Editorial: Slow&Steady.com

ICANN's planned expansion of gTLD's could result in a land rush of cybersquatting, phishing and fraud for, as far as we and others can tell, not a lot of upside

Put Reps. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Fred Upton (R-Mich.) on the
same page with Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W. Va.), the National Cable
& Telecommunications Association, the Association of National
Advertisers, the National Association of Broadcasters, the Red
Cross and the Federal Trade Commission and what do you get?

Usually a veritable smorgasbord of vastly different
takes on issues, media and otherwise, from
online privacy to network neutrality to kids TV
regulations to, well, you name it. That is why it
borders on remarkable that they are all essentially
in agreement when it comes to pausing or
scaling back the Corporation for Assigned Names
and Numbers’ (ICANN) planned expansion of
general top-level domain names (gTLDs), which
are the .com and .net and
.TV extensions currently
atop the Internet food chain.

Then again, perhaps it’s
not so remarkable after all,
given that the Jan. 12 trigger
for that massive expansion—
from 22 now to as
many as 300, for starters—
could result in a land rush
of cybersquatting, phishing
and fraud for, as far as we
and others can tell, not a lot
of upside.

Dan Jaffee, executive VP
of the Association of National
Advertisers and the lead
executive representing the
Coalition for Responsible
Internet Domain Oversight
(CRIDO) calls the expansion
“dangerous and misguided”
and a threat to the $700 billion
in marketing spending
from the 152 companies in
CRIDO. That list includes
major advertisers, as well as
ad associations and the National Association of
Broadcasters. Jaffee may be overstating the case,
but there is a clear threat.

And we don’t buy the argument that delaying
the rollout will somehow send a signal to other
countries that it is OK for them to crack down
on the free flow of information on the Internet.
If that were the case, we doubt that strong net
neutrality backers like Markey, Rockefeller and
Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) would be among the
rollout’s critics.

Among the possible consequences of the expansion
are diluting the value of current domain
names, costing companies millions to defend
their brands and creating myriad new opportunities
to scam Web users or steal their personal info
via bogus sites mimicking established brands.

But don’t take our word for it; sit back and
listen to the ICANN (But You Shouldn’t) Chorus:

House Energy & Commerce Chair Fred Upton
and committee member Ed Markey:
“We urge
you to delay the planned Jan. 12 for the acceptance
of applications for new gTLDs.”

Senate Commerce Committee chair Jay
“I’m concerned that this expansion
of generic, top-level domains, if it proceeds as
planned, will have adverse consequences for the
millions of American consumers, companies and
non-profit organizations that use the Internet on
a daily basis.”

Federal Trade Commission letter to
“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.”

Angela Williams, general counsel, YMCA,
representing a nonprofit coalition that includes
the Red Cross and Goodwill Industries:
new gTLD Program compromises use of the Internet
by increasing the risk of fraud, cybersquatting
and trademark infringement and by significantly escalating the cost to protect against such
unlawful activities.”

We think ratcheting back to a pilot program, as
the FTC suggested, which gives ICANN a better
handle on the real-world consequences of the expansion
would be the best thing for the Internet,
for Internet users and for companies with billiondollar
brands increasingly reliant on their Web
addresses to get folks in the door.