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Globe Editorial

A virtual red-light district

July 7, 2010

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IF THE body that manages Web domain names establishes a space on the Internet just for adult content, people who want to avoid pornography will be among the beneficiaries. The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers took steps last week to allow website operators to register their sites with names ending in .xxx. By the end of next year, .xxx would join .com, .org, and .edu on the list of possible Web address endings.

While no one would be forced to use the new suffix, adult websites could naturally gravitate to it over time. Meanwhile, the new suffix would help parents, schools, and businesses block out significant amounts of adult content. It would also help Web surfers avoid pornography if they so choose. (Anyone who, for example, has accidentally visited WhiteHouse.com instead of WhiteHouse.gov knows how mix-ups can happen.)

This is the second time ICANN has attempted to approve the new classification. The last time around, stiff opposition from religious groups, some adult website operators, and, ultimately, the US government, forced ICANN to reverse its decision. This time, the deal stands on more solid footing, mostly because the US government no longer holds official sway over the body.

Religious groups worry that a new .xxx classification may serve to legitimize pornography. But a label isn’t an endorsement; it simply recognizes the state of the Internet as it is. Meanwhile, some adult content providers worry that the new classification will promote censorship. But court decisions clearly limit the government’s ability to ban most such content. Furthermore, the best way for the online adult entertainment industry to stave off the threat of regulation is responsible and credible self-regulation.

The .xxx label wouldn’t dramatically change content on the Internet, but it would be a good first step in untangling adult content from non-adult content online.

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