This week, the blogger and sex educator Violet Blue wrote that her URL shortening site, Vb.ly, had been seized by the Libyan government. The site, which debuted in August 2009, was billed as "the Internet's first and only sex-positive link shortener service"--meaning that it wouldn't filter out links to sites of a sexual or pornographic nature, as some other sites do.
The Vb.ly home page featured a photo of Blue in a sleeveless top drinking from a glass bottle. Evidently, this photo and the phrase "sex-positive" constituted a violation of Libyan law, as Blue learned when a representative of Libya's domain registry told her that "our rules and regulations, and our Country’s Law and Morality do not allow any kind of pornography or its promotion." The news has caused many to wonder whether other .ly sites are similarly vulnerable to seizure--including shortener sites like Bit.ly and Ow.ly, whose abbreviated URLs can be seen all over Twitter.
Bare Arms Are a No-No, according to Alaeddin ElSharif, a representative of Libya Telecom and Technology. ElSharif wrote to Blue that "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."
This All Happened Without Warning, maintains Blue on her website (mildly NSFW). "No one tried to contact me ... The reasons are basically, because they said so," she writes. What's most puzzling is that Vb.ly existed for over a year with no problems: "Reason states that those told-you's should have come when vb.ly launched and got national press in the same week. Or a month later. Three months later. Six--or I should not have been reminded to renew my domain, and then been allowed to, and have the receipt in hand."
Is This About Sex or Money? wonders Ben Metcalfe, who co-founded Vb.ly with Blue. Metcalfe cites a rule, announced in January, that ".LY domains that are shorter than 4 characters are only allowed for companies or individuals having presence in Libya." He wonders whether the seizure of Vb.ly had less to do with pornography, and more to do with a desire to reclaim a "premium and valuable" domain for Libyan citizens. Regardless, he says, "anyone running a business or relying on a website with a one, two or three letter .ly domain should be incredibly cautious. This obviously includes anyone who uses bit.ly, 3.ly, owl.ly and any other similar url shortener."
Where Else Might This Happen? wonders Jacqui Cheng at Ars Technica. "Since [the Libyan registry] is beginning to use its own editorial judgment about the content on .ly domains, companies that use them cannot necessarily count on their content staying up without censorship," Cheng writes. "It's not just about vb.ly or bit.ly--Libya's decision shows that using domains regulated by other countries carries risks, especially when those countries decide to start regulating how they are used."
Bit.ly Seems to Be Doing Okay, notes Erick Schonfeld at TechCrunch, pointing to news that the site--"the largest independent link shortening service out there"--recently completed a $10 million Series B financing. "There was a recent controversy over Libya shutting down some .ly sites," Schonfeld notes, but "the issue doesn't seem to be spilling over to bit.ly."
Mitt Romney Panics, Jumps Ship Salon's Alex Pareene explains that until this week, Romney had a URL shortener pointing to his website--Mitt.ly. But now, anxious not to be associated with "the creeping advance of Islamofascism," Romney is shifting operations to a Trinidad and Tobago domain, and the new site will be Mitt.tt. Pareene smirks that "now Romney is just endorsing the racy costumes and lascivious dancing of Carnival."