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European Parliament seeks .kid domain, but will it work?

The European Parliament wants a safe playground for children on the internet, voting on Tuesday to set up a top level domain called .kid. But a similar scheme already exists in the US and has failed to attract many content providers.09 Sep 2005

Advert: Phishing conference, London, 27th October 2005The EU vote was on a proposal from rapporteur Marielle De Sarnez, who also suggested the creation of a European free telephone service, designed to provide information on existing filter methods, and making it easier to report dangerous sites or lodge complaints.

The point of having a top level domain (like .com or .org) reserved for children is that it will provide a “secure internet area regularly monitored by an independent authority”. According to Ms De Sarnez’ report, one young person in three taking part in discussion forums is subjected to sexual advances; so sectioning off of a corner of the internet for children appears to be a good thing.

But it is not a new idea. ICANN, the governing body for the internet's naming system, considered the creation of a .kids top level domain in 2000 but rejected the proposal, partly because it would be difficult to control. It was persuaded that, if an area is promoted as safe for children, there is potentially more harm when unsuitable material appears within that area.

Instead, the US Congress created the heavily regulated .kids.us sub-domain. Launched in 2003, it allows only material that is suitable for children 12 years-old and younger. And it has failed to catch on.

New York librarian Jean Armour Polly has authored six editions of Net-mom's Internet Kids & Family Yellow Pages, a family-friendly directory to 3,500 of the best children's resources the internet has to offer. She doesn't think much of .kids.us.

"There are currently less than twenty-five active websites in kids.us," she wrote in June 2005. She goes on to review "the eight that are worth visiting."

She blames the high annual fee and the requirement that there can be no links out of kids.us boundaries as the main reasons for deterring content providers.

Struan Robertson, a technology lawyer with Pinsent Masons and Editor of OUT-LAW.COM, reckons the EU proposal will come with similar barriers to entry.

"Launching a kids-only domain presents a higher risk than an adults-only domain," he said. "ICANN looks to be approving a .xxx domain, but it rejected the .kids domain five years ago and for good reasons: it's expensive to ensure that all content found in a particular domain is suitable for children, yet the domain is almost pointless without such a guarantee for parents."

The .kids.us domain lists prohibited content, including mature content, inappropriate language, drugs, violence, tobacco, gambling, weapons and criminal activity. In an educational context, some of this material may be allowed; but the boundaries are vague.

Robertson concluded: "It's difficult to see why those that already run popular websites for children would want to migrate to a new .kid space if all it brings is hassle and expense."