ICANN pushes ahead with generic domains launch

From this week, businesses will be able to apply for top-level domains using any word— think .gay and .car — despite US regulators' security concerns
Written by Tom Espiner, Contributor

ICANN's launch of applications for generic top-level domains will go ahead on Thursday, despite objections from US regulators concerned about security.

Rod Beckstrom

ICANN's launch of applications for generic top-level domains will go ahead on Thursday, the organisation's chief executive Rod Beckstrom has said. Photo credit: ICANN

From 12 January, businesses have three months to apply to register almost any word they like as a domain name, such as .wales and .gay, with non-Latin characters and brand names allowed. The new generic top-level domains (gTLDs) are expected to significantly expand ICANN's domain endings beyond the 22 now in use, such as .com and .org.

On Friday, chief executive Rod Beckstrom said ICANN is ready to start the gTLD programme as planned.

"We carefully reviewed every critical aspect," Beckstrom said in a blog post. "Each executive was called on to indicate whether his or her group is fully prepared to fulfil their role."

The move comes despite criticism from regulators in the US, which had close oversight of the internet's naming system until a few years ago. In December, the Federal Trade Commission warned of "the potential for significant consumer harm resulting from the unprecedented increase in new gTLDs" in a letter (PDF) to ICANN.

"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," the FTC wrote. "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."

The FTC added that new registries will open up the possibility of fraudsters registering misspellings of organisations, in order to harvest sensitive data.

Risks 'noted'

In his blog post, Beckstrom did not address those concerns, though he did say unspecified "risks" had been taken into account.

"While we noted the ongoing presence of risks that were identified and highlighted to the [ICANN board] and community in June, and the mitigation steps that have been taken, each executive indicated approval to proceed," he said.

Some US businesses have raised other potential problems with gTLDs, such as the misuse of brand names. Registration procedures have been tightened to tackle this, an ICANN spokesman told ZDNet UK.

Applications for gTLDs will cost $185,000 (£120,000). Beckstrom said cost issues for "needy applicants" have not yet been resolved. In September, he told ZDNet UK that small businesses and charities may struggle to raise the several millions of dollars required for gTLD approval and operation costs.

With the launch of the scheme, ICANN must now decide dates for a second application window, Beckstrom noted in his blog post.

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