The Cheat Sheet

When Amazon owns .amazon

Jinoy Jose P | Updated on May 29, 2019 Published on May 29, 2019

I’m one of your high IQ readers, but this skips me!

In case you’ve missed the papers this week, presidents of Peru, Colombia, Ecuador and Bolivia came down heavily on a recent decision by Icann — which is the global body that manages internet addresses — to allow retail-to-rockets outfit Amazon to own the much-coveted .amazon domain. So, if the Icann decision stays we’ll soon see web addresses such as books.amazon or kindle.amazon real soon.

Interesting! But why are these countries irritated?

Students of geography would know that Peru, Colombia, Ecuador and Bolivia lie on the basin of the mighty 4,000-mile Amazon river. And their contention is that the very reference of Amazon has been historically linked to their region and hence it should not go to the custody of a monopoly company. They want Icann — short for Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers — to chuck the decision.

Well, that seems a valid point.

In fact, Brazil, which houses a huge slice of the the Amazon forest, has also criticised the Icann move. To be fair, Amazon Inc placed this request before Icann in 2012. But the agency wasn’t ready to award it to the Jeff Bezos-owned behemoth. Reuters reports that the presidents — Martin Vizcarra of Peru, Ivan Duque of Colombia, Ecuador’s Lenin Moreno and Evo Morales of Bolivia — now say they would join hands to protect their countries from “inadequate governance of the internet”. And they say that by allowing Amazon to own .amazon, Icann has set a grave precedent. They allege the body has placed private, commercial interests above the considerations of public policy, the rights on indigenous people and the preservation of the Amazon.

They seem really angry. But what can they do now?

Not much, considering the way Icann and the very system of assigning URLs or domains work. In this case, Icann has offered a window of 30 days for the public to respond on the issue. Since 2012, when Amazon went to Icann seeking .amazon, the Amazon basin countries (which also include Guyana, Suriname and Venezuela) have formed the Amazon Cooperation Treaty Organisation or ACTO, to counter the internet giant’s plans.

But how can Icann unilaterally allot such an important domain to a private company?

You’re partially right. It would be gross injustice to allow a different country other than India to use the .in domain. But ever since the Icann introduced the so-called generic top-level domains (gTLD), which allowed companies to apply for domains that can be extensions of their names, the system has changed quite a bit.

On its part, Icann says it expects Amazon and the South American countries to reach an agreement soon and the issue will be sorted out forever.

Is that going to happen now?

Unlikely. Observers blame Icann for dragging the issue and being overpowered by commercial interests whereas it is supposed to be driven by non-profit motives. The body is accused by many of being very bureaucratic, slow and politically-motivated, and in the past the agency had courted controversies for its skewed policies and decisions.

Many allege that even though almost everything about the internet was decentralised, the way the internet addresses are determined didn’t follow that pattern for reasons alien to many.

Now this is getting muddier.

I agree. All said and done, Icann is an autonomous body after the US Department of Commerce was forced out of its control room some time back by counties including Brazil, which now criticises Icann’s Amazon decision.

Chances are the South American countries might drag Icann and Amazon to other forums of justice and the issue will snowball into a larger debate on ethnicity, corporate interests and governance of internet.

A weekly column that helps you ask the right questions

Published on May 29, 2019
This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor