12 October 2010

[net] URLus Shortenerus Interruptus, Brought To You By Libya

It's convenient to think that TLDs - Top Level Domains, the last two or three (or, four, even) letters if your FQD (fully qualified domain) name, such as .com, .net, .org, .biz, .tv, &c, &c, are just collections of letters anymore with little intrinsic meaning or value. There was a time when .org was reserved for non-profits and suchlike. Now, via open-for-business internet registrars, anyone can be a .org.

But, as it occurs, TLDs may indeed have intrinsic value and authority, as the author Violet Blue has just - and rather abruptly - discovered.

URL shorteners have entered the handy-toolkit of the Twitterer and the web surfer, for reasons which should be self-evident. And the TLD ".ly" makes for nifty URLs: bit.ly, the go-to for Twitter, ow.ly, the go-to for Hootsuite, good.ly, the charitably-slanted URL shortener.

The obstacle begins to suggest itself when one remembers that the .ly domain is the TLD of the Great Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahiriya ... Although you're more likely to say Libya.

Yeah, the one with Gadaffi in charge. That Libya. They got sharia there and all that.

However, when Violet Blue and her business partner decided to debut a "sex-positive" URL shortener, the .ly domain seemed to make sense. It was fashionable, after all, and resellers from the ccTLD NIC.ly, Libya's internet registration authority, seemed to market to Western tastes. And it worked well for a year. The second year, however, things got all brown and chunky for 'em:

It’s official: the Libyan government has seized vb.ly. This was done with no warning. Despite the fact that vb.ly was a one-page link-shortening service, Nic.ly (the registry for .ly domain reseller registrar Libyan Spider) informed us that the content of our website was offensive, obscene and illegal according to Libyan Islamic Sharia Law. Not the domain, but the content of the website – no matter where the domain was hosted.

The  photograph of me with my bare arms, holding a bottle, and the words “sex-positive” were cited as obscene, offensive and illegal. We were also told that we were “promoting an illegal activity” with our link shortener.

Violet and her business partner appear to hold that this has perhaps a little more to do with a Libyan effort to prevent non-Libyans from owning domain names shorter than four characters than it does actual implementation of Sharia with respect to who they do business with. If so, appeal to Sharia is a mere tool to an end ... but, man, what a tool. You can't resist it. And, since the word came down via the reseller from the ccTLD registrar, then what they say, goes.

And with that, went all the links that were shortened through vb.ly, for now irretrevably borken.

Which makes this something to keep in mind: when procuring services through an extranational concern, they may well be marketing with your aims in mind. But in the end, they might have to comply with laws that most certainly do not.

It's a tough internet out there, campers. Go in with eyes wide open if you can.

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