Given the chicken-in-every-pot rhetoric surrounding the plan to create potentially thousands of new Internet domains, it’s not very surprising that Al Gore’s plan to create “.eco” domain is garnering a lot of uncritical praise.
Now it may well be that .eco will be an excellent addition to the Internet’s addressing system, forming the basis of a robust online community of environmental activists, scientists and developers. Unfortunately, because of the lack if clarity and safeguards in the selection process, it is just as possible that it will fail — becoming a haven for cyber-squatters and worse.
This is the paradox of the new domain process. We’re all excited to see whether new domains like .eco can open new markets and create new communities of Internet users around the world, but concerns about the process have many of us worried about what happens when the best laid plans of new domain operators go astray.
Take “.eco”: under an ideal scenario, the domain has a good business plan, solid technical underpinning and becomes an online home to environmentalists around the world. But what happens if those pieces aren’t in place?
If the business plan fails, does .eco open its doors to a wider clientele, with a less singular focus? What happens when a polluter buys up attractive .eco addresses and starts posting misinformation to a community that takes the “.eco” brand as a sort seal of approval? Worse, what happens if criminals buy .eco addresses and use them to target green-themed scams at environmentalists?
As much damage as a failed business plan could eventually cause, it would be nothing compared to a failure of technological competency. What happens if .eco is shut down completely by one of the myriad attacks that are launched against major Internet domains every day? Or worse, what if hackers infiltrate the domain and use it as a launch pad for attacks?
These are the questions that ICANN should have been asking as it developed the application guidelines for new Internet domains. But in the most recent draft of those guidelines, these concerns receive very short shrift.
At the ICANN meeting in Mexico City last week, I asked ICANN to address all of these issues by “raising the bar” for new domain applicants. A rigorous application process, combined with appropriate safeguards, will help to ensure that the host of horrors I mentioned above stay purely theoretical.