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?
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.
April 1, 2009 at 9:34 AM
[…] 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 […]
Jewish Internet Defense Force Says:
April 19, 2009 at 12:49 PM
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.
CO2 HOG™ Says:
April 20, 2009 at 12:48 AM
June 1, 2009 at 3:09 PM
think we should also ban the english suffix -ly. it’s too adverb-y, and who know how those unpredictable adverbs are gonna modify…
Libya OWNS Your Shorten Links « ~Pop Culture Menace!~ Says:
September 26, 2009 at 10:39 PM
[…] 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? […]
Libya OWNS Your Shorten Links « ~Pop Culture Menace!~ Says:
September 26, 2009 at 10:41 PM
[…] 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? […]
A Little Bit.ly Sharia? Tech Business Builds on Libya Domain « Creeping Sharia « Simon Studio Analysis Says:
November 30, 2009 at 10:21 AM
[…] I hope Bit.ly’s attorneys are brushing up on their Arabic. ~end via creepingsharia.wordpress.com […]
December 11, 2009 at 1:22 AM
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
Using Bit.ly supports Jihadis « Avid Editor’s Insights Says:
December 15, 2009 at 8:09 AM
[…] Even with more info from Creeping Sharia […]
December 16, 2009 at 7:21 PM
I was not aware of this and will be using a different service ASAP.
Knowledge is power 🙂
Frugal Dougal Says:
December 21, 2009 at 9:01 PM
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.
December 21, 2009 at 9:56 PM
“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…
December 27, 2009 at 2:09 AM
We use http://www.wvurl.com as our shortener here in West Virginia. trust it’s not connected tos omething ghastly, too…
December 27, 2009 at 9:31 PM
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
January 9, 2010 at 2:29 AM
scare mongering. you forgot to add how much the families of the Lockerbe Bombing got, a million dollars each to moan their loved ones.
January 12, 2010 at 4:18 PM
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
January 12, 2010 at 5:06 PM
Thanks Fred. Interesting survey.
Naomi Litvin Says:
January 18, 2010 at 12:44 AM
I have cited your bit.ly article on my latest post on my blog.
January 18, 2010 at 10:43 PM
http://tinyurl.com/create.php This one works good
Rex Dixon Says:
January 24, 2010 at 11:42 AM
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 – firstname.lastname@example.org – 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.
–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.”
January 24, 2010 at 12:58 PM
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.
Paul W. Swansen Says:
January 24, 2010 at 1:10 PM
A great story on how business gets done.
Noah David Simon Says:
January 24, 2010 at 1:33 PM
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.