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ICANN Can’t Take Care of Everything

Bruce Young tells a story of an Internet user who gets into trouble because “his” domain name was registered in the name of a web hosting provider that went bankrupt later on.

He demands that ICANN should put in place safeguards which would prevent this from happening. In particular, Young suggests that customers should not just be able to transfer domain names between registrars, but also between “virtual hosts”; that ICANN establish rules to protect customers of such corporations in the event of business failure, up to the content stored there; and that ICANN mandate that when an intermediate company registers a domain on behalf of a customer, the domain record’s administrative contact, as a minimum, must reflect the customer, not the company acting on the customer’s behalf.

As far as registrars are concerned, ICANN is currently doing its homework on domain name portability.

As far as web hosting companies are concerned, though, these suggestions only look appealing at first sight. Upon closer inspection, they wouldn’t be good policy.

The third recommendation, for instance, would make the domains by proxy privacy protection scheme impossible—in this scheme, a corporation registers a domain name on behalf of the customer, and the customer’s identity is not disclosed. Of course, this scheme creates a trade-off between privacy and domain name portability, but as long as registrars don’t offer serious privacy protection in WHOIS, the decision should be the registrant’s, not ICANN’s. (I’m sure, though, that those who want to use WHOIS for enforcement purposes would be delighted to have direct access to the economic beneficiary of a domain name.)

In addition to that, all three recommendations are aimed at regulating the business practices of those who register domain names on behalf of third parties. That is, Young is suggesting that ICANN regulate the behavior of registrants, presumably through the contract between registrant and registrar.

Who would enforce that part of the contract? ICANN? The registrar? And who would pay for this enforcement?

Also, what would happen to existing contracts between hosting companies and their customers? Should ICANN just try to intervene, and mandate that people change existing contractual relationships, possibly taking down existing valuable services? (Not that ICANN would even be capable of doing this…)

Ultimately, it’s a fact of life that corporations will go out of business now and then, and that this may not be good for their customers. It’s up to consumers themselves to take reasonable precautions, just in case, or to take the risk (and live more comfortably for the time being).

In short, don’t expect ICANN to pay your lawyer. Don’t expect ICANN to change your backup tapes. And don’t expect ICANN to take care of your retirement funds.

By Thomas Roessler, Mathematician

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