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Businesses dominate bids for Internet suffixes
Big brands are behind hundreds of proposals for new Internet addresses, including scores for generic terms such as “cruise,” “.kids” and “.tires.”
It’s all part of the largest expansion of the Internet address system since its creation in the 1980s, a process likely to cause headaches for some companies while creating vast opportunities for others.
The organization in charge of Internet addresses, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, announced the proposals for Internet suffixes Wednesday. A suffix is the “.com” part in a domain name.
The bids now go through a review that could take months or years. Up to 1,000 suffixes could be added each year.
There were 1,930 proposals for 1,409 different suffixes. The bulk of proposals that met the May 30 deadline came from North America and Europe. About 100 were for suffixes in non-English characters, including Chinese, Arabic and Thai.
From a technical standpoint, the names let Internet-connected computers know where to send email and locate websites. But they’ve come to mean much more. For Amazon.com Inc., for instance, the domain name is the heart of the company, not just an address.
A new suffix could be used to identify sites that have a certain level of security protection. It could be used to create online neighborhoods of businesses affiliated with a geographic area or an industry. French cosmetics giant L'Oreal, for instance, proposed “.beauty” as a home for beauty products and general information on personal beauty.
“The Internet is about to change forever,” ICANN CEO Rod Beckstrom declared. “We’re standing at the cusp of a new era of online innovation, innovation that means new businesses, new marketing tools, new jobs, new ways to link communities and share information.”
But there’s a question of how useful the new names will be. Alternatives to “.com” introduced over the past decade have had mixed success. These days, Internet users often find websites not by typing in the address but by using a search engine. And with mobile devices getting more popular, people are using apps to bypass Web browsers entirely.
Many businesses worry that they’ll have to police the Internet for addresses that misuse their brands, in many cases paying to register names simply to keep them away from others. It was one thing having some 300 suffixes; it’s another to have thousands.
“One thing that’s going to occur is a lot of money is going to get sucked out of the ecosystem,” said Lauren Weinstein, co-founder of People For Internet Responsibility and a strong critic of ICANN. “The cost is billions and billions of dollars with no value returned to people and an enormous capacity for confusion.”
One worry is that an expansion will mean more addresses available to scam artists who use similar-sounding names such as “Amazom” rather than “Amazon” to trick people into giving passwords and credit card information.
The public now has 60 days to comment on the proposals. There’s also a seven-month window for filing objections, including claims of trademark violation.
Of the 1,930 proposals, 1,179 were unique and 751 were for 230 different suffixes. ICANN will hold an auction if competing bidders cannot reach a compromise. Most of the duplicate bids were for generic names, though the Guardian newspaper and The Guardian Life Insurance Co. both sought “.guardian.”
Bidders had to pay $185,000 per proposal. If approved, each suffix would cost at least $25,000 a year to maintain, with a 10-year commitment required. By comparison, a personal address with a common suffix such as “.com” usually costs less than $10 a year.
ICANN has received some $350 million in application fees. The money will be used to set up the system, review applications and make sure parties do what they have promised once the suffix is operational. Some of the money will be set aside to cover potential lawsuits from unsuccessful applicants and others.
Some of the proposals are for suffixes to be reserved for in-house use. Yahoo Inc. and Microsoft Corp., for instance, plan to restrict “.yahoo and “.microsoft” to their sites or affiliates, while keeping their current names under “.com.” If Google Inc. wins its bid for “.search,” the search leader won’t let rivals use it.
But there are hundreds of proposals for generic names that the public would be able to buy names under _ for $10 or thousands depending on the suffix. Some are coming from entrepreneurs or businesses that specialize in domain names.
Amazon indicated in its applications that it would initially use those names for only a limited number of its own sites, though the company was silent on longer-term plans. Amazon declined further comment.
Stephen Ewart, marketing manager of Names.co.uk, a domain name reseller that stands to gain from registrations under new suffixes, says there’s a danger with companies such as Amazon controlling such common terms.
“Once you own these spaces, you can write your own terms and conditions,” he says. “Big brands can decide who can be there and decide what can be put in that space. It’s a bit cynical to think someone can be locked out of joy.”
Amazon and Google are among 13 bidders for “.app.” Both companies operate stores for distributing apps for mobile devices running Google’s Android system. That could shut out Apple Inc. and its rival iPhone and iPad devices.
While Google applied for 101 suffixes, Apple sought only one, “.apple.” EBay Inc. and Facebook Inc. didn’t propose for any. It was Amazon that bid for “.like” _ the button on Facebook that lets users recommend links and brands to friends.
List of proposals: http://bit.ly/L4MYed
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