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Domain names get dirty

For the first time in the history of the coveted ".com" domain, Netizens are being allowed to register vulgar addresses thanks to the latest participant in a shared registration system.

For the first time in the history of the coveted ".com" domain, Netizens are being allowed to register vulgar addresses thanks to the latest participant in a shared registration system.

Network Solutions, which until recently had sole authority to register domains ending in ".com," ".net," and ".org," has long forbidden the registration of obscene names with several exceptions.

That changed last week when CORE (Internet Council of Registrars) became the third organization to test a shared registration system designed to end NSI's monopoly. Searches using a Whois database provided by Geektools showed that CORE has registered a number of domain names containing the banned words.

At least two lawsuits challenging NSI's policy are pending, but in the meantime, the primary registrar has prohibited the registration of domain names containing the "seven dirty words" made famous in a monologue by comedian George Carlin. A landmark free speech decision held that Federal Communications Commission regulations banning the words from broadcasts did not violate the U.S. Constitution.

Still, CORE's acceptance of the names marks another shift in the governance of the domain name system critical to the Net's operation. The system has been undergoing a major international overhaul this year with the U.S. government pushing forward a plan to relinquish oversight to a nonprofit body, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN).

"I don't like it, but I can't set up a policy to cover all the registrars all over the world," said Ken Stubbs, chairman of CORE, which represents 55 registrars in 23 countries. "That problem needs to be addressed in a much more practical way at a much higher level."

Putting further pressure on CORE is a lawsuit filed more than two months ago. It names Network Solutions, CORE, and four other "test-bed" registrars, as well as ICANN, alleging that the dirty word policy violates First Amendment guarantees.

Registering vulgar addresses with ".com" extensions is by no means a new phenomenon. Addresses with profane connotations, but not technically one of the seven words banned by the FCC, are easily found, and many are considered much more repugnant.

Enforcing a consistent policy also has proven difficult because filters frequently stop the registration of many legitimate words if they contain a partial dirty word, as in the case of "shitakemushroom.com" (although the more common spelling is "shiitake").

NSI, which still maintains the registry software that new competitors must use to sell domain names, allows each registrar to forge its own policy on the dirty words issue.

So far, CORE appears to be the only registrar allowing the dirty words to be registered. Register.com, the first registrar to enter the shared registration system, forbids the words. Representatives from Melbourne IT, the second NSI competitor, were not available for comment.