Plan would make new domain for adult Web sites

Sunday, July 10, 2005

By Matt Sanders

Southeast Missourian

Like so many other parents, Bryan and Rhonda Young of Cape Girardeau have a love-hate relationship with the Internet. The Youngs know the information superhighway can lead to a wealth of knowledge as long as surfers avoid the seedy back alleys found throughout cyberspace.

So they monitor everything their 13-year-old daughter and 17-year-old son do online, even though Bryan Young admits the teens know more about the machines than he does.

The couple uses an online monitoring service that tracks activity on their Internet account and notifies them if anyone visits an explicit site and they keep the computer in the kitchen, where it can be in plain view at all times.

Even so, it's still hard to avoid one of the Internet's biggest sectors -- the adult industry, which does $12 billion a year in online business.

"It's hard to keep your kids from stumbling onto it, because it seems like it's everywhere, even in places you wouldn't think about," Rhonda Young said.

As part of its multibillion-dollar business, the online porn industry is infamous for using tactics like spam and what's known as "typosquatting" (using a domain name that's a misspelling of a popular site) to attract more hits to their sites, a key source of generating revenue.

But now the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, the Internet's key oversight body, has come up with a plan in hopes of alleviating some of those problems. The group voted in to set up a new domain, .xxx, that would be reserved for adult Web sites only and carry a code of conduct aimed at preventing the spam and typosquatting that are so prevalent in cyberspace.

$60 per site

ICANN rejected a similar proposal five years ago, but accepted this newest proposal in the hopes that it would help establish safe business practices and reduce things like credit card fraud that are rampant in the online adult industry.

The oversight body will contract with ICM Registry Inc., a Jupiter, Fla.-based company. The company would charge $60 for each Web site it registers, with $10 of that going to a not-for-profit group that would educate parents about safe surfing for children. That group would also determine eligibility for companies wanting to register on the domain.

If approved by the U.S. Commerce Department, Web sites ending in .xxx could start showing up by the end of the year.

As both a parent and president of a Web-design firm in Cape Girardeau, Chris Edmonds with Element 74 has some mixed feelings about the possible .xxx proposal.

"I think it's a very positive step toward safeguarding children," Edmonds said. "I don't think they go far enough because it's not mandatory, because a lot of pornography sites won't adhere to it.

"I think it's a step in the right direction, but more than anything it will create an issue for parents and hopefully cause them to push for legislation toward making this mandatory."

ICM wants to keep the sign-ups voluntary and has pledged to set up a legal fund to that end, citing free speech issues. The adult entertainment industry fears the new domain is the first step toward pushing porn into a ghetto in the same way zoning laws have affected adult bookstores.

The voluntary nature of the domain means that porn purveyors will have the ability to keep their old .com and .net sites while adding more sites under .xxx, say the proposal's many critics.

'They will not move out'

Chief among them is Patrick Trueman, senior legal counsel at the Family Research Council, a conservative group that advocates family values. As a former Justice Department official overseeing prosecution under obscenity laws, Trueman said he's familiar with the tricks used by the porn industry.

"They will not move out of the dot-com domain and you can't force them to go unless you prosecute them," Trueman said. "The notion that there will be a new triple-X domain and everybody will be safe on their computers because you can block the triple-X domain is just a fantasy.

"It just gives false hope to parents."

Trueman said the pornography industry was profitable on the Internet before any other business could even set up shop in cyberspace, and pornographers won't give up that entrenched position in the dot-com realm easily.

Only 20 companies own 70 percent of the 300 million pornographic Web sites on the Internet, said Trueman, and those companies are already used to diversifying the sites they offer to attract as much business as possible. The new domain would only give them another place to post sites, he said.

But the business is only there because the demand exists. A recent study said two in five Internet users visited an adult Web site in April and that 4 percent of all Web traffic and 2 percent of all surfing time involved an adult Web site.

Larry Magid, operator of safekids.com, said he wouldn't want the domain's creation to give parents a false sense of security. Like Trueman and others, he believes that the online porn industry will probably keep their old domain names, since the new one isn't mandatory.

Older children who view pornography, said Magid, could develop sexually deviant behaviors from viewing some of the materials out there, which can many times be violent.

But Magid also acknowledges there are more pressing dangers for children in cyberspace, such as sexual predators.

"While pornography can have negative moral and psychological implications, it's not the same as putting a child in physical danger," Magid said. "In the grand scheme of things, it's one of the concerns, but certainly not the most dangerous."

msanders@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 182

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