A Little Bit.ly Sharia? Tech Business Builds on Libya Domain

In other words, as Gawker titled their story: Muammar Qaddafi More or Less Owns Your Links. Astute reporting below from a blog entitled Workbench:

Bit.ly Builds Business on Libya Domain

The URL shortening service Bit.ly just secured $2 million in financing from investors including O’Reilly’s AlphaTech Ventures. Though URL shorteners have been around for years, Bit.ly believes there’s money in offering Twitter-friendly short links along with web analytics to track how the links are used. The company reports that its links were clicked 20 million times last month.

So far, the news coverage I’ve read about Bit.ly has neglected an unusual aspect of the startup: It’s one of the only prominent online ventures using a domain name in the .LY namespace, which is controlled by Libya.

There are two issues that arise from this relationship.

First, of course, is the appearance of an American company doing business with Libya, a country that the U.S. considered a state sponsor of terror from 1979 through 2006. On Dec. 21, 1988, Libyan intelligence agents planted a bomb on Pan Am Flight 103 that blew up 31,000 feet over Lockerbie, Scotland, killing all 259 people onboard.

Bit.ly’s only doing a trivial amount of business with Libya — the domains sell for $75 per year from the registrar Libyan Spider Network — but its use of .LY domain is helping to popularize and legitimize the top-level domain for general use on the Internet. It’s only a matter of time before a reporter decides to ask the families of Lockerbie victims what they think of the arrangement. I can’t imagine that story going well for the company.

Even without that PR hit, there’s another potential concern for Bit.ly and any other venture that builds its business on an .LY domain. These domains are governed by Libyan law, as it states on the Libyan Spider Network site:

Any .LY domain names 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.

So the names must conform to Islamic morality, and it’s possible that the use of the domains could fall under the same rules. What are the odds that some of those 20 million clicks on a Bit.ly-shortened URL end up at sites that would be considered blasphemous or otherwise offensive in an Islamic nation? Bit.ly conveniently provides search pages for such topics as Islam, sharia, gambling and sex, any of which contain links that could spark another controversy.

Bit.ly’s building a business atop a domain that could be taken away at any time, and the company’s only recourse would be to seek redress in the Libyan court system. Take a look at Section 11 of the regulations for .LY owners:

The Arabic language is the language of interpretation, correspondence and the construction of the Regulation or anything related to it. … In case of conflict between the Arabic and the English versions the Arabic version shall prevail.

I hope Bit.ly’s attorneys are brushing up on their Arabic. ~end

More from Domain Name Wire:

Is it wise to run a web service using a questionable country code domain?

I’ve warned about the dangers of country code top level domains. Rogers Cadenhead made some interesting observations about Bit.ly, a URL shortening service that just scored $2M in funding.

You see, .ly is the country code for Libya, which has a not-so-great history with the United States. He also points out some of the rules attached to country code domains. I’ve written before about .AE for United Arab Emirates that restricts uses within Muslim law. There’s no poker.ae, for example. The same thing goes for .ly. This presents a problem since the Bit.ly service let’s you forward to just about any web site with any topic. Technically the content isn’t hosted on a .ly domain, but the danger is there that Libya would lay the hammer on this.

No serious business should use a country code domain name other than a major, unrestricted domain without special content rules.

Update: Twitter’s selection of bit.ly is demise of popular URL shortening service tr.im:

tr.im is now in the process of discontinuing service, effective immediately.

Statistics can no longer be considered reliable, or reliably available going forward. However, all tr.im links will continue to redirect, and will do so until at least December 31, 2009.

Your tweets with tr.im URLs in them will not be affected.

We regret that it came to this, but all of our efforts to avoid it failed. No business we approached wanted to purchase tr.im for even a minor amount.

There is no way for us to monetize URL shortening — users won’t pay for it — and we just can’t justify further development since Twitter has all but annointed bit.ly the market winner. There is simply no point for us to continue operating tr.im, and pay for its upkeep.

We apologize for the disruption and inconvenience this may cause you.

(there’s money in tr.im somewhere – how about an auction?)

Another update: Feedback from tr.im users convinced them to continue the service.

The update that was only a matter of time: Islamic sharia law shuts down .ly link-shortening site – who’s next?

Update 2011: What Happens to .ly Domains When Libya Shuts Down the Internet

When the Libyan government pulled the plug on the country’s Internet access on Friday, many outside the country were concerned about the implications the shutdown would have on the country’s top level domain (TLD). After all, the .ly domain is a popular alternative to the .com, used by a number of companies, but arguably most commonly associated with its usage as a URL shortener.

