The Triple-X TLD: The Beauty Contest from Hell

Just when you thought the .xxx affair couldn’t get any worse, it does. I’m beginning to think that ICANN’s approach to TLD approval was cooked up by a demented sergeant from Abu Ghraib.

On March 13, the ICANN board is set to vote – again – on whether they can approve ICM’s Registry’s application to operate a domain reserved for adult online content: .xxx. This will be the third or fourth time this has happened. I have lost count. The same thing keeps happening again and again. ICANN tells ICM registry, the company applying for the domain, something is wrong with its application and something more needs to be done to get approval. ICM registry dutifully goes off and does what was asked. And then ICANN thinks of something else that is wrong, something else it has to do. It’s Lucy, Charlie Brown and the football, on a global scale and costing millions of dollars in money and time.

Now, after the triple x people negotiated with ICANN’s staff a contract that met all prior objections, and heads into what should be its final approval, word is that a few ICANN Board members are leaning in a negative direction. What is the reason? A group of pornographers has organized a campaign against .xxx, flooding ICANN’s comment box with overwhelmingly negative remarks. Since .xxx is supposed to be a “sponsored” domain and sponsored domains are supposed to have support from a “community,” some Board members are questioning whether ICM Registry has sufficient community support to be classified as a sponsored domain.

But wait. ICANN already decided, more than a year ago, that ICM Registry had sufficient support from the relevant “community” to be classified as a sponsored domain. The test for sponsorship was part of the original process. So that issue is over. Or should be.

What kind of a resource allocation organization can just say, “oh never mind, yesterday you met the criteria, today you don’t.”

And what is with this public comment business? Where is the policy value in this modern version of the public stoning? If you held a public comment on whether Milton Mueller should be allowed to write another book the verdict might be negative if my enemies caught wind of it. Anything having to do with pornography is bound to be controversial. Negotiating an agreement and then blithely asking for public comment about it simply gives the proposal’s enemies time to organize lots of negative comments.

Of course .xxx isn’t supported by everyone. Anyone who expects all pornographers to rally around a proposal that would put their content into a clearly demarcated category is either seriously disconnected from reality or disingenuous. By clearly identifying porn, the domain will both make it easier to find and easier to block. That works against the interests of many incumbent online adult sites.

So why is this happening? The answers are scary.

The answer is that ICANN’s processes are so arbitrary and political that any issue can be opened and reopened at any time, for any reason – regardless of the defined process. The answer is that ICANN’s completely discretionary, beauty contest approach to TLD selection casts it adrift on a sea of politics, so that the slightest shift in the winds causes it to change direction. The answer is that ICANN will do anything to avoid making a controversial decision.

It is tempting to accuse specific individuals in this process for being malevolent and duplicitous. But the truth is actually worse than that. One credits malevolent people with a purpose, an objective. In this case, the Board members and CEO seem truly directionless, a couple of flotsam and jetsam bobbing about in a political sea. They simply do not understand how deeply they are sapping ICANN’s credibility and stature in the world by making (non)decisions in this way. To live up to its role as a global governance institution, ICANN needs to have clear, objective decision making criteria and to stand up for principles. The path of arbitrariness ICANN is on leads to only one end result: litigation.

The issue here is very simple. ICM Registry met all the criteria ICANN set out in its request for applications back in 2003. It passed all the tests ICANN said in advance it was going to require applicants to meet. It even passed all the tests the US government and the GAC imposed after the process was supposed to be over. That should be the end of the story.

We at IGP have followed the xxx affair closely not because we really care whether this domain is created or not. It’s important because of what it tells us about the way ICANN’s processes work. The message, unfortunately, is all bad and keeps getting worse.

5 comments

  1. Anonymous

    “But wait. ICANN already decided, more than a year ago, that ICM Registry had sufficient support from the relevant “community” to be classified as a sponsored domain. The test for sponsorship was part of the original process. So that issue is over. Or should be.
    What kind of a resource allocation organization can just say, “oh never mind, yesterday you met the criteria, today you don’t.”
    And what is with this public comment business? Where is the policy value in this modern version of the public stoning? If you held a public comment on whether Milton Mueller should be allowed to write another book the verdict might be negative if my enemies caught wind of it. Anything having to do with pornography is bound to be controversial. Negotiating an agreement and then blithely asking for public comment about it simply gives the proposal’s enemies time to organize lots of negative comments. ”
    ———————————————————————-
    I would look into these facts to ensure they are truthful statements. There are many questions about community support, and there are many negative statements coming from both peoplewithin and outside of the sponsored community. Domain Name Registrars, International Governments, Internet Commerce Trade Groups, etc. have come out against this TLD citing variety of DIFFERENT flaws and problems that range from public policy to the scope & responsibilities of ICANN.
    The tone of your editorial (I hope this isn't considered a fact piece) shows through a strong opinion, rather than objectively discussing the facts. Overall, your comments are very shallow and incredibly simplify the whole scenario.

