New TLDs go on $ale Today Over Objections

Today ICANN ( the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) begins a new program of selling and registering new top-level domain names (TLDs) which they call gTLD (Generic Top Level Domains).

The initiative, which uses the tagline “the next big .thing” allows anyone with $185,000, the time, and the legal resources to create the top level domain name of their choosing by year-end. The name could be anything, including the use of non-Latin alphabets such as Arabic and Chinese, except for several “reserved” names like ICANN, IETF, WWW, etc. and character strings that might cause instability in DNS, “Declared Variants”  and copyrighted names. That last one is a big deal obviously, so there is a big hairy legal application process involved. The obvious liability for brand names is huge.

In fact, the FTC has been vocal during ICANN’s consideration and planning of the gTLD program’s expansion, citing the need for need for more consumer protection safeguards. The FTC is particularly concerned with ICANN’s lack of enforcement of accurate WhoIs data, which can prevent the FTC from tracking down and prosecuting fraud. The FTC said despite its continued request, ICANN has failed to adequately address this problem for over a
decade. FTC received Congressional support and  blasted in ICANN in a Senate Commerce Committee and House Subcommittee on Communications & Technology hearings last month. In an open letter to ICANN last month, the FTC expressed its concerns.

A rapid, exponential expansion of gTLDs has the potential to magnify both the abuse of the domain name system and the corresponding challenges we encounter in tracking down Internet fraudsters.  In particular, the proliferation of existing scams, such as phishing, is likely to become a serious challenge given the infinite opportunities that scam artists will now have at their fingertips.  Fraudsters will be able to register misspellings of businesses, including financial institutions, in each of the new gTLDs, create copycat websites, and obtain sensitive consumer data with relative ease before shutting down the site and launching a new one.  The potential for consumer confusion in other variations of these types of scams is significant.  As an example, “ABC bank” could be registered in .com, but another entity could register “ABC” in a new .bank gTLD, and a different entity could register “ABC” in a new .finance gTLD.  Scam artists could easily take advantage of this potential for confusion to defraud consumers.

They are just asking ICANN to slow down and think through this. At least create a pilot program before opening it up. It sure sounds reasonable to me. Yet Congress has no authority here, and ICANN is pressing forward… Maybe it’s time for a new logo.

The ICANN site describes the details of the program.