May 17, 2013

ICANN Still Having Problems with Top-Level Domain Website Suffixes


Spring is in the air in the Northern Hemisphere, and unfortunately almost like clockwork that means the ICANN (the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) is back in the news because of its continuing attempts to rollout as many as 1,400 new Top Level Domain (gTLD) web site suffixes. It seems like no good deed goes unpunished, and that this is turning out to be a lot harder than expected.

Last year around this time ICANN put a stop on their “Digital Anarchy” lottery system for handing out the hugely needed suffixes as concerns grew about companies either gaming the system or being shut out with potentially catastrophic impacts on their brands. Having in their own minds addressed those problems, in late April of this year ICANN announced that it would push back the rollout data of gTLDs) from June to August. Speculation is that in the face of concerns raised not just by commercial entities and other organizations, such as law enforcement agencies and ICANN’s own Government Advisory Committee (GAC), ICANN is not going to hit that August date either.

What comes after that dot in a web address may not seem that important to us, but what is at stake is billions of dollars. The concern is that the winners really will go the spoils, and without adequate protective measures in place not only is ICANN in the position of ultimately picking market winners and losers, but also not acting to protect consumer interests (think phishing expeditions on a grand scale) as well. This may sound like it is arcane and plumbing, but it is way more than that.

Advertisers are not happy with ICANN

As a measure of what is at stake and why the August date is threatened you need to do nothing more than read the latest coming out of none other than the influential National Advertisers Association (ANA) in the U.S. Rather than paraphrase, below are the highlights ANA’s concerns.

“The Association of National Advertisers (ANA), representing the interests of major global advertisers, has long expressed concerns about the rush to deploy these gTLDs before ICANN has adopted sufficient trademark and security and stability protections for consumers and brand holders. ANA filed comments with ICANN to its proposed Registrar Accreditation Agreements (RAA) and filed comments regarding the GAC advice given to ICANN in the Communiqué delivered at ICANN’s Beijing meeting last month. In fact,

  •       ANA recommends that the organization must finalize the accreditation agreements with registrars that will manage the domain names before any new gTLD contracts are approved and hold these registrars responsible for applicants complying with the RAA.
  •       ANA called on ICANN in particular to reconsider its earlier decision that allows for the singular and plural forms of suffixes (e.g., “.coupon” and “.coupons,” and “.auto” and “autos.”), which ICANN so far seems to believe will somehow not confuse consumers. These virtually identical suffixes could lead enterprising applicants to apply for the plural (or singular) forms of popular TLDs intending to mislead or otherwise harm consumers.”

ANA concludes that ICANN is in a rush to judgment here that could produce irreparable harm and that they need to take a deep breath before proceeding. I have left the links in because they provide a terrific insight at a very detailed level into all of the issues that are in dispute.

That said, as in most commercial dust ups, the old saying that “where you stand depends on where you sit,” seems applicable. The fact of the matter is another old adage might be just as applicable. The one that says, “Doing nothing is not an alternative.”

Without addressing the accreditation process of registrars, which understandably is a major concern because authentication of being a viable interested party is critical to the success of the process, the point about customer confusion seems like an instance where adjustments could be made if consumers were “confused.” In fact, it is a bit surprising that ANA has taken this position since domain name poaching is as old as the Internet. One would think that from a pure risk mitigation perspective that commercial entities would like to be able to surround their primary domain with similar forms of it as a means of protection.

Where all of this is heading is problematic. The need for additional gTLDs in undeniable. It has been for a long time, and everyone knows it and ICANN for better or worse is responsible for implementing and expansion to accommodate the growth of commerce. The fact that this is so political was to be expected, but at some point action needs to be taken. We can only hope that when springtime comes around next year, that some kind of rough justice will have prevailed and brand holders will be back to marketing rather than worry about domain names. We shall see.




Edited by Ashley Caputo



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