Consumer Protection Regarding New gTLDs, Letter from the Federal Trade Commission Letter to the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, (Dec. 16, 2011) On December 16 2011, the Federal Trade Commission ("FTC") sent a letter to the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers ("ICANN"), the organization that oversees Internet domain names, expressing concern about ICANN's plans to dramatically expand the Internet domain name system ("DNS") from the existing twenty-two generic top-level domains ("gTLDs"). The FTC fears that expansion of top-levels domains could leave consumers more vulnerable to online fraud, and make it more difficult for law enforcement to detect and prosecute online criminals. Starting on January 12, 2012, ICANN intends to accept applications for an estimated 500 new gTLDs, and possibly as many as 1,500. The FTC expressed concern over the potential effects of the expansion. "If the number of approved new gTLDs reaches even the minimum estimate, the Internet landscape will change dramatically," the FTC observed. FTC Letter at 7. According to the FTC, as a result of the expansion, the number of registered websites, registry operators and other actors with an operational role in the Internet ecosystem would expand. The expansion would increase the "possibility that malefactors, or others who lack the interest or capacity to comply with contractual obligations, will operate registries," the FTC wrote. Id. at 5. The FTC argued that phishing is likely to increase, because scammers would be able to register misspellings of business names in a multitude of new gTLDs, such as .bank and .finance, and create many more counterfeit websites to capture consumers' financial data. There would be a significant potential for consumer confusion, given the "infinite opportunities that scam artists" would have at their disposal. Id. at 5. The FTC is also concerned that the proposed expansion would make it harder to find online criminals. "[T]he ability to locate and identify bad actors will be frustrated significantly due to a likely increase in the number of registries located in different countries and limited ability to obtain relevant data maintained abroad." Id. at 7. Therefore, the FTC wrote, an expansion in the number of domains names would make it easier for scammers to manipulate the system to avoid detection by law enforcement. "A rapid, exponential expansion of gTLDs has the potential to magnify both the abuse of the domain name system and the corresponding challenges we encounter in tracking down Internet fraudsters." Press Release, Federal Trade Commission, FTC Warns That Rapid Expansion of Internet Domain Name System Could Leave Consumers More Vulnerable to Online Fraud (Dec. 16, 2011). The FTC also noted that it routinely consults the "Whois" database of domain-name registrants' contact data when investigating deceptive online practices. The database, however, often contains incomplete or inaccurate data, or proxy entries that shield registrants' identities, which greatly impede investigation. The FTC and other stakeholders, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation, have stressed this problem to ICANN for over a decade, with no satisfactory improvement, according to the FTC.
Recommended Changes to the gTLD Program
FTC Recommends Limited Pilot Program
New Compliance and Monitoring Program
Accuracy of "Whois" Database
Accurate WHOIS is a joke. It just doesn't happen. We don't see it. We never get it. Even if we do see something within it that might give us indications, it's—it's always a dead end and it's a waste of time even trying. And for me, what's the point in having a WHOIS database if it can't be accurate?
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