By Nao Matsukata – Special to CNN
Decisions made this week in the meeting rooms of a San Francisco hotel could dramatically change how the world experiences the internet.
Few of us realize that many important decisions about web policy and governance are under the control of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), a nonprofit located in California.
What gives this organization the right to determine so much about internet policy and regulation? Who is it accountable to, and who empowered it in the first place?
ICANN was created in 1998 by the Clinton administration to take the reins of internet regulation from the U.S. Department of Defense’s Advanced Research Products Agency and Jon Postel, a professor who was single-handedly keeping track of all internet addresses from his office at the University of Southern California.
Today, for all practical purposes, ICANN serves as the governing agency of the web. And if ICANN has its way this week, internet users will soon be navigating through a substantially more complex and treacherous internet.
In a dramatic change of internet policy, ICANN has proposed to approve and implement the rollout of more than 400 new top-level domains within the next few months. Top-level domains are what you see to the right of the dot, such as “com” or “org.”
Right now, there are 21 top-level domains. If ICANN’s new policy is implemented, we will see top-level domains such as .car, .newyorkcity, .hotels and hundreds more. Internet real estate will grow exponentially, creating a more complex experience for every user.
ICANN’s board justifies this decision by citing the need for greater competition in the domain-name marketplace. ICANN argues that expanding the top-level domain space will encourage greater innovation and choice on the internet.
Those in the business of making money by selling domain names agree, and, unfortunately, they have inserted themselves into ICANN’s policy-making process. For example, the Generic Names Supporting Organization (GNSO) in ICANN’s multistakeholder operational model is responsible for introducing and developing the top-level domain policy at hand. The GNSO, however, is largely composed of the same registries and registrars that stand to gain financially by the proposed massive introduction of new top-level domains.
This new policy will have great social, economic and security costs. If these new top-level domains are introduced, opportunities for cybercrime and fraud would be increased substantially.
If you are a consumer attempting to set up a checking account online, and you have to decide which website to give your personal information to – citi.bank, bank.citi, citi.com, citi.bankaccount or even citichecking.bankaccount – how would you determine which are trusted sites providing accurate information? How would you determine which are fraudulent sites actively misinforming the public?
A massive introduction of top-level domains will overwhelm the existing framework for combating cybercrime, putting millions of internet users at unnecessary risk.
In addition, consumers will be forced to take extensive measures to protect themselves from fraud and other malicious activities on the internet. They may grow wary of conducting online transactions. And companies will have to pay more to protect their trademarks.
Perhaps most dangerously, our national security might be further compromised as a vastly expanded internet increases places for terrorists and criminals to hide in cyberspace.
At the time of ICANN’s conception in the late 1990s, few anticipated the economic value of domain names or imagined a company, like today’s ubiquitous GoDaddy, that would capitalize on that value.
ICANN’s original mission – as a domain name regulator with a policy-making process inclusive of all internet users – was well-intentioned, but it has been polluted by constituents primarily concerned with financial gain, leaving the rest of us bearing the cost.
The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of Nao Matsukata.
WHAT DOES PROFETCETERA SAY?
Human Knowledge has always been a labyrinth. How can we know God? How can we know ourselves? How can we know anything at all? This triad of ideas is central to John Calvin’s final massive edition of the ‘Institutes of the Christian Religion’ (1559), which is a surprisingly readable study of the theological and epistemological results of the Fall. According to the first three hundred pages of the ICR, after the Fall it is incredibly difficult for us to know anything at all for certain.
Yet here we are, in the age of ultimate information, where scientia potestas est! (‘Knowledge is Power’)
The Internet has always been a two-edged sword: it grows more quickly than we can possibly quantify, it provides access more and more everyday to the sum of human knowledge and sensate experience — yet it has only occasional intersections with Wisdom. Wisdom is not the same as knowledge, though they share some territory. Knowledge is the landscape of ‘stuff’ with which we can be familiar; wisdom is the compass and the map, the ‘trail sense’ of surefootedness in the face of a world that may be unfamiliar, could be dangerous, yet which we feel compelled to explore….
So if we are about to find ourselves navigating a cyberlabyrinth where the walls are shifting, new doors open before us, and the floor seems slippery — because we are about to have the benefit/curse of 400 new top domain names — do not feel bewildered. A labyrinth within a labyrinth is where we already live. As Calvin demonstrates, what you need to find your way into (and out of) a labyrinth is a thread from Ariadne.
According to Calvin, that thread is the Word of God. If you have that, you have the key to understanding all human knowledge, for there is nothing He does not already know.
God rules even the motion of the electrons upon which you surf.