The Cloud Industry Forum voices strong opposition to Google’s latest attempt to control the future of the .cloud gTLD

19 Aug, 2013

Earlier this year ICANN started the process of reviewing thousands of generic Top Level Domains (gTLDs) 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 gTLD.


The Cloud Industry Forum (CIF) picked up on the impending threat of a closed .cloud and attempted to raise market awareness and action.


Andy Burton (pictured), Founder of the Cloud Industry Forum, stated: “Naturally there was a lot of commentary about the lack of awareness in the wider market that such a process was even underway by ICANN as it had been poorly communicated to the impacted markets. Secondly, there was a lot of criticism about the closed registry applications as they were seen as effectively handing a form of brand association to the owner, solely aligning their name with a common industry phrase in the very medium (the internet) that the term relates to. Clearly none had the right to exercise ownership over the phrase, and indeed none could ever dream to achieve it in a comparative activity such as registering a trademark.”


In what many believe is a direct response to that strong industry criticism, Google requested to convert its closed .cloud application to a “restricted” one, which, in theory, will provide limited access to others that meet Google’s registration criteria.  CIF is now going on record to state that this latest position put forward by Google has done little to allay industry fears, and is likely to compound competition concerns and give Google an unfair advantage over everyone else in the industry.


In a letter written to ICANN which has now been published on its website, Burton has voiced a number of those concerns, both about the admissibility of the amendment and why the amendment fails to address the concerns of the wider industry.


He states: “In regard to the competition concerns with Google’s amended .cloud application, CIF believes that if Google serves as the .cloud Registry Operator, Google would be able to dictate the terms of competition to cloud services rivals, and would be able to impose procedural hurdles that limit access to the new .cloud gTLD.


“For example, Google is specifically reserving the right to retain ownership over second-level domains in the .cloud TLD (e.g., with everyone else being relegated to third-level domains.  This will allow it to dictate to the industry exactly how to categorise, promote, and perhaps ultimately develop cloud services as a condition to accessing any third-level domain. Such a proposition is contrary to the very idea of market competition and innovation.


“As one of the largest and most powerful cloud services companies in the world, Google would have both the incentive and ability to undermine its rivals’ ability to innovate and promote their own cloud services via this gTLD. A situation we believe, that no matter what the positive motive of Google’s application may have been, should not be allowed to arise in the first place,” he added.


Burton continued: “It is hard for a not-for-profit body to access the level of funding and resources needed to defend the open market when faced with the sizeable funds and legal teams available to a firm such as Google, but we cannot allow market size and funding to win over common sense and fairness in matters such as the control of a generic term.”


At the heart of the concerns being voiced by CIF is a wish to ensure a fair and professional market that is transparent and intuitive to end users and that does not mislead or provide an unfair benefit by association.  Cloud, whilst a common phrase, is often misunderstood, and ICANN’s .cloud gTLD in principle stands for the opportunity to engender a level of trust in the market.  The risk of its control by Google could easily lead consumers to associate Google, as the operator of the .cloud gTLD, 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.


Concluding, Burton stated:  “It is all too easy to ignore some of these processes that are going on at ICANN, but they are shaping the future evolution of the online market and it’s 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 ICANN and Google and not to rest on the matter until the risk has been formally removed.”

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