Breaking down Internet Eurocentrism, one byte at a time

June 28, 2010

ICANN (the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers), the non-profit corporation responsible for managing the assignment of domain names and IP addresses, recently announced that for the first time in the history of the Internet, non-Latin characters can be used in things like website and email addresses.

These changes will enable countries and territories to represent their names in scripts other than Latin, and Arabic was the first non-Latin script to be implemented (Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates being the first three countries to take up the option).

Now ICANN has announced (direct link to PDF of ICANN Press Release) that a set of Chinese language internationalised domain names will be the next to be made available. Other languages scheduled to be implemented include Russian, Sinhalese, Tamil, and Thai.

“This approval is a significant change for Chinese language users worldwide,” said Rod Beckstrom, President and Chief Executive Officer of ICANN. “One fifth of the world speaks Chinese and that means we just increased the potential online accessibility for roughly a billion people.”

While the introduction of non-Latin domain names is – in the words of Egypt’s communications minister Tarek Kamel – “a milestone in internet history” and a welcome move to breaking down Eurocentrism on the Internet, it should be remembered that this is a technical change only and does not address the wider issues around, for example, the digital divide; digital literacy; malware and internet censorship.

Additionally, and I’m sure that there’ll be a few people who won’t be happy to hear it, the ICANN board also voted to allow the application for the controversial .XXX top-level domain (TLD) name to move forward. ICANN envisage this domain being used by what it politely calls “the adult entertainment industry” – or “omg pr0n”, as it’s known to the rest of us.

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