The FTC recently sent a detailed 15 page letter to the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) expressing concern that the organization’s plan to expand the domain name system could leave consumers open to online fraud and undermine law enforcers’ ability to track online scammers. The House Energy and Commerce Committee has also expressed concern about ICANN’s expansion plan.
ICANN has overseen the allocation of Internet domain names since 1998. The organization intends to expand generic top-level domain names (gTLDs) – currently ".com", ".net", and ".org" – to include many new domain names, such as the name of a company or a business category e.g. ".restaurant." According to the FTC letter, gTLD expansion could create a "dramatically increased opportunity for consumer fraud." In particular, the letter outlines a concern that "the proliferation of existing scams, such as phishing, is likely to become a serious challenge given the infinite opportunities that scam artists will now have at their fingertips. Fraudsters will be able to register misspellings of businesses, including financial institutions, in each of the new gTLDs, create copycat websites, and obtain sensitive consumer data with relative ease before shutting down the site and launching a new one." The FTC letter urges ICANN to take additional steps before rolling out new domain names, and suggests that a pilot program be implemented by ICANN before proceeding with a full expansion.
The FTC received support from the 400 member Association of National Advertisers which hoped that the letter would help "convince ICANN that it must stop [the] initiative and build true consensus with the many constituencies that depend upon a responsibly managed Internet domain naming process."
The House Energy and Commerce Committee has also expressed opposition to ICANN’s expansion plan. The House Subcommittee on Communications and Technology held a recent hearing to examine the issue, and the full Committee followed up with a bipartisan letter describing domain name expansion as a "worthy goal", while expressing concern "that there is significant uncertainty in this process for business, non-profit organizations, and consumers." The letter urges ICANN to delay its plan, which is set to go live on January 12, 2012.