Last summer, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, ICANN, invited applications from organizations to acquire and control the administration of new generic top level domains (gTLDs). Confused? A gTLD is the last component of a web address, such as “.com” or “.org.” Not surprisingly, Google is “one of the more ambitious applicants” as reported by The New York Times. Google filed for control and ownership of more than 100 top-level domains.
FairSearch recently filed objections to Google’s request to control new top-level domains “.search,” “.fly” and “.map” – telling ICANN that accepting Google’s application will enable the dominant search provider to “gain an unfair competitive advantage against other members of this community through the improper grant of a perpetual monopoly of generic industry terms to a single company.”
Google has already established a dominant position in the search market – with control of 79 percent of queries in the U.S., and more than 90 percent market share in Europe. It doesn’t need more help in warding off potential competitors by giving it control over who gets access to new domain names. And, it’s possible that Google could access the data that flows over any other website who asks to register under a gTLD owned by Google, giving it even greater advantage over all other companies on the Internet.
So, if Google really believes that competition is always one click away, why did it apply to operate a new “.search” gTLD as a closed registry? This means that only those web properties owned by Google could have a .search web address.
“The .search application demonstrates that Google intends to exclude all others in the Industry from using common generic industry terms for its business,” FairSearch argues in its objection.
These new generic top-level domains reflect the content of sites who bear them, providing users with information about the site’s purpose based only on the site’s web address. If Google is given control over the new “.map” and “.fly” gTLDs, Google will have the power to decide which of its mapping and flight-booking competitors will have access to the important new signposts on the Internet that signal to users whether a website’s content is credible and relevant to their interests.
Google’s applications for “.search,” “.map” and “.fly” are particularly concerning given the company’s market power and preferential treatment of its own search, map and online travel services.
Uncontested and unmonitored ownership of these gTLDs will only further strengthen Google’s dominant market power, which it uses to steer users to Google’s own product sites by prominently displaying its own products on its homepage, a practice often referred to as ‘search bias.’
ICANN should reject Google’s attempt to control an even greater share of the Internet through acquiring the new generic top-level domains for “.search,” “.fly,” and “.map.” The dominant search provider already exerts too much power to steer consumers to Google sites that strengthen its control over Internet traffic, rather than to websites with the information most relevant to consumers’ interests.