The big tech news this week (aside from Liu Xiaobo’s Nobel win, which is not really tech news but I needed some way to shamelessly self-promote!) is the deactivation of sex-positive domain name shortener VB.ly, so named for founder Violet Blue, a SF-based sex educator. The site was launched last year to accolades and existed for about a year, until it was suddenly (according to Violet Blue) deactivated, citing a Terms of Service Violation.
According to Violet Blue:
For two weeks the processor Nic.ly had told us in vague terms that vb.ly was in violation of Nic.ly and Libyan Spider’s terms. However, we could not find anywhere in the terms on both sites, where we were in violation, which apply to the name of the domain. We were also told we had been warned to change the domain content or face deletion, but no proof was provided that they had attempted to contact us. Had we known, we would have responded immediately.
Let me first state how patently ridiculous it is that they couldn’t find the terms of service. Google “Libyan Spider Network” and click on the first result. Then scroll to the bottom of the page and click on “Terms of .ly domains“. It’s in English and clear as day. And as someone who’s spent the past six months or so with my head in the TOS-sphere, I can’t reiterate enough the importance of actually bothering to read terms before you agree to something. In any case, here’s where they got VB.ly:
Any .LY domain name may be registered, except domains containing obscene and indecent names/phrases, including words of a sexual nature; furthermore domain names may not contain words/phrases or abbreviations insulting religion or politics, or be related to gambling and lottery industry or be contrary to Libyan law or Islamic morality, the same applies to the site content.
Now, that said, I get why they’re so pissed. Violet Blue wrote to the Libyan Spider Network in respect to the deactivation, and the response she got was this:
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 scandidly clad lady with some bottle in her hand isn’t exactly what most would consider decent or family friendly at the least.
Ick. But, again, Libya. Libya, my friends. We’re not exactly talking about a bastion of freedom and openness.
In a later, probably less emotionally-charged post, Violet Blue makes some excellent points about how NIC.ly, the registrar in charge of the Libyan GTLD, explicitly marketed the .ly domain to Western customers. In that sense, and in the sense that she wasn’t warned (though the above quote seems to be conflicting on that point), I fully empathize and support her. And frankly, I loved the idea of VB.ly too.
There’s also something to be said here about faith-based filtering, but I think I’ll save it for another post. After all, I’ll need room to fit in all the snark about madina.com.
The takeaway on this is twofold: First off, always read, re-read, and overanalyze the Terms of Service, especially when money is involved. More than that, if a site or company’s TOS are vague, think twice about using them. Second, let this be a warning for all interested in purchasing domain names from repressive countries with horrifically low rankings when it comes to rule of law and transparency. Might I recommend a nice .lv instead?