Read the varying thoughts on what will happen, and this conclusion:

All this should serve as a cautionary tale for anyone obtaining a domain – in Libya or, frankly, elsewhere, as TLDs fall under government scrutiny and seizure, no matter the country.

 Update: Should we be running our short URLs through a country we’ve been, you know, bombing?

Bit.ly’s investors include Betaworks, RRE, AOL Ventures, O’Reilly Alpha Tech Ventures, Social Leverage, The Accelerator Group, SoftTech VC, Ron Conway, Josh Stylman, Pete Hershberg, David Shen Ventures, Jeff Clavier, Mitch Kapor, Howard Lindzon, Chris Sacca, and Founders Fund. Some of these investors are pretty clever folk.

ZDNet isn’t alone in using bit.ly. Apparently USA.gov (uh, the official Web portal of the US Government) is using Bit.ly (and it’s oh-so-Libyan domain name) to run some of its promotions.

Heck, if you can’t bomb a nation into letting you use their top-level domain, what good is having the ability to project power all over the world? Of course, the fact that usa.gov also uses bit.ly gives this whole thing a delicious irony.

28 Responses

  1. [...] about Gawker as of April 1, 2009 A Little Bit.ly Sharia? Tech Business Builds on Libya Domain – creepingsharia.wordpress.com 04/01/2009 In other words, as Gawker titled their story: Muammar [...]

  2. Thinking we should get Tweet Deck to remove it from their URL shortening options through a campaign possibly. Also, perhaps an automated Tweet to everyone who uses bit.ly on Twitter that they shouldn’t use it, and why.

  3. Thanks for the info….

  4. think we should also ban the english suffix -ly. it’s too adverb-y, and who know how those unpredictable adverbs are gonna modify…

  5. [...] Libya OWNS Your Shorten Links 2009 September 26 tags: bit.ly, Libya, Sharia Law used on internet links by popculturemenace The most used link shortener for sites such as Twitter is http://bit.ly  Even I used it more than any other link shortening service out there.  However, I had a huge change of heart when I came across this article: A Little Bit.ly Sharia? [...]

  6. [...] Libya OWNS Your Shorten Links 2009 September 23 tags: bit.ly, Libya, Sharia Law used on internet links by popculturemenace The most used link shortener for sites such as Twitter is http://bit.ly  Even I used it more than any other link shortening service out there.  However, I had a huge change of heart when I came across this article: A Little Bit.ly Sharia? [...]

  7. [...] I hope Bit.ly’s attorneys are brushing up on their Arabic. ~end via creepingsharia.wordpress.com [...]

  8. I mailed Robert Spencer and others about this aeons ago. I was ignored.

    I use tr.im (Isle of Man) with kl.am (Armenia) as a backup for my URL shortening.

    Together they spell ‘Imam;’ LOL

  9. [...] Even with more info from Creeping Sharia [...]

  10. I was not aware of this and will be using a different service ASAP.
    Knowledge is power :)
    /Bev

  11. Possibly people are letting Twitter shorten URL’s with bit.ly because they don’t know how to use URL shorteners – this was the case with me until I was told.

  12. “I mailed Robert Spencer and others about this aeons ago. I was ignored.”

    The Robert Spencer site is all about the Great Robert Spencer and donating money…

  13. We use http://www.wvurl.com as our shortener here in West Virginia. trust it’s not connected tos omething ghastly, too…

  14. There is American Oil Companies doing billions of dollars deals with the libyan gov and i bet the gas that you are using to drive your car to work today is imported from libya

    Why you people making a big deal of this

  15. scare mongering. you forgot to add how much the families of the Lockerbe Bombing got, a million dollars each to moan their loved ones.

  16. This article inspired us to survey webmasters to find out their feelings about bit.ly, ow.ly and other rogue country domains. Our report is here: http://4wrd.us/ahox

  17. I have cited your bit.ly article on my latest post on my blog.
    Thank you!
    Sincerely,
    Naomi Litvin

  18. http://tinyurl.com/create.php This one works good

  19. Let’s all get facts before we post and stir up people to knee jerk reactionary type of action.

    First and foremost – we would appreciate you asking Bit.ly directly before you go out and post on your site about Bit.ly and our supposed conspiracy theorized type of Libyan connection.

    Here below are the most common Q&A concerning Bit.ly and Libya. Please feel free to engage us in dialog via our direct support channel which is – support@bit.ly – We are way to busy with actual work, and keeping the billions of bit.ly urls running live than to engage in a discussion via this or any blog, but we feel since a concerned member of our community took the time to e-mail us, that we would respond here directly. Please direct any further questions to the address above.

