Science & Technology

Dotty Idea

Web Playgrounds


When the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) released its list of seven new top-level domains last summer, critics of the government-sanctioned corporation complained the new options were too limited. But since ICANN decides what can be a top-level domain—for example, the new .biz—on the world's primary Internet hub, the rejected domains could only, at best, retreat to less accessible servers. (See "Unsanctioned Webs," Citings, April.)

Some congressmen, however, decided that one rejected domain, .kids, was a moral (or at least political) imperative. In June, John Shimkus (R-Ill.) and Ed Markey (D-Mass.) proposed the Dot Kids Domain Name Act, a bill that would require ICANN to immediately develop a .kids top-level domain.

Advocates of .kids say it would be a "green space" for children to frolic on the Internet, a sort of digital park free of drugs, guns, and pornography. Pages that register for the domain would have to submit to yet-to-be-determined standards of decency, and if they didn't comply, would have to amend their pages or be kicked off.

Unlike the congressmen, ICANN doesn't consider a totally G-rated domain to be feasible. In an early assessment of the .kids proposal, the company wrote, "The unique value of the .kids domain lies in meeting parents' expectations that it will be a safe area of the Internet for their children. The proposal provides very little technical support for meeting this goal, and it is unclear if the proposers understand the magnitude of the task of auditing 2.5 million names/web sites and handling complaints."

Markey and Shimkus counter that while a .kids domain wouldn't be perfect, it would at least be safer than what they see as a horrifying .com world where an unwitting child seeking information about the White House might accidentally discover the ins and outs of bukkake instead.

"We had hoped that through our hearings and our discussions with [ICANN] about trying to protect kids, that they would have moved on this in their most recent awarding of top-level domains," Shimkus says. "Of course, a top-level domain to help protect kids was not found on the list. So we did what we could based upon encouragement. And when that doesn't work, then we move on to legislative language, which is what we've done."