ICANN's gTLD experiments: Expansion or extortion?

August 01, 2020

This blog post motivates our recently published PAM 2020 paper which seeks to understand the cost of ICANNs gTLD expansion on major brands and their copyrights.

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Title: “Extortion or expansion? An investigation into the costs and consequences of ICANN’s gTLD experiments”

Authors: Shahrooz Pouryousef (UMass), Muhammad Daniyal Dar (UIowa), Syed Suleman Ahmad (UWisconsin), Phillipa Gill (UMass), Rishab Nithyanand (UIowa)

Venue: The Passive and Active Measurement Conference (PAM 2020)

Paper, code.

About the ICANN gTLD expansion

Since 1998, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), has been responsible for administering the Internet Domain Name System (DNS). This role has included the authority for establishing new toplevel domains (TLDs). TLDs have historically been classified into: (1) TLDs reserved for countries and territories (country-code TLDs or ccTLDs), (2) a TLD reserved for Internet infrastructure (infrastructure TLD: .arpa), and (3) TLDs that may be used for other purposes (generic TLDs or gTLDs).

Between 1984 and 2000, the number of gTLDs increased from five to seven with .net and .int added to the “core” set (.com, .edu, .gov, .mil, and .org). Of these seven, three TLDs – .com, .net, and .org – have always been open to public registration with the other TLDs being reserved for use by specific organizations such as universities (.edu) and government entities (.gov). Starting in 1998, ICANN began considering a more “open” gTLD program which would allow private entities to act as registries and manage new gTLDs. Following a public call for proposals in August 2000 and a two-month period for public comment, ICANN announced seven new gTLDs in November 2000 (.aero, .biz, .coop, .info, .museum, .name, and .pro). The process was repeated again in 2004, resulting in the introduction of six new gTLDs (.asia, .cat, .jobs, .mobi, .tel, and .travel). Between 2004 and 2012, only two other gTLDs – .xxx and .post – were added. By the end of 2012, the Internet had 22 gTLDs – of which 15 were open to public registration. As of August 2013, the 15 additions to the 7 core gTLDs accounted for 3% of all domain registrations while the 7 core gTLDs accounted for 51% of all domain registrations on the Internet (ccTLD domain registrations accounted for 35%).

In 2008, citing the success of the previous gTLD expansions in 2000 and 2004, ICANN approved new policies to facilitate the large-scale creation of new gTLDs with the stated goal of “enhancing innovation, competition, and consumer choice”. Following the creation and multiple revisions of a guide for the application process of new gTLDs, in 2011 steps were taken to enable the registration of new gTLDs. These guidelines are still applicable today. In order to register a new gTLD, a registry needs to demonstrate capabilities to handle technical, operational, and business operations related to the handling of registrar relationships and submit a $185K application and evaluation fee. Applications for new gTLDs were opened in 2012 following criticism and protest from Internet societies, including Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society, the Association of National Advertisers, and the United States Federal Trade Commission which primarily cited the lack of transparency in the evaluation process, potential for trademark infringement and other generally malicious conduct. By 2013, over 1,900 applications were received of which 1,543 were granted and 1,208 are still active today. Contested gTLD registration applications were resolved by a bidding process. As of July 2016, the ICANN netted a profit of $233M from the bidding process alone. As of August 2018, the 1,208 active new gTLDs accounted for 9% of all domain registrations on the Internet. We note that statistics regarding the registration of new gTLD domains have not been updated on the ICANN website since 2015 and are only available through other third-party services.

Our research

Despite many studies analyzing the incidence rates of typosquatting in the context of the original gTLDs, there has been little attention on typosquatting using the new gTLDs. What remains unknown, specifically, is how ICANN’s gTLD expansion has impacted established and trusted brands seeking protection from typosquatting. In this paper, we fill this gap. Our overall objective is to understand how ICANN’s gTLD expansion impacts brands trusted by Internet users. To achieve this objective, we develop techniques to reliably identify and monitor typosquatting and understand the challenges and costs facing organizations seeking to protect their brands from typosquatters.

Read about our methodology and findings here