    Thank you.

    –Why did you pick the name bit.ly?

    We picked the name bitly because it’s short and it is evocative of small bits, loosely coupled, a theme at betaworks. Bit.ly is a shorter url than bitly.com, which we also use, and echoes the name of several micro-blogging services like present.ly, song.ly and near.ly.

    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.

    –Are you confident the site will be safe?

    ICANN signed an accountability framework with Libya Telecom and Technology in March 2007, which sets out the telephone company’s (LTT’s) obligations as a registrar for the .ly domain and provides an internationally-accepted mechanism for dispute resolution.

    ICANN sets a standard for responsibility and reliability, and we have confidence in their framework.

    We’ve also got a tremendous confidence in our engineering team, which has built a redundant, secure, highly-scaleable site. Every single bit.ly short url also exists as a bitly.com page.

    –Do you have any issues doing business in Libya?

    We don’t do business in Libya, but it’s worth noting that on May 31, 2006 the United States reopened the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli, a step the State Department described as marking “a new era in U.S.-Libya relations.”

  20. Rex Dixon,

    If you are from bit.ly your response if more than disappointing.

    First and foremost, the story came from sites including Gawker, Workbench, and Domain Name Wire – none of which you chose to leave a comment on.

    In none of those stories nor here did anyone even come close to suggesting any type of “conspiracy” between bit.ly and Libya. To even suggest so is the purest of propaganda and obfuscation.

    Further, no one ever suggested that your site was not secure either. But again, that is not the issue. Nor is the issue doing business in Libya, as you and other commenters suggested.

    We posted the information in April 2009 and your are now responding, proving that you are clearly NOT too busy with your billions of Libyan-domain-named short URL’s to formulate a comment that does nothing to address the issues brought up by the various sources.

    While you may not want your users and the general public to know that the .ly domain name is a Libyan controlled domain and disputes are potentially subject to Islamic morality law – which is completely opposed to the U.S. Constitution – other sites and blogs chose to share that information.

    Users can make up their own mind based on the totality of information and potential risk.

    If bitly were to unequivocally announce it will support and defend any bitly user who in the future might face legal action from a knee-jerk reaction from Libya as a result of a bitly url containing content that is “contrary to Libyan law or Islamic morality” then skeptics might have more confidence (that would apply to any business using the Libyan domain).

    Just like citizens have the option to vote/note vote for politicians who make policy decisions they don’t agree with (such as removing Libya from state sponsors of terror list), they also have the option of choosing which technology services they use.

  21. it is amusing to me that one of the comments here compared a url shortner to petroleum. Data that can be co-opted and abused should never be compared to a raw resource.

  22. Good to see Rex Dixon’s objective, fact-based response to all this Chicken Little hysteria.

    Those who’re spreading this malicious myth are almost certainly using Libyan and Saudi oil products. Now THAT is supporting Sharia. Using bit.ly or ow.ly isn’t.

    There’s a malevolent motive behind attacks on bit.ly and ow.ly – probably coming from its business competitors.

    The owners of these very useful tools, which are used by prominent Jewish groups in Israel, should seek remedies in court. Libel & slander are not legal.

  23. Rex Dixon is not listed at a bit.ly team member, so it’s not clear who he is or why he is portraying himself as a bit.ly representative

    http://bit.ly/pages/about/

  24. [...] problem with Bit.ly as well. The Avid Editor says in his/her blog (it’s also discussed at the Creeping Sharia blog) that using Bit.ly supports Jihad. Huh? Well, it seems that the .LY domain is the one used in [...]

  25. 1. It still means that Libya can demand changes and/or snooping rights, and now that so many people are used to bit.ly URLs, bit.ly will be loathe to change to a different TLD and cave into Khadaffi.

    2. Since all country-based TLDs are 2 letters, why not use “.us”?

    3. It’s a misuse of TLDs. I use TLDs to narrow a search. Creeps like bit.ly are making the Web harder to use.

    4. Would anyone expect ethics from a company like bit.ly anyway? Their whole business model is based on tracking web users, which is nothing more than a way to get around users who disable 3rd party cookies and web bugs.

    Bit.ly makes all of its money violating our privacy.

  26. Yesterday, while I was at work, my sister stole my iPad and tested to see if it can survive
    a 25 foot drop, just so she can be a youtube sensation.
    My iPad is now broken and she has 83 views. I know this
    is completely off topic but I had to share it with someone!

  27. I am sure this paragraph has touched all the internet users, its really
    really fastidious article on building up new weblog.

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