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How Can ICANN Improve Institutional Confidence?

Margie Milam

This week ICANN held a public consultation in Washington, D.C., where ICANN's President's Strategy Committee (PSC) solicited remarks from a packed audience of intellectual property (IP) lawyers, domain name registrars and other Internet stakeholders on how the organization can improve institutional confidence. An audio cast of the meeting and the PSC's presentation is available on ICANN's Web site.

No surprise, ICANN's decision to add new generic top-level domains (gTLDs) to the Internet was on many participants' minds. Given the high turnout and fervor of the group, time to speak was limited so I had to summarize my points during the meeting; the full text of my prepared remarks is provided below. The crowd's supportive response to my suggestions confirmed how ICANN needs to work more closely with the global business community to craft Internet policy that improves the overall security of the Internet.

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HOW TO IMPROVE INSTITUTIONAL CONFIDENCE IN ICANN
Remarks for the ICANN Public Consultation – October 1, 2008

My name is Margie Milam, and I am the General Counsel of MarkMonitor, an ICANN accredited registrar and provider of brand protection services. MarkMonitor is the world's largest corporate domain name registrar, providing services to over 50 Fortune 100 companies, as well as 5 of the top 10 most popular internet sites in the world. Through our relationship with these customers, we understand how ICANN policy affects their ability to protect their brands and customers from abuse such as phishing, malware, identity theft, cybersquatting, and counterfeiting.

I would like to focus my comments on how to improve institutional confidence in ICANN as it tries to become more independent. Much of the criticism regarding ICANN from the corporate community arises from the perception that ICANN policy processes are unduly swayed by parties that are able to regularly attend ICANN meetings, particularly the contracting parties, namely the registrars and registries. Because very few corporations are able to send representatives to ICANN to advocate for business and consumer friendly policies, new policies tend to be spearheaded by the contracting parties with little attention to the concerns of the larger business and consumer communities.

ICANN needs to recognize that the corporate community is frustrated by the rampant abuse of the domain registration system over the last few years under ICANN's watch. From their viewpoint, ICANN has been slow to respond to abuse, and it appears that very few non-compliant parties are held accountable. The sudden rise of domain tasting and phishing, and WHOIS related abuse, are just a few examples. For statistics on these abuses, I invite you to review the MarkMonitor Brandjacking Index, published in September, that provides insight on how the world's largest brands are targeted by cybersquatters or "brandjackers" as we refer to them.

The perception from our clients is that this problem will get worse with the introduction of new gTLDs. This topic is a source of aggravation for our client base. On July 31, 2008, MarkMonitor held a webinar entitled "New gTLDs: Perspectives from ICANN", featuring Karla Valente, the new gTLD Program Director from ICANN. Much to our surprise, over 500 registrants signed up for this event. We polled the participants and learned that approximately 72% of the attendees expressed some level of fear or uncertainty regarding the process, with only 28% viewing the introduction of new top level domains as an opportunity. Of the companies that intended to apply for new gTLDs, over 60% intended to do so for defensive reasons or to prevent brand abuse. Only a small subset of our participants saw the new gTLD process as a way to rebrand and to take full advantage of the imminent gTLD opportunity which could be the next generation of the Internet. We believe that this subset will grow as companies see the branding potential of the new gTLDs but ICANN needs to work more closely with the business community to realize that potential.

We believe that institutional confidence in ICANN may suffer under the new gTLD process as currently proposed. There are insufficient mechanisms to protect rights holders (large and small) from abuse by deep-pocketed interests who seek to abuse this process both during the application period and beyond.

Though many rights holders see the advantages of applying for their own top level domain eventually, they may only be able to capitalize on the benefits of that top level domain later. Therefore, the immediate result will be more applications from the corporate community motivated by fear of brand abuse. To the extent that this occurs, the process will reflect badly on ICANN, since this will be viewed as a type of "blackmail" by the companies that are forced to apply out of fear. On the other hand, if the new gTLD process results in use by companies and individuals who truly desire to take advantage of a new way to communicate, ICANN will surely benefit.

The new gTLD process is just one example of how ICANN policy can adversely affect the business community. ICANN can improve its standing in the global business community and increase institutional confidence if it finds a way to increase the level of participation from the business community in its policy making initiatives.

By Margie Milam, Corporate Secretary and General Counsel of MarkMonitor
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We polled the participants and learned that John Berryhill  –  Oct 13, 2008 10:48 PM PDT

We polled the participants and learned that approximately 72% of the attendees expressed some level of fear

Did you do a before an after poll of "fear" in order to determine the effectiveness of your efforts to promote it?

Poll Question Margie Milam  –  Oct 14, 2008 10:47 AM PDT

We took the poll before any presentations were given.  Our presentation was informative in nature, and did not try to influence the opinion of the participant to view new gTLDs negatively.  We tried to present a balanced view, offering our perspective on the marketing opportunities, and security advantages associated with a new TLD, along with the risks. MarkMonitor is supportive of new gTLD initiviatives, esp. for those portions of its customer base that are interested in using this as a means of rebranding their Internet presence.

For more information, please see the presentation materials at http://www.markmonitor.com/download/webinar/webinar-080731-gTLDs.pdf

Stats Kieren McCarthy  –  Oct 14, 2008 4:34 PM PDT

I think you are being a little disingenuous with your use of stats here Margie.

If you look at the stats that MarkMonitor compiled from that session (see here: http://www.markmonitor.com/topleveldomains/index.php), it clearly shows that only 12 percent of people listed Fear as their "attitude" toward new gTLDs.

30 percent put down Uncertainty - something that is hardly surprising since the draft RFP hasn't even been published yet; 30 percent is listed as All; and 28 percent said it was an Opportunity.

What you have chosen to do is taken everyone except those that who said it was an opportunity and represent them as being fearful.

It is all too easy to do the same the other way around. Some examples:

* Only 12 percent of people say that felt any Fear
* More than double the number of those expressing concern felt that new gTLDs actually represented an opportunity
* An overwhelming 88 percent of attendees said they did not fear the creation of new gTLDs

What might be interesting to see is how the different attitudes change after the draft RFP has been published and the actual process has been explained.

Kieren

Statistics Margie Milam  –  Oct 15, 2008 12:40 PM PDT

There are lots of ways to view these statistics.  Our point is that "fear and uncertainty" is a driver for many brand holders.

ICANN could help sway this perception by reaching out to the corporate community to understand what changes in the process for new TLDs would better protect against abusive registrations.  In so doing, ICANN can address the "uncertainty" factor and make the new gTLD process a success for all concerned - brandholders, ICANN, the public.

Two Out Of Three Ain't Bad John Berryhill  –  Oct 16, 2008 9:36 AM PDT

The great latter Meatloaf Classic:

I want you,
I need you,
But there ain't no way I'm ever gonna love you.
Baby don't feel sad,
'Cause two out of three ain't bad.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/FUD_factor

Fear, uncertainty and doubt (FUD) is a tactic of rhetoric and fallacy used in sales, marketing, public relations and politics. FUD is generally a strategic attempt to influence public perception by disseminating negative (and vague) information. An individual firm, for example, might use FUD to invite unfavorable opinions and speculation about a competitor's product; to increase the general estimation of switching costs among current customers; or to maintain leverage over a current business partner who could potentially become a rival.

The term originated to describe disinformation tactics in the computer hardware industry and has since been used more broadly. FUD is a manifestation of the appeal to fear.

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