Internationalized Domain Names (IDN) Committee

[NOTE: The following statement is a recommendation by ICANN's Internationalized Domain Names (IDN) Committee.
As such, the statement reflects the views of the committee, which will be considered through the ICANN policy process.
The committee actively seeks comments and reactions to the statement.]


Statement on Internet Keyword Issues
15 February 2002

The ICANN IDN Committee strongly recommends against the introduction of Internet keyword services that utilize the period, or dot ("."), as the separator between the different name segments.

The dotted notation format is currently used to define DNS domain names - for example, the domain name nyc.moma.museum consists of three hierarchical segments separated by dots - and its parallel use in an Internet keyword service would generate needless user confusion. Because they operate on top of the DNS, Internet keywords can take virtually any format, using spaces, colons, or any other characters to distinguish segments; there is simply no need for them to take the same format as DNS domain names.

This recommendation is particularly emphatic in the case of non-ASCII Internet keyword offerings. Assuming the successful completion of the IDNA standard under consideration by the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), ICANN may in the future be in a position to create non-ASCII top-level domain equivalents. If a company has introduced a proprietary non-ASCII keyword service that utilizes the DNS's dotted notation format, its customers may be surprised and angry some day to learn that identical DNS domain names are available, and that the keyword registrant has no particular rights or preferences to equivalent strings in the DNS. (For that reason, the IDN Committee's recommendation extends not only to use of the ASCII period, but also to any of the various similar-looking Unicode code points.) In the face of user complaints, government agencies might consider such confusion to have consumer protection implications.

Indeed, to eliminate any incentive that commercial keyword providers may have to use the DNS's dotted notation format in order to pre-emptively "lock up" potential non-ASCII top-level domain strings, the IDN Committee recommends that no preference ever be given in the future to top-level domain proposals from companies that have offered keywords in a dotted format identical to the top-level domain string they seek. If anything, such conduct should be considered a negative factor, in light of the proposer's demonstrated willingness to generate user confusion between its Internet keyword offerings and DNS domain names.

To be abundantly clear: the IDN Committee believes that Internet keyword services can be valuable tools for many Internet users; in the interest of avoiding unnecessary user confusion, however, keyword providers should simply avoid mirroring the dotted format of DNS domain names.

Finally, the IDN Committee recommends that ICANN and its Domain Name Supporting Organization (particularly the registries and registrars) consider how best to educate Internet users about the differences between DNS domain names and Internet keywords, particularly if and when the IETF's IDNA (Internationalizing Host Names in Applications) standard is completed and deployable.

For further information on these issues, see the committee's Briefing Paper on Internet Keyword Issues.

The IDN Committee is very interested in reactions and responses to this statement, particularly from the various ICANN stakeholders and constituencies. Please feel free to email your thoughts to the committee at idn-comment@icann.org.

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