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LIBYA: Tripoli cracks down on 'sex-positive' URL shortener

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Consider yourselves warned: registering "sex-positive" anything in Libya is a bad idea.

Earlier this week, sex and tech writer Violet Blue took to her blog to announce the Libyan government had seized her URL shortening service vb.ly, "the Internet's first and only sex-positive URL shortener."

Cute little .ly domain names have been all the rage for a while now, but many casual users of similar URL-shortening services like bit.ly and ow.ly may not know that the .ly stands for Libya, or, as it's formally known, the Great Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahiriya.

Vb.ly was intended as a "tolerant" service for sharing NSFW [not safe for work, i.e. porn] links, but did not actually provide graphic content (Unless you count the picture of Blue drinking a beer in a halter top on the homepage, which apparently the Libyan authorities did.)

Blue claims she was unaware that the terms of service, available in English on the website of the reseller that sold her the domain, included a section expressing forbidding anything considered contrary to "Libyan law or Islamic morality."

It remains somewhat unclear whether vb.ly, which Blue co-owns with another person, was shut down over the picture on the homepage or its explicit orientation. A letter from a Libyan telecomm official posted on Blue's webpage indicates it was probably a combination of the two.

"The issue of offensive imagery is quite subjective, as what I may deem as offensive you might not, but I think you’ll agree that a picture of a scantily clad lady with some bottle in her hand isn’t exactly what most would consider decent or family friendly at the least," said the letter that was posted on Blue's page.

"Now, had your domain merely been a URL shortener for general uses similar to bit.ly (as you claim) there would have been no problem with it," he continued. "It is when you promote your site being solely for adult uses, or even state that you are ‘adult friendly’ to promote it that we as a Libyan Registry have an issue."

On Friday, Libya's top domain registry posted an official statement focusing on vb.ly's "adult uses."

Jillian York, who writes about technology and the Arab world for Harvard's Berkman Center for Internet and Society, said she was made aware of Libya's strict web rules some time ago by what she described as a "fairly racist" Twitter campaign dubbed .ly=Libya, which argued that using .ly sites was equivalent to supporting Sharia law. 

"I think a lot of the reaction I have seen in the tech community and beyond...has been somewhat hysterical," she told Babylon & Beyond. "Whereas, you know, it's Libya."

The news hasn't created a huge splash on Arabic blogs and forums, perhaps because a site getting shut down for suggestive content isn't unusual in most Arab countries. But some were angered by the online backlash Libya's actions have provoked.

"Do not expect the West to understand the logic of religion and morals here," wrote the Arabic technology news website Teedoz.

"The fact is, it was up to the owners of the site to make sure they were not violating the regulations of the state, which it was by linking to porn sites," it continued. "it is well known that any domain ending in .ly is Libyan."

Meris Lutz in Beirut

Screenshot: Violet Blue, a well-known tech and sex writer, had her adult-friendly URL-shortening service taken down by the Libyan government. Credit: Meris Lutz via. Blue's webpage, tinynibbles.com

 

Comments () | Archives (9)

Gadaffi,

There is trouble in Libya, nobody knows quite what is going on, but immediately the blame is on Gadaffi: the whole world is upon him.

Gadaffi was demonised by Ronald Reagan after Reagan killed his child in a bombing raid, and it is thought that Gadaffi responded with the Lockerbee bombing. Bush knew this and finally made peace with Gadaffi.

But still, once a US president disapproves of you, any US presdient, you are a demon for life.

In Libya, Gadaffi is just trying to keep the country from falling into sectarian/tribal division and he is trying to keep the religious fanaticism of Bin Ladin out of Libya.

If Gadaffi loses this battle, believe you me, the world will live to regret it: Bin Ladin will control the oil and he'll be able to get at us. That is what Gadaffi is fighting against.

He should be seen as a saviour not a demon.

Branko

"The college kids on that plane would have been in their 30s today and shining lights in our society."

