URL shoppers, how stable is your cutesy vanity domain?

A country's global human rights index affects your domain stability. Learn how bit.ly, goo.gl, t.co, Yahoo! and more score in URL integrity.
Written by Violet Blue, Contributor

A country's global human rights index, and therefore the freedom it affords to its population, is directly proportional to the freedoms that country will allow you to exercise with your cutesy domain registration.

As we're at a point in internet history where the land rush of TLD extensions is about to explode with choices, it seems to me that a wise girl ought to take a look at just how stable your vanity domain extension is before making a business plan around it.

When I bought a Libyan domain (vb.ly) and ran it uneventfully for a year, I had no indication that the registrar would act on behalf of the Libyan government in any way - let alone enforcing Libyan religious law outside the registrar's Terms to seize my domain.

When I was finally provided with a reason, it was that my website's single page had a photo of a woman (me) in a sleeveless top, drinking a beer - considered pornographic and illegal (respectively) in Libya.

That the domain would be seized for reasons off the registrar's Terms came as a surprise.

I knew that the .ly extension meant Libya. But at the time it was made clear to me that not everyone else knows what domain extensions mean.

When the story broke about my domain and Libyan religious law, a significant amount of people learned for the first time that the letters at the end of a domain name represent the name of the country in which the domain is registered.

What I didn't know was how directly tied my domain's stability was to the freedom of its namesake country's people - its government's integrity.

Libyan Spider - and many other countries profiting off English adverbs - are aggressively marketing .ly domain sales to Western markets.

I think that now, more than ever, we should be taking a holistic approach to our URL consumption: it's a sort of "omnivore's dilemma" for domain purchase and use.

That means looking at not just the stability of the government and the country's infrastructure, but especially the country's position on global human rights indexes.

Sure, many people will want to know if the country they're buying a domain from is doing horrible things to its citizens - it's ethically wrong and bad for business. I'll also argue that a country where the people are not free is going to be the least safe place to pin your business plans, for a variety of reasons.

It's just a theory. A theory I happen to have more personal experience with than most.

Let's see who's popular now in ccTLD country codes, and how they rate:

According to Verisign's most recent Domain Name Industry Brief, the top ten most popular domain names currently being registered are Germany, UK, Netherlands, China, EU, Russian Federation, Brazil, Argentina, Italy and Poland.

For the sake of URL pop culture, I'm also going to add in a few country-based domain names currently in wide use by recognized brands. Namely, Facebook (.me), Twitter (.co), Google (.gl), YouTube (.be) Flickr (.kr), Yahoo (.it), New York Times (.ms), Huffington Post (.to), and popular URL shorteners bit.ly/ow.ly.

What internationally-recognized human rights might impact your domain and what you can do with it? I'll propose a few basics, including one biggie that impacted my Libyan domain: women's freedom (to wear short-sleeved tops):

  • Physical integrity rights. The rights not to be tortured, extra-judicially killed, made to disappear, or imprisoned for political beliefs.
  • Civil rights and liberties. The rights to free speech, freedom of association and assembly, freedom of domestic movement, freedom of international movement freedom of religion, and to participate in free and fair elections for the selection of government leaders.
  • Workers’ rights.
  • Women’s rights to legal protection and equal treatment politically, economically, and socially.

According to Freedom House's Freedom in the World Index, let's see how the popular kids rank with human rights freedom by country, from best to worst:

  • .gl - Greenland (Google)

Status: Free. Democratic, with a legal system that accommodates native Inuit customs.

  • .uk - United Kingdom

Status: Free. Human rights are common law, yet Amnesty International has concerns.

  • .nl - Netherlands

Status: Free, with a recent plan to combat discrimination in regard to asylum-seekers.

  • .ms - Montserrat -British rule- (NYT)

Status: Free. Currently bound by five UN human rights treaties; government agencies and public officials have had human rights training and Monteserrat is currently developing a national human rights action plan.

  • .be - Belgium (YouTube)

Status: Free. However, there is apolicy of forcibly returning rejected asylum-seekers to Iraq and allegations of excessive use of force by the police persist.

  • .de - Germany

Status: Free. There are ongoing questions around human rights violations by the police and secret detention.

