The nonprofit organization that oversees the Internet’s address system is bracing for a wave of lawsuits as a result of a controversial program that may add hundreds of top-level domains such as .apple and .nyc.
The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, a California-based nonprofit that has a contract with the U.S. government to manage the Web’s address system, was due to start accepting applications on Jan. 12 for new extensions to the right of the dot, including brand names, cities, and almost any word in any language. The program may give rise to as many as 2,000 Web suffixes, according to ICANN. There are currently just 22 so-called generic top-level domains, led by .com, .net, and .org. Under ICANN’s plan, the Web could see the likes of .ford or .coca-cola.
Since approving the program back in June 2011, ICANN has come under fire from businesses saying the proliferation of suffixes will confuse consumers and increase companies’ costs of protecting their brands. More than 50 companies, including General Electric, American Express, and Johnson & Johnson, have signed a petition asking that the plan be delayed, and more than a dozen members of Congress have taken up their cause. Federal Trade Commission Chairman Jon Leibowitz has called the initiative a potential “disaster” that would allow con artists to rip off consumers by setting up fraudulent websites.
Even so, the Obama Administration isn’t likely to force it’s will onto an international organization. Whenever ICANN “seems to be paying too much attention to what the U.S. government says, it generates a certain amount of pushback from the rest of the world, and the U.S. is sensitive to that,” says Esther Dyson, the group’s first chair, and a critic of the domain-name expansion.
ICANN is pressing ahead, saying the plan has been thoroughly vetted during six years of deliberations and includes trademark protections stating “We have extensive safeguards during the process and even afterward, if there are abuses detected,”. Still, it’s interesting to note that ICANN will put aside about $60,000 of every $185,000 domain application fee to cover litigation that may arise from the program.
Who will benefit from an explosion of new Web suffixes? The program may spur sales for Go Daddy Group, VeriSign, and other companies that operate and sell Web domains to businesses and consumers. Donuts, a Seattle startup whose name stands for “domain nuts,” plans to apply for 10 top-level domains under the ICANN program but a company spokesperson declined to name the domains his company is targeting. (No one in this game wants to show their cards early).
The expansion may also give a financial boost to ICANN, which largely supports itself by charging fees to domain-name companies. The program may double ICANN’s annual $85 million budget.
You may remember from our report a year ago, ICANN approved the .xxx domain for adult-content websites in March 2011. Almost 200,000 .xxx domains have been sold so far, according to Stuart Lawley, chief executive officer of ICM Registry, a Florida company that acquired the rights to manage the .xxx suffix from ICANN. It’s proven a good investment: ICM took in almost $25 million from sales of .xxx domains last year.
It wasn’t just pornography sites that bid for the x-rated suffix. Up to 70 percent of Fortune 500 companies registered .xxx domains over a 52-day period starting on Sept. 7, 2011 says Lawley, who declined to name the companies. Their goal: to protect their brands from falling into the wrong hands. At $185,000 per .xxx domain, it’s a pretty expensive insurance policy.
On Monday June 20th, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) voted to allow a whole new array of TLD’s (Top Level Domains).
So, what does that mean?
The change means that the familiar “.com,” “.org” and “.net” will be getting a lot more company in the next year or so. Here’s a breakdown of the vote that ICANN chairman Peter Dengate said “will usher in a new Internet age.”
What did they change?
Right now, there are a limited number — 22, to be precise — of what’s called “generic top-level domains.” The most familiar ones are “com,” “org,” “info,” “edu” and “net.” Under the new rule, people will be able to apply to ICANN to register most any word, in any language, as their domain ending.
So, I can set up my own domain?
That depends. Are you rich? Are you an established corporation or government? If the answer to any of the above is “no,” then probably not. ICANN will be charging at least $185,000 per domain application (more in the case of buyers who want one all to themselves). So it seems pretty clear that this will largely be for corporations, and maybe some governments. It also will cost money to set up and maintain the domain, so something like .google, .ibm or ,coke will be a lot more likely to happen than, say, .davidsnell.
What are the benefits?
For retailers and others, the advantage is branding. Having your own domain could lend a sense of legitimacy on the web. Because of the difficulty of getting an application through ICANN’s process, a personalized domain ending will be an authenticity watermark of sorts.
For the common Web user like you and me, the answer is a little more hazy. One early thought is that it could cut down on phishing and other online scam attempts. If you knew that only domains with your banks’ names in the suffix were legitimate, it would make it harder for scammers to trick you by steering you to a fake site.
What’s the potential downside?
For those planning to apply, there are almost sure to be some legal battles. Remember the dispute between Apple, the computer company, and Apple, the record label that was home to The Beatles? We’ll probably see more of that when more than one bidder wants exclusive use of a name.
Some industry observers also believe the domain names could usher in a new era of cybersquatting, although companies seeking custom domain suffixes must undergo a screening process designed to weed out unscrupulous applicants.
A lot of companies, governments and the like aren’t saying for competition reasons. But there are several organizations that have announced plans to file for particular domain endings. Among them: .unicef, .paris, .nyc, .canon and .hitachi.
When will this happen?
ICANN is scheduled to begin reviewing applications early next year and says we should start seeing new domains in July 2012.
What the heck is ICANN?
It’s the nonprofit group that assigns addresses to Internet service providers. The organization was founded in 1998, has members from all over the world and is dedicated to “keeping the Internet secure, stable and interoperable,” according to ICANN’s website.
One of the organization’s main jobs has become assigning and overseeing domain names on the Internet. They’ve been gradually expanding the options for years, a process which has added such top-level domain names as “.biz” and “.xxx.”
Qwiki, a Google-meets-Wikipedia search engine quietly launched its “alpha” site on Monday. With very little fanfare and what seems to me to be lots of potential, this new fan-dangled search engine might just get some media attention.
Information from Qwiki’s “About Us” section… “We’ve all seen science fiction films (or read novels) where computers are able to collect data on behalf of humans, and present the Continue reading
Intel’s deal for McAfee comes amid Symantec’s deal for PGP, IBM’s for BigFix, and Hewlett-Packard’s for Fortify.
Security analysts are still digesting the implications of Intel acquiring McAfee for $7.68 billion. The purchase plan comes four months after McAfee was forced to apologize for an antivirus update that shut down Windows XP computers around the world — including PCs at Intel. Continue reading