We are just weeks away from a new internet era, when there will be a 6,000% expansion of website domains available for internet users. While this level of growth sounds exciting, it may hold more threat than promise for marketers.
Over the past year, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers has accepted applications from companies seeking brand-centric generic top-level domains, such as .netflix or .microsoft, as well as more broad-reaching gTLDs including .auto, .bank and .restaurant. An ICANN board meeting scheduled for April 7-11 in Beijing will likely cement the rollout of these new gTLDs on April 23.
The ANA has not only taken a strong position against ICANN's premature rollout of its gTLD plan, but also brought our industry's concerns to the highest levels of the U.S. government and to the ICANN organization. If you are a brand marketer and had not fully been following the discourse surrounding ICANN and the new gTLD plan, you are running out of time to assess, analyze and take action. Here are some helpful tips to act on now:
1. Educate yourself on every implication associated with gTLDs.
The internet is about to undergo a radical transformation. One of our main concerns is the threat to security.
For example, within the current universe of 22 gTLDs, there already exists billions of dollars of cybercrime -- including phishing, cybersquatting, typo-squatting and counterfeiting. At the ANA Law & Public Policy Conference held in Washington two weeks ago, Julie Brill, commissioner of the U.S. Federal Trade Commission, expressed concern that the TLD expansion could create opportunities for scammers to take advantage of consumers and divert the resources of businesses into litigation. She called for additional safeguards and increased accountability of domain registrars.
To safeguard your brand, be sure to read up on this issue so that you have all the facts. The success and prosperity of your company, without a doubt, depends on the trust of your consumers and the security and stability of the internet marketplace.
2. Thoroughly examine the current system your company has in place in regard to website domains.
ICANN's virtual landgrab favors companies with the financial and technical resources to both apply for and contest gTLDs. Identify what web addresses are tied to yours and which gTLDs could impact your brand. Then decide whether it is necessary -- or possible -- for your company to invest in new domains. Once you've examined your company's vulnerabilities, here is something to consider:
ICANN's recently launched Trademark Clearinghouse, allowing brand owners to pay to list trademarks in a database, is supposed to alert applicants if they try to register a domain name identical to a trademark and provide notice to the brand owner if the applicant goes forward and registers. Exactly how this will be managed and enforced is unclear, especially given that ICANN has not yet developed an adequate program for verifying the identities of those registering.
3. Take action.
On the day that Ms. Brill presented, ICANN President Fadi Chehade personally addressed ANA members. He conceded that as recently as six months ago, ICANN was not operationally ready for expansion, but expressed confidence that "the process at ICANN works" today. Regretfully, the ANA cannot share in his confidence just yet.
If you share similar concerns, we urge your company to make its voice heard. Send letters to both ICANN and the FTC before the Beijing ICANN meeting. Also, make sure your company has the financial capacity and personnel support to defend your trademark.
The ANA is in favor of ICANN's oversight of the internet governance function, and we are strong supporters of the self-regulatory system. But we believe that ICANN must act as a steward of the internet and deploy new gTLDs responsibly. More gTLDs might have valuable benefits, but not if the system is flawed and not secure.