COMMENTARY

Why is ICANN selling government-sounding domain names?

I can’t quite say “I was right” just yet, but problems with the new Internet domain expansion plan has the situation leaning in that direction.

If you recall when the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, which controls domain assignments, announced that it was throwing open the doors to potentially thousands of new Internet extensions, I said that it was a bad idea. I even named it one of the top 10 terrible technology blunders of 2011.

Now it seems like ICANN is trying to make this year’s list as well!


Related:

Google, Amazon – and conflicts – dominate potential new Internet domains


The Washington Post reported that a new investment group called Donuts Inc. is aggressively bidding for the lion’s share of the new generic top-level domains. And they don’t have anything to do with pastries. In fact, Internet watchdogs say the group has strong ties to another company that makes its money aiding spammers and providing services for Internet abusers.

Donuts is spending nearly $57 million dollars to purchase 307 domain names (applications for the new top-level domains cost $185,000 a piece). If approved, the group will own everything from .mortgage to .attorney to .medical. Generic top-level domains are represented by the letters appearing after the last dot an in e-mail address, such as .com, .gov and .net. ICANN’s expansion would open up the possibilities up to almost anything. The expansion drew applications for 1,930 new names.

The Post reports that Donuts is founded by two executives from Demand Media, a company that is responsible for a lot of the domain squatting that happens today, which isn’t illegal. Demand Media will share the rights to 107 new sites with Donuts under its plan, which will bring .army, .airforce, .democrat, .republican and .gay into its fold.

I don’t know what Donuts and Demand Media have planned. Perhaps they are perfectly respectable companies with big business plans for their 307 new domains. But I don’t think they, or anyone else, should be allowed to gain control over so many names without a valid plan in place saying how they will use each one.

And no private entity should be able to get control of a domain that might be mistaken for a government entity. So, no .fbi and no .army, please. It’s not hard to imagine the phishing scams that could exploit such addresses.

Federal officials also are worried about what could happen. Federal Trade Commissioner Julie Brill would rather ICANN release new domains as part of a pilot program so that the new sites could be monitored for fraud and abuse. She is particularly worried that sites ending in medical or educational extensions could more easily be used to add legitimacy to those who might exploit it. A letter was sent to ICANN expressing this opinion, but federal officials have no real control over what happens.

Back when this plan was announced, I called it little more than a money grab by ICANN, a solution for which there was no problem. Potential abuses aside, what this does is force companies like Coca-Cola to purchase .coke in order to keep it out of the hands of those who might want to exploit it.

And should we really allow a private company to buy .army? Perhaps the Army should take control over that domain, but why should a government entity have to shell out $185,000 to protect against someone else using its name?

All this is just saber rattling, of course. ICANN used to make about $6 million a year processing domain names. Today, it stands to make 10 times that for these new luxury domains.

Do you really think ICANN executives have any incentive to change their ways? Generally I believe in a free and open Internet and oppose things like SOPA. But the potential dangers in this situation are a bit too much. Perhaps it’s time to limit ICANN’s authority when it has clearly overstepped its bounds in the name of the almighty dollar.

About the Author

John Breeden II is a freelance technology writer for GCN.

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