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Germany

No Cyber-Porn Please, We’re Women.

With its new .frau domain, a German firm is striving to save women from porn and sexual harassment on the Internet.

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Women don't want to be bombarded with online porn ... do they?

You know how it is. You log on to your Web-based email account. You must be popular -- 20 new messages!

But there's not a single witty one-liner from your best friend, no reply from your current love interest. No, every email is inviting you to visit a new porn site, offering you cut-price Viagra or claiming to be able to erase your credit card debt.

A two-woman team in southwestern Germany is now attempting to change all that. Susann Ricke und Dagmar Pálsson of Exist@, a private company in the state of Rhineland-Palatinate, have joined forces on a project called Fraude, which offers women the chance to get online without feeling sexually harassed or plagued by pornography.

“I’ve spoken to a lot of women who are constantly irritated by seeing naked women plastered all over the Internet," 44-year-old Fraude creator Ricke says. "They also feel sexually harassed, as the Internet is so anonymous. We want to create a pornography and violence-free Internet, so that women can surf in safety.”

Introducing .frau

Exist@ allows its Germany-based customers to register Internet sites with the new .frau top level domain (TLD) address.

TLDs are the final digits of any Web or Email address, and they act as signposts on the Internet -- indicating where a site originates, or what kind of person, organisation or company it represents. The most familiar TLDs are the ones people use everyday on the Internet, like .com or .edu, which are used to represent businesses and academic institutions respectively.

For a few euro a month, women who register with Fraude receive a domain name of their choice and email addresses with the .frau TLD, along with Web space to publish their own content.

The hope is that enough women will sign up to use the .frau TLD that, in the future, women will be able to surf the Web safe in the knowledge they won’t be bombarded with porn Spams or banner ads featuring naked women.

The second stage of the project, set to launch next year, will include a women-only portal: a one-stop shop to inform and empower women on all things female.

Though the Fraude project – lauched in July with support and funding from the Green Party-alligned Heinrich Böll Foundation – is to many an admirable pursuit, the question remains whether it’s perhaps a little too PC to be on everyone’s PC.

For one thing, men aren't allowed to register .frau domains. But they won't be left completely out in the cold, either. They'll be able to use the portal once it launches, Ricke says.

A slow start

Currently, the firm has only had limited success, with a meagre 150 women across Germany having taken up the firms’s offer of a porn- and harassment-free Internet.

But Ricke argues the slow adoption rate is not due to lack of interest.

“Registration with us is a much slower process than with other Internet services”, Ricke explains. To this end, prospective members are required to send a copy of their passport to the firm's office in Bolunden.

“We need to make sure the people taking part are actually women,” she exclaims.

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