Will global brands have a monopoly on cloud computing?

 

Andy Burton| Publicserviceeurope

Earlier this year, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers started the process of reviewing thousands of generic ‘top level domain’ – or TLD – applications across varied industries. One of those was ‘.cloud’.

Three global brands – Google, Symantec and Amazon – applied for that domain as a closed registry, meaning that the applicant would be the sole registrar and registrant with exclusive control over the use of that domain.

If these applications are granted, only the successful applicants will be able to register any second level domain names in those TLDs – for example, yourcompanyname.cloud – leaving them free to exclude competitors and exploit the new domain for their sole benefit. We believe that this situation could have harmful consequences for market education and competition, threatening to restrict the treasured openness of the internet.

It should, therefore, be resisted. This ought to be a huge concern for anyone keen to see an open market and the preservation of common sense as no single commercial entity should be able to lay claim to the phrase ‘cloud’ and dominate the use of it as a TLD on the internet. But the broader market appears to be completely oblivious of the proposed changes to the domain registry. To put this into context, the ICANN has been working on the new TLD programme since as far back as 2003, with major consultations taking place until 2008 when the organisation’s board adopted a number of policy recommendations for introducing them.

These included a number of allocation criteria and contractual conditions. It is noteworthy that in 2009, the ICANN signed what was termed the ‘affirmation of commitments’ with the United States Department of Commerce. In that document the ICANN agrees that its mission statement includes a commitment to promoting competition, consumer trust and consumer choice. The point of the TLD expansion was supposed to organise the web and foster competition – and consumer choice – as set out in the affirmation.

But closed TLDs will have the equal and opposite effect by favouring the owners of closed registries. Closed registries are fine where a brand or trademark is involved but where the phrase is generic, as is the case with ‘.cloud’, it is absolutely inappropriate to lock out the wider market from participation. Common sense must come into play in this process and we should approach generic TLDs in the way we would a trademark. After all, there have been plenty of times in corporate history when some organisation or other has attempted to trademark a generic industry phrase and has been shot down by the courts.

This logic needs to be applied again now. If one commercial organisation ultimately wins control over the ‘.cloud’ registry in a closed form then no individuals, organisations or businesses will be able to register and use a second level the name for their website without that owner’s permission. While we are not against the launch of ‘.cloud’, we require it at the very least to be an open registry where the rules around access are not limited to a single commercial entity but are operated on an industry basis.

As we know, the wider market is often confused enough about the term cloud and we believe the limitation of the TLD to refer to one commercial organisation is detrimental to the wider market in the longer term. At the heart of our concern is a wish to ensure a fair and professional market that is transparent and intuitive to end users. One that does not mislead or provide an unfair benefit by association.

Cloud, while a common phrase, is often misunderstood and the ICANN’s ‘.cloud’ TLD in principle stands for the opportunity to engender a level of trust in the market. The risk of its control by a single entity could easily lead consumers to associate that entity, as the operator of the .cloud TLD, as safe and reliable; and the natural ‘home of the cloud’ irrespective of whether it is true or not, and to the detriment of the wider market.

It is all too easy to ignore some of these technical processes that are going on at the ICANN but they are shaping the future evolution of the online market. And it is important that people do not sleepwalk into a future that gives unfair advantage to any one commercial brand. We strongly urge end users, service providers, government bodies and academics to raise their concerns both to the ICANN and to Google. We must not to rest on the matter until the risk has been formally removed.

 

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