.xxx

August 18, 2005

IN THE Internet's brief but astounding life, users have come up with only three "killer apps," or breakthrough applications: e-mail, search engines and accessing pornography. The Internet is lousy with porn, the largest online industry, with annual revenues approaching $13 billion. Two in five Internet users visited a porn site in April, according to one media survey.

Would the other three in five - uninterested in or disturbed by porn - be better off if there was a virtual red-light district? The body regulating Internet domain names (such as .com, .org, and more than 200 country domains) was to create just that, by setting up a .xxx domain for voluntary use by sex sites. But it decided Tuesday to hold off for a month - after an unusual request to wait from the U.S. Commerce Department, which holds veto power.

We're tempted to favor the .xxx domain if only because we're against direct U.S. government management of the Internet, particularly if it's drivcn by a political agenda (in this case, by conservatives who fear .xxx would legitimize porn). But a voluntary porn domain wouldn't do much: Pornographers aren't going to give up their lucrative .com web sites; there's already a federal law against tricking kids into visiting porn sites; and not least, it's bad precedent. Of about 250 domain designations, .xxx would be the only one that would be content specific, and we thus worry that it would set the stage for censorship imposed by governments.

A more effective answer to porn is for Internet users to manage their own exposure with content filters, rather than to create the fiction of a virtual red-light district.

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