As ICANN prepares to begin recommending new TLDs for delegation next month, big tech companies like Amazon and Google are ramping up the war of words.
Top-level domains are the final part of the domain name section of the URL. They are tightly controlled by ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers), the regulating authority that determines which TLDs are available for use within the Domain Name System.
Until recently, TLDs have been limited to country codes, and generic names like ‘.com’, and a few special cases like ‘.mobi’, but, in a strategy to raise revenue, ICANN began to allow interested individuals to apply for specific TLDs of their choice. So, for example, Google might — and in fact has — applied to ICANN for the creation and assignment of the ‘.gmail’ TLD among others.
This originally resulted in an outcry by people who dislike the idea that the non-profit ICANN should be using their administration of domain names to monetize what is usually considered to be an essential system for Internet communication, to be managed for the wider interests of the Internet rather than as a money making venture.
While somewhat controversial, especially given that the price of applying for a TLD is well beyond the means of most individuals and many non-profits, and is largely restricted by cost to corporations with deep pockets, TLDs for branding purposes have raised less of an outcry than application for non-branded, generic TLDs.
Google, Amazon, and Apple, among a number of other corporations have an interest in securing TLDs like ‘.book’, ‘.art’, ‘.app’, and ‘.cloud’. Each produce products relevant to those words, and it would be a major coup for them to secure their exclusive use. Imagine if every ‘.book’ URL were only available via Amazon or Apple. As things stand, it’s not clear that corporations will have any obligation to open such generic TLDs for wider use.
In a letter to ICANN, Google’s Vice President and CIO, Ben Fried, insists that the move towards a more open (to those who can afford it) Domain Name System is a positive, and will encourage competition, access, and diversity:
By creating new opportunities for Internet domain names, we believe people will invent more diverse signposts in cyberspace, including opportunities to register new names in new languages and characters. We are confident that the introduction of new gTLDs will improve the usability of the Internet for the international community and create opportunities for greater innovation in a space that has hardly changed since its inception.
But, of greater interest to those worried about closed generics, he also implies that Google intends to make those TLDs open to other users:
We also believe that for each of these terms we can create a strong set of user experiences and expectations without restricting the string to use with Google products.
For some, this may be cold comfort: corporate control of TLDs is likely to result in policies that shift in line with that corporation’s interest, however, it is at least a signal that Google doesn’t intend to monopolize the TLDs they have applied for, which is not something that Apple or Amazon can be relied on to do, especially in reference to ‘.app’, a string which Apple in particular appears to regard with a proprietary zeal.
This letter may be Google’s attempt to play the ‘don’t be evil’ card and give them a boost when it comes to delegation considerations, but it’s at least positive to see that there is some appreciation of the necessity for openness with regard to generic TLDs.