  2. Anonymous

    The .XXX sTLD is the first content-based domain extension that ICANN has entertained that has such levels of oversight and compliance and bloat that is just wrong on so many levels.
    .XXX has been herald by ICM Registry as a mechanism to protect children, but the irony is that .XXX will make it easier for children to find adult entertainment material.
    ICM Registry (the sponsor of the .XXX sTLD) has said that .XXX will help to open the namespace.
    It certainly will. Now there will sites like yellow.xxx that might be urine fetish site. Any child could easily put in a keyword and add .XXX to see what pops up.
    It’s like the joke about reading your fortune cookie and adding “in bed” to the end. How easy would it be for a child to type in any kind of simple keyword of phrase and add on “.xxx” and find porn.
    There is no .XXX blocking mechanism in place.
    Software and ISP filtering could be introduced, If .XXX is approved, but what would it block, a few number of .XXX domains. .XXX is voluntary, and those that have invested in their .COMS won’t be giving them up.
    .XXX is not about protecting children, it is about greed.
    The .XXX TLD was perceived to be one that represents the adult industry for their interest for their own namespace. The .XXX proposal has the sponsored TLD more broadly defined as:
    APPENDIX S
    PART 3.
    DESCRIPTION OF THE STLD COMMUNITY
    Subject to Registry Operator’s compliance with this Registry Agreement, including all attachments and appendices thereto (the “Agreement”) and any Temporary Specifications or Policies or Consensus Policy as defined in the Agreement, and provided the scope of the Charter is not exceeded:
    The TLD Community will consist of the responsible global online adult-entertainment community (“Community”), generally defined as:
    a. Those individuals, businesses, and entities that provide Adult Entertainment intended for consenting adults or for other community members (“Providers”),
    b. Organizations that represent Providers (“Representatives”), and
    c. Their vendors, service providers, and contractors (“Service Providers”).
    The term “Adult-Entertainment” is intended to be understood broadly for a global medium, to include those websites that convey Adult Entertainment, operated by webmasters who have voluntarily determined that a system of self-identification would be beneficial.
    Interested stakeholders, including individuals and entities concerned about child safety, free expression, and data privacy (“Other Stakeholders”) are not part of the sponsored community, but will play an important, formal role in the IFFOR policy development process. Registry Operator may modify and/or expand the description of the sTLD Community, consistent with the Agreement, to reflect change and development in the provision of online Adult Entertainment.
    This paragraph from ICM’s proposal means only those websites that want .XXX are defined as the community.
    Given the list of websites listed at http://www.FightTheDotXXX.com and the hundreds more who have posted up on ICANN’s public comment board, it is quite clear, that the definition that ICM has proposed to ICANN is a sham of a definition.
    If the adult entertainment industry wanted a .XXX TLD, then the individual companies who be flooding the ICANN message board in support of it.
    What you see is clearly the opposite.
    The Adult Entertainment community would support a .KIDS TLD that would truly be the best way to keep kids from any adult material.

  3. Anonymous

    Apparently you must not have looked into the real nature of the situation with regard to the deceptive and highly questionable claims made by ICM and its principals.
    Stuart Lawley and the rest of the ICM team intentionally misled ICANN on the nature of industry support. There simply isn't any, except for an alleged list of 24 companies (out of probably 20,000 adult companies worldwide). And neither ICM nor ICANN will release this list so that we can find out if they are even adult industry companies. But in any case, 24 companies out of 20,000 does not constitute meaningful support from the “sponsored community.” Hundreds or thousands of emails from webmasters opposed to .xxx, on the other hand, does speak pretty clearly to the opposition. And a recent panel on the .xxx domain held at an adult industry convention showed that the industry (or at least those present, which represent a significant cross segment of the overall community) was overwhelmingly opposed.
    Clearly if ICANN was relying on fraudulent information provided to it in making its decision about community support, then ICANN is free to open up the issue again.
    Furthermore, if you make ANY inquires to companies in the adult media field with familiarity of the issue, there is virtually 100% opposition to the proposal.
    .xxx is nothing other than a money grab for ICM. It will not protect children, it will not reduce pornography on the Internet, it will not better manage or restrict display of pornography (unless Lawley is also lying about it “never becoming mandatory) and it is not wanted by the community it is allegedly being provided for.
    As such, ICANN would be completely irresponsible and in violation of its own rules were it to approve the .xxx domain.

  4. Anonymous

    During the building of the intelnet, the U.S. government used tax payer dollars. Should U.S. tax payers have some say in picking domains?