  • .pl - Poland

Status: Free. Under criminal investigation for complicity in secret detention programs, anti-discrimination legislation is not comprehensive for political speech or marital status, and clandestine abortions are a problem.

  • .it - Italy (Yahoo!)

Status: Free. Italy is under strong scrutiny from the UN Commission on Human Rights, faces issues of discrimination against a range of peoples, non-native's human rights are routinely denied, Italy still refuses to classify torture as illegal and deaths in custody are routinely unexplained.

  • .ar - Argentina

Status: Free. In December a National Human Rights Plan was made public. Girls who were pregnant as a result of rape face major obstacles in getting access to legal abortions, excessive use of force by police and inhumane prison conditions remain serious concerns.

  • .me - Montenegro (Facebook)

Status: Free. War crime prosecutions continue, while journalists and non-government organization workers (NGO: Youth Initiative for Human Rights) are subject to intimidation. Roma and Romani children continue to be denied social and economic rights.

  • .br - Brazil

Status: Free. A significant range of human rights abuses, police and gang violence, torture and overcrowding in prisons, indigenous peoples and workers face threats and violence, militias and death squads dominate major cities.

  • .kr - Korea, Republic of -South- (Flickr)

Status: Free. Government silences dissent and arbitrarily prosecutes individuals for peaceful free expression, authorities curb people’s right to demonstrate peacefully (including the use of capsaicin liquid, which causes a burning sensation on contact), military service is required.

  • .to - Tonga (Huffington Post/AOL)

Status: Partly free. No current human rights organization visits; women do not have equal rightsand spousal rape is not a crime, government does not respect laws protecting freedom of speech and of the press.

  • .co - Columbia (Twitter)

Status: Partly free. Paraphrased from Amnesty International:

Guerrilla groups, paramilitaries and the security forces were responsible for serious and widespread human rights abuses and violations of international humanitarian law, including war crimes. Current government has adopted a less hostile stand towards human rights defenders. Human rights defenders and social leaders continued to be threatened and killed. Human rights defenders, judges, lawyers, prosecutors, witnesses, and victims and their families involved in human rights-related criminal cases were also threatened and killed.

  • .ru - Russian Federation

Status: Not free. Persistent human rights violations, including killings, enforced disappearances and torture; across Russia frequent reports of torture and other ill-treatment by law enforcement officials; human rights defenders and independent journalists face threats, harassment and attacks; demonstrations are routinely banned and face violent dispersal with the prosecution of individuals under anti-extremism legislation.

  • .cn - China

Status: Not free. A terrible human rights status is underscored by jailing and persecuting citizens for peacefully expressing their views, holding religious beliefs not sanctioned by the state, advocating for democratic reform and human rights, and defending the rights of others. Popular social media sites remain blocked by China’s firewall while authorities continue to repress Tibetan, Uighur, Mongolian and other ethnic minority populations. China has become aggressive in punishing countries whose leaders spoke publicly about its human rights record.

  • .ly - Libya (bit.ly, ow.ly)

Status: Not Free.

Before the most recent conflict, Libya announced that it will no longer address human rights concerns. Needless to say, they are grave. Authorities restricted rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly and repressed virtually all dissent. Hundreds of prisoners were be arbitrarily detained and subject to indefinite detention and ill-treatment; executions were reported, as death penalties were routinely prescribed for even peaceful freedom of association.

The Omnivore's URL Dilemma

So maybe you don't want to put your journalism startup on a .ru domain. Know what I mean?

I think we've all had a "fast food" approach to domains for quite a while. And if you are fine with that, then you might not want to look too closely at where your domains come from.

Until my sleeveless arms were declared "obscene" and my name and my name's initials were banned in the entire country of Libya's internet space, I didn't realize that where my domain comes from is not really all that far away - all things considered.

Rankings are from the Freedom in the World 2010 and Freedom in the World 2011(.PDF) surveys based on 2009-10 events. Political rights and civil liberties ratings are averaged for an overall status of "Free" (1.0-2.5), "Partly Free" (3.0-5.0), or "Not Free" (5.5-7.0). See: List of Freedom Indices for summaries.

Photo by Joi Ito, under Creative Commons 2.0 Generic license, via Flickr.

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