Meanwhile, in another part of town, Google has secretly been plotting to destroy the open internet.
It started innocently enough
Some time around 2008, ICANN determined we didn’t have enough domains. So they decided to open the floodgates on so-called “generic TLDs” or “gTLDs”. Stuff like .app, .ceo, .church, and so on.
Of course ICANN cannot actually afford to manage the day-to-day operations of thousands of new TLDs. So they’ve opened the process up to anyone who wants to apply. So you fill out an application, you pay $185,000, there’s a convoluted evaluation process where they ask you questions like whether or not you’re a drug dealer and whether you’re technically qualified to run a TLD, and after a lengthy and bureaucratic review process you basically get your own TLD.
It came as no surprise that thousands of applicants came forward in some kind of crazed internet landrush. Many internet companies are placing bets. Amazon made some 76 applications, and Google made even more, with 101.
What people did not seem to expect (whether due to incompetence or malice is up for debate) is what they would be used for.
Let’s talk about a domain that’s near and dear to my heart, .dev. Wouldn’t it be great to have a domain for content targeted at software developers? So that you could actually get a domain name for www.[your-side-project].dev? Instead abusing the .io domain which is officially for the British Indian Ocean Territory.
Alas, Google does not think much of that plan. Under their shell company “Charleston Road Registry Inc.” (whose “CEO” is merely Google’s in-house counsel), they have applied for control of the .dev domain, which they intend to be:
completely closed for the sole use of Google.In case you thought that was a typo, they elaborate:
Second-level domain names within the proposed gTLD are intended for registration and use by Google only, and domain names under the new gTLD will not be available to the general public for purchase, sale, or registration. As such, Charleston Road Registry intends to apply for an exemption to the ICANN Registry Operator Code of Conduct as Google is intended to be the sole registrar and registrant.In case you believe Google is drunk and they meant to apply for some other, more Google-specific string, instead of claiming some kind of monopoly over software development in its entitreity, they helpfully clarify that no, they know exactly what they are doing:
The proposed gTLD will provide Google with direct association to the term ʺdev,ʺ which is an abbreviation of the word, ʺdevelopment.ʺ The mission of this gTLD, .dev, is to provide a dedicated domain space in which Google can enact second-level domains specific to its projects in development. Specifically, the new gTLD will provide Google with greater ability to create a custom portal for employees to manage products and services in development.I will not bore you with the full application, which is 48 pages and includes such ridiculous details as how Google will respond to abuse claims from itself, and how it will handle disputes from itself if Google files a complaint with Google about Google’s registration of a domain name. Nor will I bother you with the other 100 applications for the other 100 TLDs, which are probably similar but I haven’t read all of them because it’s a Friday night and I have plans, so don’t shoot me if it turns out some of them are more evil than others. But it’s all in there, if you are looking for background material for your next Kafka novel.
The backlash begins
I know what you’re thinking. “What backlash? I’ve never heard about this.” It turns out that Google’s behavior has annoyed a lot of domain name people. But you haven’t heard about it because you don’t hang out with scummy fly-by-night domainers who run SEO seminars.
Nonetheless, there is plenty of buzz about this in those circles.
Governments have also gotten upset too, although you wouldn’t know cause you don’t read boring government reports. The Government of Australia, in particular, has been instrumental in trying to block these proposals.
in late 2012 the Australian Government issued 129 early warnings to applicants of strings which raised a number of concerns, including where the applicant was seeking to have exclusive use of a generic term. ICANN’s Governmental Advisory Committee (GAC) subsequently provided advice to the ICANN Board at its Beijing meeting in April 2013, which included a recommendation relating to generic terms, and a non-exhaustive list of generic terms for the Board’s immediate consideration.In response to this controversy, ICANN decided to take a breather and think about if this whole “closed” domain thing was a good idea after all.
Google doubles down
In response to this criticism, Google backed off on what was clearly an overreach designed to wrest control over the future of the Internet. Haha, just kidding.
Instead, Google CIO Ben Fried wrote what I’m pretty sure is the most brazen, jaw-dropping attack on an open Internet that has ever been publicly published by the executive of any Internet company. I mean, flip some words around and it sounds like you’re reading Comcast’s position against Net Neutrality.
You should read the entire letter, but here are some highlights.
Google opens with a “how-is-this-not-a-parody” argument that owning a TLD and not allowing anyone else to use it “lead[s] to diversified consumer choice”:
Today, most Internet users have only one practical choice when it comes to how their TLDs are managed: a completely unrestricted model environment in which any registrant can register any name for any purpose and use it as they see fit.It’s sort of like how North Korea promotes choice because what if some people want to choose a totalitarian regime.
They then argue that DNS configuration is too hard and so we should just force all .blog domains to use Google Blogger:
By contrast, our application for the .blog TLD describes a new way of automatically linking new second level domains to blogs on our Blogger platform – this approach eliminates the need for any technical configuration on the part of the user and thus makes the domain name more user friendlyThat Google should be allowed to close TLDs because nobody will notice anyway:
Because of the strong user bias toward domains within .com, today a generic .com domain name (e.g., jewelry.com or book.com) is likely to produce more traffic and to be more valuable for a business than a generic TLD.That Google has spent a lot of time and money trying to buy these domains and if you don’t let them bad things will happen
Applicants have read the guidebook and relied on the policies contained within to guide their applications. They spent considerable time and money on their applications in the hopes they would be granted the applied* for string. At best, retroactively deciding to allow a more restrictive interpretation of the guidebook and at worst going back and “adding in” policy runs the risk of appearing capricious and eroding trust in the process.Do you know what the consequences of not giving Google what they want will be? Do you? DO YOU? DO YOU ICANN??
we must remember that changing the process mid*stream will have real and practical consequences for businesses and end users alike.“Closed generic TLD”. Who even knows what those words mean anyway? I mean, you’d have to get a dictionary, or maybe (gasp) google it. Words don’t real:
In reality, neither of the two words have a contextually appropriate objective definition, and the combined term has no meaning other than what has been invented in recent discussions about the gTLD program.Tell you what though. You know those 101 domains we applied for? We’ll throw you a bone and open 4 of them. That should resolve the “particular sensitivity within the Internet community” about Google closing the Internet.
Google has identified four of our current single registrant applications that we will revise: .app, .blog, .cloud and .search.
Is my conclusion that Apple should get a free pass for hamstringing their web evangelists? No. Get your Safari team a blog, Apple. Let them give a talk at a fucking conference.
My point is that if you think Google is some kind of Patron Saint of the Open Web, shit son. Tim Cook on his best day could not conceive of a dastardly plan like this. This is a methodical, coordinated, long-running and well-planned attack on the open web that comes from the highest levels of Google leadership. And we’re giving Apple a free pass? Pshaw.
Let’s get serious. These companies are both as good or as bad as we allow them to be. There is no hero here. In the immortal words of John Adams,
There is nothing which I dread so much as a division of the republic into two great parties, each arranged under its leader, and concerting measures in opposition to each other. This, in my humble apprehension, is to be dreaded as the greatest political evil under our Constitution.