ICANN's Vanity Top-Level Domain Names: Fraud Magnet?

Starting midnight Thursday, ICANN will take applications for new generic top-level domains such as .shoe and .plumber, but some industry groups are voicing fraud and security concerns.

Mathew J. Schwartz, Contributor

January 11, 2012

4 Min Read

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Beginning midnight Thursday and running for just three months, the Internet Committee for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN)--the nonprofit organization that oversees how Internet domains get used--plans to begin taking applications for vanity domains. These new custom, generic top-level domains (gTLDs) will serve as alternatives to sites that currently sport a ".com," ".net," ".org," or any of the 22 gTLDs or 250 country-specific gTLDs that are currently in existence. But not everyone is happy about the prospect of the expansion, which will likely see gTLDs such as .sports and .shoe added to the Internet.

With a $185,000 processing fee for each new gTLD application, custom domains won't come cheap. (Interestingly, ICANN currently only receives $0.25 per year for every .com domain renewal.) But several businesses and organizations--including Canon, Deloitte, Hitachi, Motorola, and Unicef--have said they'll pay for a so-called .brand Web address.

ICANN has said that each application, which involves 50 questions, will take between nine and 20 months to process, meaning that the first custom gTLDs won't appear until the second half of the year at the earliest. ICANN expects to see up to 4,000 such applications during the three-month window in which it will be offering them. Depending on interest, it might offer additional gTLDs in the future.

[ For more background on ICANN's domain name expansion, see ICANN's Domain Name Plan Could Spell Trouble. ]

The new gTLDs don't have to relate to a specific brand name. According to ARI Registry Services, expect to see product, activity, community, and industry domains--such as ".shoe," ".sport," ".mums," and ".plumber"--get snapped up. In addition, it estimates that 10% of the new gTLD applications will involve specific geographies. Multiple cities--including Berlin, Las Vegas, London, New York, Paris, Rome, and Sydney--have said they'll apply for a gTLD.

Although ICANN's plan has been six years in the making, it has been met with significant resistance. Notably, the Association of National Advertisers (ANA) has been battling the plan since June, when it was finalized, and has cited increased fraud as a significant concern.

In its latest salvo against the gTLD expansion, ANA Monday demanded that ICANN provide all non-governmental organizations, governments, and businesses the right to add specific names or brands to a "do not sell" list, especially so they won't have to purchase the names simply to prevent "land grabs" by other businesses. The ANA also proposed assembling its own team to help vet the ICANN program for flaws. ICANN has not yet publicly responded to those suggestions, although it's previously said that its application-vetting process will include protections for trademarks.

Other businesses are bullish about the branding opportunities afforded by gTLDs. Notably, Bill Barrett, the online communications leader for Deloitte, said that the gTLDs will be more intuitive for website users, because Deloitte can create URLs such as "innovation.deloitte" and "tax.deloitte."

He has also cited easier product rollout and better security as two gTLD upsides. "It gives us some flexibility for the future, as we roll out mobile initiatives and products. We wouldn't then have to go out and bid on other domains. And for security, if everything sits on your own brand domain, it's more authentic and your clients can feel comfortable that it's your real site," he said in a MarketingWeek viewpoint.

But on the security front, what Barrett is referring to isn't security per se, but rather the appearance of security. Furthermore, it's not yet clear whether consumers will really equate a custom gTLD with enhanced online security, or if they might think that because it lacks a ".com" or ".org" that the custom gTLD looks more suspicious.

Interestingly, ICANN said it won't run any advertising campaigns to educate users about the gTLD changes. Accordingly, expect to see the early adopters attempting to reeducate Internet users at large. But they'll be battling against a system that's been in place since people began using the Internet en masse.

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About the Author(s)

Mathew J. Schwartz


Mathew Schwartz served as the InformationWeek information security reporter from 2010 until mid-2014.

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