Microsoft, Expedia, others file complaint over Google’s domain name ‘land grab’

Widjaya Ivan photo

Widjaya Ivan image

Fairsearch.org, a lobbying group whose backers include Microsoft, Expedia, TripAdvisor and Nokia, has filed objections over Google’s attempts to take control of genric top-level domains such as .search, .fly, .map and more than 100 other extensions.

Calling it a domain name “land grab,” Farisearch argues in its complaint to the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) that Google’s ownership of the domains would unevenly tilt the playing field even more in favor of the search giant.

“Uncontested and unmonitored ownership of these (generic top level domains) will only further strengthen Google’s dominant market power, which it uses to steer users to Google’s own product sites by prominently displaying its own products on its homepage, a practice often referred to as ‘search bias,’” the organization writes in a message on its site.

This isn’t the first time that we’ve seen a dispute break out over top level domains. You may recall earlier this month that the Authors Guild and the Association of American Publishers called Amazon’s desire to own domains such as .book and .read  “anticompetitive.”

“Placing such generic domains in private hands is plainly anticompetitive, allowing already dominant, well-capitalized companies to expand and entrench their market power,” Authors Guild president Scott Turow wrote in a letter to ICANN.

Another big bidder in the auction for top level domains is Donuts, a Seattle area startup led by by eNom founder Paul Stahura which is trying to control extensions such as .baseball, .auction, .dentist, .gold and more than 300 names. It raised $100 million last summer in one of the largest venture financing deals in the region.

Here’s the full statement from Fairsearch.org, an organization that has attacked Google in the past over its $700 million acquisition of travel data company ITA Software.

Last summer, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, ICANN, invited applications from organizations to acquire and control the administration of new generic top level domains (gTLDs). Confused? A gTLD is the last component of a web address, such as “.com” or “.org.” Not surprisingly, Google is “one of the more ambitious applicants” as reported by The New York Times. Google filed for control and ownership of more than 100 top-level domains.

FairSearch recently filed objections to Google’s request to control new top-level domains “.search,” “.fly” and “.map” – telling ICANN that accepting Google’s application will enable the dominant search provider to “gain an unfair competitive advantage against other members of this community through the improper grant of a perpetual monopoly of generic industry terms to a single company.”

Google has already established a dominant position in the search market – with control of 79 percent of queries in the U.S., and more than 90 percent market share in Europe. It doesn’t need more help in warding off potential competitors by giving it control over who gets access to new domain names. And, it’s possible that Google could access the data that flows over any other website who asks to register under a gTLD owned by Google, giving it even greater advantage over all other companies on the Internet.

So, if Google really believes that competition is always one click away, why did it apply to operate a new “.search” gTLD as a closed registry?  This means that only those web properties owned by Google could have a .search web address.

“The .search application demonstrates that Google intends to exclude all others in the Industry from using common generic industry terms for its business,” FairSearch argues in its objection.

These new generic top-level domains reflect the content of sites who bear them, providing users with information about the site’s purpose based only on the site’s web address. If Google is given control over the new “.map” and “.fly” gTLDs, Google will have the power to decide which of its mapping and flight-booking competitors will have access to the important new signposts on the Internet that signal to users whether a website’s content is credible and relevant to their interests.

Google’s applications for “.search,” “.map” and “.fly” are particularly concerning given the company’s market power and preferential treatment of its own search, map and online travel services.

Uncontested and unmonitored ownership of these gTLDs will only further strengthen Google’s dominant market power, which it uses to steer users to Google’s own product sites by prominently displaying its own products on its homepage, a practice often referred to as ‘search bias.’

ICANN should reject Google’s attempt to control an even greater share of the Internet through acquiring the new generic top-level domains for “.search,” “.fly,” and “.map.” The dominant search provider already exerts too much power to steer consumers to Google sites that strengthen its control over Internet traffic, rather than to websites with the information most relevant to consumers’ interests.

[Hat tip to The Next Web]

  • Skunky Pete

    I just want to make sure I have this straight: Microsoft, Expedia, Trip Advisor, and Nokia were all super late to the game and now want a participation award? Who is representing the case? Their mommies & daddies?

  • http://twitter.com/AstroKev AstroKev

    “Calling it a domain name ‘land grab,’ Farisearch argues in its”

    … I do think farisearch (or fairysearch) might be a better name than fairsearch in this particular case!

  • Peter H

    The whole opening of these new TLDs was a terrible idea, a big money grab by ICAAN. Do we really need things like “.shop” or “.search” in the hands of private parties? Is there any point to it – does it make anything better?
    All this does is now make people pay tons of new fees to try to get names in these new TLDs as well. It’s a mess. And for what?