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Impenetrable Processes and Fool's Gold at ICANN

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J.D. Falk

A couple of weeks ago, I attended part of the ICANN meeting in San Francisco. I've been watching ICANN and been peripherally aware of their issues since the organization began, but this was my first chance to attend a meeting.

What I learned is that ICANN is a crazy behemoth of a bureaucracy, steeped in impenetrable acronyms and processes that make it nearly impossible for someone new to get up to speed.

The best example of this is the recent approval of the .XXX top-level domain. There are already top-level domains for specific types of companies or organizations: .MUSEUM for museums, .COOP for co-ops. None of them have been very successful — there are only a few hundred museums in .MUSEUM and 6000 co-ops in .COOP — but they've been mostly harmless. So okay, the adult entertainment industry wants a top-level domain, why not let them have it?

The problem is, the adult entertainment industry doesn't want this top-level domain. As far as I can tell, the only people who want it are the registry who will start selling .XXX domains and a few countries (such as India) who plan to block those domains. The registry wants it because they know that legitimate adult sites will be forced to register domains in .XXX to avoid trademark dilution. For example, even if they already have example.com, example.org, example.net, example.biz, and example.info, they'll now have to register example.xxx just to make sure nobody else does — and to make sure users aren't confused or scammed. Famous brands will have to register for trademark protection, too: they've mentioned disney.xxx.

When CAUCE Executive Director Neil Schwartzman asked on one of the ICANN mailing lists why .XXX was going to be approved even though the community that supposedly wants it didn't want it, an ICANN insider (a former Board member) replied that they'd had their chance to object, and didn't. That "chance" wasn't anything that got any press, though — it was a "Report of Possible Process Options" published somewhere deep within icann.org after ten years of false starts. In ICANN's insular world, it's everyone else's job to pay attention and keep ICANN from screwing up.

The bigger controversy at the meeting, however, was the disagreement between the Government Advisory Committee (GAC) and the ICANN Board. At its heart, the issue is that the ICANN Board would like to be free of government oversight (they've said so), while the governments of the world don't want anything to be entirely outside of their control. Much of the hubbub is built upon overblown fears that the governments want to control absolutely everything (admittedly, some do.)

But most of what the GAC wants doesn't get into that scary territory. They want to make sure that trademark laws apply fairly. They want law enforcement to be able, through due process of law, to find out who registered a domain name — a position we've consistently supported. And they want ICANN to have some oversight, because there are a lot of people complaining.

I don't know what's going to happen. ICANN says the long delayed new TLD process is almost done (although they've said it before), and they'll open things up for all sorts of new top-level domain names this summer. There's already a gold rush mentality as potential registries realize how much money they think they can make. But when you look at .COOP, .MUSEUM, .AERO, .MOBI, and others...they're hardly ever used. Even when they are used, there's an accompanying .COM or .ORG or country-code domain. As CAUCE President John Levine put it, the new TLD experiment is a failure. Nonetheless, there appear to be hundreds of applicants willing to put down the $185,000 application fee for a new domain, all of whom presumably think they can get enough registrations, somehow, to make it worth their while — which does not suggest they'll be particularly picky about who can register, nor that they will have the resources to make registrants follow whatever each TLD's rules are supposed to be.

And it doesn't even matter, because most users don't navigate by domain names anymore. They use Google search, and click on the first result. Today the #5 "hot" search on Google is "youtube video”, obviously from users who don't know (or don't care) to type youtube.com into their address bar. But there's also danger here: any time a scammer manages to SEO their site into the top position in Google or another search engine, users who aren't paying close attention will find themselves on the wrong site: bankofwherever.scam when they wanted bankofwherever.com. So, again, legitimate brands will find themselves forced to register in each new TLD even though there's no real benefit to them or their users.

