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Google's .App TLD Application Under Fire

Michele Neylon

I've written about "closed generic" new TLD applications several times over the last year.

I'm opposed to them, as I've said in the past and continue to say today. However I've generally been supportive of "restricted" TLDs.

The Association for Competitive Technology (ACT) has serious concerns about Google's application for .app and want ICANN's board of directors to treat as a "closed generic".

If you recall, their original application was 100% closed. But a couple of months back Google modified their application for .app, as well as their submissions for both .search and .blog. At the time I thought that their modified proposals were positive, though I did have some doubts, due to the ambiguity of some parts of their proposals.

Jonathan Zuck's letter to ICANN dates from June 13th, but was only made public yesterday. In it Zuck outlines several concerns with the .app application:

Google's amended application is problematic because it allows Google alone to set eligibility criteria by defining app developers and the Industry as a whole

Don't forget, Google has built a business around "apps", both their online office suite of services, as well as their Android smartphones and operating system:

Given that Google is a competitor in the Industry, its control over setting eligibility criteria and defining "app developer" is troubling.

Google might try to argue that it won't abuse its position, but if they're the gatekeeper, will they treat their competitors, such as Apple, in the same way they treat other app developers?

When a domain name extension is meaningful, as in the case of most generic strings, consumers will have expectations and a restricted TLD could cause confusion (emphasis added):

Since developers' primary presence is online, shutting large portions of the Industry out of .APP would interfere with the prosperity of the community. Developers who are not chosen by Google to participate in will be denied the legitimacy of the .APP TLD. Consumers will also expect .APP to be all-inclusive. If .APP becomes sufficiently socialized, through marketing and search engine optimization, potential customers would not find apps that do not meet Google's criteria, resulting in less choice and customer confusion.

In my view this argument is a strong one. Consumer confusion was used as an argument against new TLDs in the past, but now that new TLDs are coming, closed generic TLDs OR restricted TLDs could actually cause it. It's no longer mere FUD.

Personally I don't have an issue with restricted TLDs, but the restrictions should not be arbitrary. For example a .bank TLD that restricts itself to financial institutions makes perfect sense to me, but no one bank should decide which other banks get to play in the namespace.

Software developers are an important part of the internet ecosystem and for those of us who work in the space, they are our clients, our partners and our suppliers. Both as a consumer of software and a vendor of services to the software industry the very idea of a large company abusing its market position concerns me, so Zuck's letter does worry me, especially when he lays out some of the threats so clearly (emphasis added):

The impact on the Industry will be severe. Most app developers rely on the services of third parties to provide functions for their apps, such as analytics, hosting, and security. Since many developers are small businesses, it is more cost efficient to contract with these third parties. Google currently owns several companies which provide such services to app developers. However, they are far from the only players in the market. There are hundreds of companies built around the app industry which provide services for app developers. As the holder of the proposed gTLD, Google has the power over potential registrants to require the use of Google services. This would allow Google an unfair competitive advantage in the third party market to provide services to app developers. It would potentially put thousands out of business when app developers are forced to switch to Google services, regardless of how well or poorly those services fit the developer's businesses.

ICANN's board of directors recently moved to "freeze" new TLD applications that it considered to fit under the banner of "closed generic". As Zuck argues, Google's application for .app should also be "frozen".

The full letter is worth a read: Zuck To Crocker / Chehade: Google's Amended Application for the .APP gTLD

By Michele Neylon, MD of Blacknight Solutions. More blog posts from Michele Neylon can also be read here.

Related topics: ICANN, Internet Governance, Top-Level Domains

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