Libya Links: How Your URLs Help Power Gadhafi's Regime

Ever use Bit.ly or Ow.ly to shorten a URL inside Twitter? Or Tru.ly to verify someone's identity? Or Letter.ly to send email newsletters? You probably aren't aware of it, but you've been indirectly helping support a crazy-ass Middle East dictator.

A story in last Friday's Wall Street Journal points out the now painfully obvious fact that all ".ly" domains employ the country code top-level-domain (ccTLD) assigned to Libya. To obtain a ".ly" address on the Web, you must fork over $75 to a registrar approved by Libya Telecom and Technology, which is run by the government of Libya. In other words, you're putting money in Gadhafi's pocket.

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Of course, $75 is chicken feed compared to all the other money in Gadhafi's pocket. But when you're at not-war with the man, it's the principal that counts. As the Journal's Jess Bravin points out, many would-be Libya foes have used URL shortening services like Bit.ly:

Where have the United Nations, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the U.S. Air Force directed Twitter followers to learn more about military action in Libya? To an Internet domain controlled by the regime of Col. Moammar Gadhafi.

They aren't the only ones to send their Internet followers through Libya. So have House Speaker John Boehner (R., Ohio), Stanford University, Charlie Sheen, the White House, Kim Kardashian, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Paul McCartney, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and thousands of others.

Don't blame them, or even Bit.ly or Ow.ly. Blame adverbs. They're the real culprits for our dependence on ".ly." OK, you can blame Kim Kardashian -- but not Khloe, Kourtney, or Kris.

The United States has always had a love/hate relationship with Libya -- love their oil, hate Gadhafi. Heck, we even have "the shores of Tripoli" in the iconic U.S. Marines anthem, and now it's come back to bite all those verb-modifying URLs.

This has not been lost on the Gadhafi and friends. Per the Journal:

The Libyans are well aware of their potential market among English speakers seeking memorable Internet addresses. According to information on Libyan Spider's website, only 38% of .ly domains are registered by Libyans. English-speaking countries have locked up most of the rest, with the U.S., the U.K. and Canada accounting for 43% of the total.

For those without their own adverb indexes, the company helpfully posted a list of "8,742 words ending in ly." While cruel.ly, gris.ly and smel.ly are taken, inept.ly, violent.ly and psychotical.ly remain available, the company said.

But that's not the only ccTLD to watch out for. If we ever get into a tussle with Tuvalu (.tv), Turkmenistan (.tm), Armenia (.am), Belarus (.by), or Iceland (.is), other sites may be feeling some pain.

Who wins in this mess? Liechtenstein, which has the ".li" franchise locked up. Who's ever likely to get mad at Liechtenstein? (According to the Journal report, Ow.ly has already registered Ow.li, if it comes to that.)

I know what you're thinking and, no, I have no plans to register Cringe.ly. And don't you go doing it either.

Would you boycott a site registered in Libya or any other nation we're at not-war with? Post your thoughts below or email me: cringe@infoworld.com. (But be sure to do it careful.ly.)

This article, "Libya, links, and you -- how your URLs help power Gadhafi's regime," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Track the crazy twists and turns of the tech industry with Robert X. Cringely's Notes from the Field blog, and subscribe to Cringely's Notes from the Underground newsletter. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

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