URL shorteners are known for their clever use of domains to look like an actual word. Google has Goo.gl. Techmeme has Techme.me, and Neowin has neow.in. The list is practically endless. One of the top level domains (TLD) commonly used for shortening purposes is .ly, and it’s owned by the Libyan government. The biggest URL shortening service to use that TLD is Bit.ly. Other websites include Ow.ly, Ad.ly, and Smel.ly. The Libyan government is not too fond of these services popping up in their namespace, and is actively trying to take down sites misusing the .ly TLD.
What is considered misuse? According to Ben Metcalfe, owner of vb.ly, the Libyan government took down his site because its content was in violation of Libyan Islamic/Sharia law. Regardless of the obvious logic shortfall of claiming that content on a URL shortener could be offensive, this action shows clear intent to censor the Libyan Internet, and that’s a trend we don’t want to see spread. It also didn’t clearly violate any regulation on the NIC.ly registrar page, and that’s what causes Metcalfe to assume that NIC.ly is being pressured into closing these sites for political (and possibly financial) agendas. Metcalfe did some investigation into the matter and came up with the following conclusions:
- .ly domains deemed to be in violation of NIC.ly regulation are being deregistered and removed without warning – causing significant inconvenience and damage.
- .ly domains are being deregistered and removed due to reasons that do not correspond to the regulations defined in the official NIC.ly Regulations.
- NIC.ly seems to want to extend their reach beyond the domain itself and regulate the content of websites that use a .ly domain. The concept amounts to censorship and makes .ly domains untenable to be used for user-generated content or url shorteners.
- Libyan Islamic/Sharia Law is being used to consider the validity of domains, which is unclear and obscure in terms of being able to know what is allowed and what isn’t.
- NIC.ly have suddenly decided that <4 letter .ly domains should only be available to local Libyans and this appears to create motivation to recover what premium domains they can to go back into this new local-only pot of domains.
This wouldn’t be the first time we’ve seen censorship on the Internet, as China has been actively and successfully censoring their web space for years. Metcalfe warns people that based on the conclusions he’s drawn up, no URL shortener using the .ly TLD can be considered safe.