ICANN Fails to Address Key Concerns About New Top Level Domain Names

May 16, 2013

ICANN (the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) in late April announced that it would push back the date of the rollout of as many as 1,400 new Top Level Domain (gTLD) website suffixes. It did so to address the numerous concerns raised by many organizations, including law enforcement agencies and its own Governmental Advisory Committee (GAC), which have called attention to the significant threat these new general top level domain names (TLDs) could pose to brands and consumer protections without adequate protective mechanisms being put in place. Unfortunately, ICANN continues to fall short of truly addressing these concerns as the new website suffixes have now precipitously been rescheduled to roll out in June and to begin to be put into the root system of the internet beginning in August.

The Association of National Advertisers (ANA), representing the interests of major global advertisers, along with major companies like Verisign and PayPal, has long expressed concerns about the rush to deploy these gTLDs before ICANN has adopted sufficient trademark and security and stability protections for consumers and brandholders.

This week, ANA filed comments with ICANN to its proposed Registrar Accreditation Agreements (RAA). ANA recommends that in order to ensure that ICANN can manage registrations for TLDs effectively, the organization must finalize the accreditation agreements with registrars that will manage the domain names before any new gTLD contracts are approved and hold these registrars responsible for applicants complying with the RAA. In addition, we remain very concerned that ICANN’s compliance department still hasn’t been augmented sufficiently or that fully automated systems have been put in place to meet the expected increased compliance demands creating serious potential gaps in enforcement. 

ICANN’s premature launch of gTLDs will also increase the threat of cybersquatting and phishing, among many other potential cybercrime threats that jeopardize brand and consumer protections.  The law enforcement community has made several important recommendations to ICANN, including more robust verification of WHOIS information. These are highly valid concerns and it would be seriously premature for ICANN to rush ahead before fully heeding these warnings from law enforcement.

ANA also filed comments this week regarding the GAC advice given to ICANN in the Communiqué delivered at ICANN’s Beijing meeting last month.  ANA called on ICANN in particular to reconsider its earlier decision that allows for the singular and plural forms of suffixes (e.g., “.coupon” and “.coupons,” and “.auto” and “autos.”), which ICANN so far seems to believe will somehow not confuse consumers. It is unquestionable that consumers will find it difficult to identify the difference between these website when they are searching for suffixes that are practically identical. These virtually identical suffixes could lead enterprising applicants to apply for the plural (or singular) forms of popular TLDs intending to mislead or otherwise harm consumers.

In addition, ICANN continues to adhere to an overly aggressive timetable with regard to the public comment period regarding the GAC Advice and thereby has not provided adequate time to satisfactorily respond to all the important public interest issues raised.  Furthermore, we believe that the concerns raised by Verisign and PayPal about the potential clash between internal and external TLDs are profoundly serious and must be satisfactorily addressed before the roll out, if we do not want to create major increased cybercrime threats to the internet.  

It is clear that ICANN has not taken the necessary steps to protect internet users. The internet is too valuable and important to consumers, brandholders and the global economy for ICANN not to address the issues raised. ANA urges ICANN to extend the time to truly consider these concerns before rolling out these TLDs that could permanently change the face of the internet.

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