The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) has approved the use of new “top-level domains,” which we’ll start seeing next year. So instead of using .com, .net or .org at the end of websites, businesses (and well-heeled individuals) will be able to create their own “.whatever” suffixes.
If I had $185,000 and wanted to sell some really comfortable pants, for instance, I could do so at http://www.pants.doug — that’s what’s happening. ICANN will accept initial applications between Jan. 12 and April 12 of next year.
ICANN CEO Rod Beckstrom said the following:
ICANN has opened the Internet’s naming system to unleash the global human imagination. Today’s decision respects the rights of groups to create new Top Level Domains in any language or script. We hope this allows the domain name system to better serve all of mankind.
That’s one way to look at it. Some, like technology activist Lauren Weinstein, see things a bit differently.
The negative impacts of this fiasco on ordinary consumers and Internet users will ultimately become all too clear, as the resulting effects of massively increased cybersquatting, spammers, and phishing take hold.
But apart from that, with the world still in the grips of an economic crisis that threatens to become desperately worse at any moment, the ethically vacuous nature of this entire plan is obvious.
Could all or part of that money just perhaps be used in better ways than for the creation and maintenance of an artificial ‘must buy whether you want it or not’ form of ‘domain names’ product — that does absolutely nothing to advance or solve the many crucial technical, policy, blocking, neutrality, censorship, and free speech issues that are at the forefront of the Internet today — a ‘product’ that may actually exacerbate blocking and censorship?
While it can be argued that how companies and individuals choose to spend their money is up to them, the questions about security and censorship are worth looking into.
How to Get Approved (or Denied) for a Custom Domain Suffix
What’s to stop me from registering the .pants suffix (aside from not having $185,000) so I can resell it — at a tidy profit — to a big company like Girbaud (their jeans are still cool, right?) that actually wants to sell pants?
That tactic is known as cybersquatting, and its use is rampant across the Web with standard domain names. Just look at Pants.com for further proof. The site does nothing except link to other places that sell pants and collect referral fees when a sale is made.
And if a big company came along wanting to buy Pants.com, there’s little doubt that the domain’s owner, Digimedia.com, would sell. If you’re in the market for BathingSuits.com, Recipes.com or Shampoo.com, Digimedia owns those, and plenty of others, too.
But ICANN has certain systems in place to prevent cybersquatters from registering custom domain suffixes.
According to ICANN’s Applicant Guidebook (available here) for the new domain program, companies applying for custom domain suffixes will undergo a screening process to check “general business diligence and criminal history” as well as the company’s “history of cybersquatting behavior” against a database of known offenders.
If a company passes that initial test, the requested domain suffix will then be evaluated to see if it “is so similar to other strings that it would create a probability of user confusion,” “might adversely affect DNS security or stability” and to find out whether the applicant has “the requisite technical, operational, and financial capability to operate a registry.”
In other words, this is all quite a bit more involved than registering a $10 domain name in hopes that someone will want to buy it in the future. As for who will handle these review processes, “ICANN is in the process of selecting qualified third-party providers to perform the various reviews,” and there’s a code-of-conduct section in the guide outlining rules against panelist bias and conflicts of interest.
Public Objections and Free Speech
Once all of those hurdles have been cleared, a requested domain suffix will be open to public comment for 60 days.
Per the Applicant Guidebook:
Evaluators will perform due diligence on the application comments (i.e., determine their relevance to the evaluation, verify the accuracy of claims, analyze meaningfulness of references cited) and take the information provided in these comments into consideration.
If a domain suffix draws complaints but doesn’t get shot down by the evaluators, there’s a “Formal Objection Process.”
A group may file a formal objection — this one costs money: there’s a minimum $2,750 filing fee — against a proposed domain suffix, which will be evaluated by a panel of experts.
(MORE: ICANN vs. the World)
The guidebook states that “everyone has the right to freedom of expression, but the exercise of this right carries with it special duties and responsibilities. Accordingly, certain limited restrictions may apply.”
The guidebook says experts “will consider whether the applied for [domain suffix] is contrary to general principles of international law for morality and public order” and lists the following examples:
• The Universal Declaration of Human Rights
• The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights
• The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women
• The International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination
• Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women
• The International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights
• The Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
• The International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families
• Slavery Convention
• Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide
• Convention on the Rights of the Child
The guidebook then states, “Note that these are included to serve as examples, rather than an exhaustive list,” and continues with another list of possible restrictions relating to domain suffixes that may contribute to:
• Incitement to or promotion of violent lawless action
• Incitement to or promotion of discrimination based upon race, color, gender, ethnicity, religion or national origin, or other similar types of discrimination that violate generally accepted legal norms recognized under principles of international law
• Incitement to or promotion of child pornography or other sexual abuse of children
• A determination that an applied-for gTLD string would be contrary to specific principles of international law as reflected in relevant international instruments of law
So we’ll almost certainly hear of cases where one group tries to register a custom domain suffix that offends another group, but the idea that just anybody will be able to quickly and easily register their own custom domain suffix shouldn’t be at the front of people’s minds.
Again, this process will be far more complicated and involved (and expensive) than the one for registering a standard domain name. That being said, if anyone wants to go in on .pants with me, let’s set something up, eh?