I know this is off-topic, but that makes me think of how the Palestinians who were massacred so Israel can be a Jewish state would've been shining lights in their society had the Zionists not invaded Palestine.

Ben,

While I'm not denying my quote, remember that this is journalism, and that a 20-minute conversation was condensed into a 1-line sound byte.

Furthermore, the very page you link to (NIC.ly's regulations page) did in fact exist 13 months ago; the OpenNet Initiative referenced the regulations as following in August of 2009:

".ly domains must not contain obscene, scandalous, indecent, or contrary to Libyan law or Islamic morality words, phrases nor abbreviations".

Again, I assert that yes, you should have known that the photograph in question would have been in violation of the .ly domain's terms of service. I personally consider these Terms, as well as their application, somewhat outrageous, but again, as I was quoted, this is Libya. We're talking about a predominantly Muslim country that also happens to have a totalitarian regime. And yet its GTLD registrar still stated its TOS up front.

Ben,

While I'm not denying my quote, keep in mind that this is journalism, and that a 20-minute conversation was condensed into a one-line sound byte.

-Jillian York

Hi Ben - This story is just another example where the journalist ascribes hearsay into the article and fact-checking is purely optional.

Thank you for bringing this to our attention. I consider myself an Internet expert, but even I was unaware that the .ly domain stood for Libya until now.

For me, the biggest reason not to support them are because of the 243 men, women, and children who were murdered when a New York-bound plane was destroyed by a bomb on 12/21/88 by fanatics who no doubt inspired those who would increase their murder of Americans 10-fold only thirteen years later. All with the approval and the funding from the Libyan government. The college kids on that plane would have been in their 30s today and shining lights in our society. Libya made sure that would not happen.

What is most insulting is this defense on bit.ly's website:

To purchase the domain, we paid $75 to an online registrar accredited by ICANN, the international nonprofit that governs internet domains and naming, which is headquartered in Marina del Rey, California, here in the US of A.

Yes, they paid "only" $75 to a registrar. But the registrar pays that money to Gaddafi. And not only that, the .ly domain gets millions of dollars of free advertising all which goes to support that repressive country.

As much as I hate that Google is taking over the world, I am switching immediately to goo.gl. Greenland never murdered my neighbors.

Jeff,

You can't get VB.uk because of their regulation (it's not used). that's DOT UNITED KINGDOM.
Most ccTLD restrict the domain names to Local presence. (Australia, Germany)
Porno is not allowed in Most countries of the world.

.ly is very liberal if you look closer.

"Blue claims she was unaware that the terms of service, available in English on the website of the reseller that sold her the domain"

As the "other person" [as you describe me, :)] who co-owned vb.ly I just wanted to point out that no where does either Violet or myself claim that we were unaware of the terms of service. I'm really not sure what has led you to that conclusion. The very blog post you linked to, right at the top, picks apart the regulations - so we clearly were aware of them.

The issue, that I think you have missed is that the url for the regulations you linked to are not the article of record of the official regulations for .ly domains.

The official defacto regulations + policy, according to NIC.ly who regulate the ly domain space, is http://nic.ly/regulations.php. The regulations on their page do not entirely agree with Libyan Spider's interpretation, and further more the page you reference on Libyan Spider did not exist 13 months ago when we registered the domain.

The above aside, I was somewhat amused that the insight + conclusion of your Arab-world technology expert was:

"Whereas, you know, it's Libya."

... particularly as she represents the very well respected Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard.

I'm not exactly sure how that 'insight' moves this matter forward.

The real question is why Libya was even given a TLD in the first place. The internet is supposed to be an open platform, certainly not bound by any (absurd) religious legal code (i.e. Sharia Law). If countries like Libya aren't willing to uphold the values of an open internet, they shouldn't be allowed to participate in its monetization (i.e. by their ownership and distribution of any TLD, especially not one as inherently valuable as .ly).


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