decision on the last day of the conference. If approved, adult content providers could be registering dot-xxx domains by the end of the year.

And in a combination of these changes to the Internet’s infrastructure, tomorrow the company that runs the dot-tel extension will allow people to register internationalized versions of its domains, i.e. Jörn.tel. Dot-tel is an unusual Internet extension in that you use the domain name only as a way to store and display contact information; you can’t build a separate website.

Because the contact information is stored directly in the Internet’s domain name system, it is extremely easy and fast to get hold of the information. The impact of all this expansion at the top-level of the Internet – an area that few people are aware extends beyond their own country’s extension and dot-com – has been a matter of some conjecture in the domain name industry, resulting in a wide range of diametrically opposed predictions.

Whatever happens, new arms of the Internet will start. ®

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