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.Amazon ruling raises concerns over domain name regulator, expert argues

  • Date

    Fri 21 Jun 19

A Business and Human Rights expert has questioned an international body’s decision to rule in favour of the internet retailer Amazon when awarding rights to the .amazon domain name.

Dr Tara Van Ho, of the Business and Human Rights Project at the Human Rights Centre, had previously co-authored a letter to the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), alerting the domain name administrator to concerns in relation to international human rights law.

This letter, written with Dr Cathal Doyle from Middlesex University, suggested that the Amazon corporation had failed to consult with, and gain informed consent from, indigenous peoples living in the Amazon region, regarding the corporation’s attempts to secure exclusive rights to .amazon domains.

It alleged that an interim ruling from an ICANN official failed to recognise the competing rights of these peoples in relation to the economic exploitation of the “amazon” name.

In May, ICANN ruled in favour of the Amazon corporation.

Writing in The Conversation, in response to the latest ICANN ruling, Dr Van Ho questions ICANN’s capacity for even-handedness, given the transactional nature of domain name purchasing.

Dr Van Ho said: “ICANN now charges USD$185,000 for a top-level domain name like '.amazon', so it is not that surprising that Amazon was able to purchase the domain before an indigenous community in Brazil. By prioritising the interests of corporations over other social actors, ICANN risks turning what was the global commons into an economically exclusive field where those who have the most can acquire more, while those who have the least lose even the right to use the name of their homeland.”

ICANN had initially accepted the recommendation of an intergovernmental body that it was inappropriate to grant Amazon exclusive rights over the domain names. The Amazon corporation then won backing, however, from an arbitration panel, subsequently accepting a number of conditions regarding the use of specific domain names, and offering $5 million of Amazon goods as compensation to the people of the region.

Dr Van Ho argues that ICANN’s decision to accept the outcome of the arbitration process, conducted by American lawyers in California, rather than be guided by an intergovernmental body, shows there is insufficient oversight over the organisation’s work.

The Amazon region covers the territory of eight different states - Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Peru, Suriname and Venezuela. Under ICANN rules, the registration by companies of certain geographic names is restricted, but this process is complicated by the decision to provide the highest level protection to states, but less protection to ‘sub-divisions’ and regions, like the Amazon.