It's pointless and insecure for users, it's annoying and expensive for brands...all this new TLD craziness is a gold rush in a world that doesn't even want gold. ICANN doesn't care, and those of us who do care are effectively locked out of the process. Even regular participants are often shut out. Something, clearly, has to change...but what?

(This article was originally published on cauce.org.)

By J.D. Falk, Internet Standards and Governance. More blog posts from J.D. Falk can also be read here.

Related topics: Domain Names, ICANN, Internet Governance, Policy & Regulation, Top-Level Domains

 
   

Comments

Agreed. Elizabeth Cummings  –  Apr 05, 2011 2:25 PM PDT

Speaking as a part of the Coalition Against Domain Name Abuse (CADNA) I think that you make some excellent points. ICANN was created as the sole source of domain name policy and is supposed to protect the public interests in promoting the development of the Internet. It has failed in this capacity time and again. .XXX is yet another example of ICANN's failure to operate with either transparency or accountability, and its willful ignorance of the concerns raised by trademark owners and businesses, choosing instead to cater to those who stand to profit the most – the registries. The same thing is happening with gTLDs, as you pointed out. We can only hope that the delay of the new TLD program is an indication of ICANN's willingness to cooperate and pursue meaningful discussions with the GAC, but we are not all that optimistic. And a quick note on your mention of “impenetrable acronyms” - (this is a true story!) one of my colleagues who attended the San Francisco meeting left a session after ten minutes because the speaker was using so many undefined acronyms that she actually couldn’t understand what the speaker was saying.

Where this has all gone wrong is David Wrixon  –  Apr 05, 2011 11:52 PM PDT

Where this has all gone wrong is that as ever American's think it is all about them.

This should be about extending domain names to the disenfranchised, all those countries who languages are not being properly served.

Instead it is a big bun fight with greedy American's on both sides of the argument.

Anyway, June 20 is the date. That's that, apart from the opportunity to comment on some Typ changes, the process is done. Interesting how many of you turn up at 5 to Midnight and expect the party to stop for you.

Disenfranchised? J.D. Falk  –  Apr 06, 2011 10:31 AM PDT

David, I heard a few different people (maybe one of them was you) talking about disenfranchised users in other countries during the ICANN meeting, but I couldn't quite follow the argument — there's probably some context I'm missing.

Could you recommend an article or other resource that would explain why and how internationalized domains are seen as competing with the new TLDs?

Disnenfranshised David Wrixon  –  Apr 07, 2011 3:56 AM PDT

J.D.

No, it was not me. From what I have been seeing ICANN prefer to talk at you rather than to you.

The Disenfranchisement come uniquely from fact that half the World don't use the Latin script. Long before ICANN came into existence a system of encodement was devised that allowed other scripts to be expressed in Latin characters so the DNS which is only capable of accepting Latin characters could process them. ICANN have wasted about a decade. First by ignoring it, and then carrying hugely bureaucratic and unnecssary processes

Re: Impenetrable Processes and Fool's Gold at ICANN David Wrixon  –  Apr 07, 2011 4:02 AM PDT

Can't see what I am typing. Bloody Windows 7!

....unnecessary processes such as proving that ASCII encodment is indeed ASCII. It was a bit like proving A = A. Anyway after spending a decade trying to scupper IDN, they are now trying to take all the credit. The only problem is that the adoption of IDN has again been highjacked as it has been incorporated into the wholly unnecessary expansion ASCII TLDs. However, IP community have really made things difficult arguing against such expansion because it makes it more difficult to police their Trade Markets, just as it does have more than one search engine, or a single newspaper title such as Pravda, or indeed shops other than Walmart or more than one TV or Radio Channel…

Disnenfranshised David Wrixon  –  Apr 07, 2011 4:05 AM PDT

Delays in New TLDs are consequently meaning delay in IDN, which is a total travesty.

Of course most American's cannot understand the issue because although most of their Federal Taxes go towards bombing other countries to maintain their Oil Protection Racket, most of their citizens could not point out Mexico on a map of the World.

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