As most readers of this blog are already aware, ICANN (the International Consortium for the Assignment of Names and Numbers), an international non-profit organization that oversees the creation and management of domain name extensions, or TLDs (Top Level Domains) has been considering a dramatic overhaul of the current system, implementing a new one in which new TLDs could be created by just about anyone and everyone for just about any reason. The stated purpose underlying the proposed changes is to make the internet more accessible to an ever-growing number of non-English speaking people throughout the developing world.
Susan Crawford recently published an editorial at Bloomberg.com arguing in favor of ICANN’s proposed overhaul of the existing system, which allots a single, two-letter extension to each sovereign nation, and makes available a limited number of generic TLDs which may be registered by any person or business, with a handful of limited exceptions (for examply, dot-edu domains can only be registered by educational institutions, and dot-gov domains may only be registered by governments or government agencies).
I strongly disagree with the assertion that creating a TLD (Top-Level-Domain — the letters to the right of the dot) free-for-all is a good thing for the future of the internet or any other interest other than that of the mega domain registrars who stand to profit directly from the limitless possibilities and increased sales that would result from such a change.
For business in general, this would be an absolutely horrible decision as companies would be forced to choose between investing a potentially limitless amount of money into protecting their brand name in every conceivable TLD or risk a public relations disaster resulting from the renegade actions of a disgruntled customer or anti-capitalist political crusader registering the brands name in a TLD he concocts, then publishing an authentic-looking website with which he can do as he chooses. Depending upon the country in which he is engaging in the viral defamation campaign, the company whose name is being slandered may or may not have legal recourse, not that that would bring justice assuming the individual likely will lack the financial resources to adequately compensate the company for its losses.
There is also a significant risk to consumers of myriad new methods of committing fraud will inevitably arise if ICANN implements a system in which no name is protected and anyone can own the rights to any name, brand or combination of words regardless of the United States and other countries’ respective trademark and copyright laws.
There will inevitably be safehavens which will pop-up providing a measure of legal immunity to crooks, thieves, fraudsters, anarchists and anyone else who decides to use such a system for nefarious purposes that are illegal in most developed countries. The offshore platform industry might see an increase in business should ICANN open up the creation of new TLDs to anyone and everyone, but most other businesses and consumers will be harmed in a variety of ways, some of them more easy to forecast than others.
ICANN should heed the FTC’s warnings about the potential dangers of the proposed domain name system and ultimately decide against the proposed free-for-all.
New generic top level domains can be introduced on an as-needed basis as more and more of the non-English speaking world gains widespread internet access. There is no need to muddy the waters and sabotage the trust that both businesses and consumers have placed in “the internet”, transforming it from an obscure method of military communication into the single most important driving force behind the world’s economy.