Move over, .com. You too, .org, .gov, and .net. There’s a new domain name poised to hit the internet: .eco. Like any good environmental issue, the .eco domain is already caught up in controversy, explains The Guardian.
The standard practice in awarding domain names is to auction off web addresses to the highest bidder. If things go as planned, companies with the deepest pockets will have the best shot at securing .eco addresses for themselves.
Obviously, environmental groups are not keen to see these precious domain names sold to the richest organizations. For that reason, more than 50 green organizations, including the United Nations and Greenpeace as well as smaller grassroots groups, have come together to petition for environmentalists themselves to have more control over assigning .eco domain names.
Three years ago, this coalition of green organizations, currently named Big Room, posted an article on Care2 explaining its case. Now it looks like ICANN (the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) is nearing a decision on whether Big Room should be able to oversee the .eco domain. Unfortunately, Big Room’s prospects are not strong. Although ICANN has permitted it to give some control to groups vested in a particular name, it has made this exception only once previously when possession of a domain is disputed, as .eco’s already is.
Allowing .eco domains to go to the highest bidder could be problematic. We’ve seen big oil corporations and other private interests spend millions on misinformation campaigns to help line their own pockets at the expense of the environment. What better way to present phony environmental science than to affix .eco to the name of the site?
Beyond blatantly nefarious organizations gobbling up the names, there is also concern that companies with a loose commitment to the environment at best taking the names in an effort to elicit some positive public relations. “Every dirty company that needs a bit of spit and polish is going to be first in line to sign up for .eco,” said Jacob Malthouse, one of Big Room’s founders. “It’s just going to be a mess.”
While environmental groups are unlikely to be shut out of .eco names altogether, activists acknowledge that having companies that lack environmental credentials squatting on .eco real estate will delegitimize the domain on the whole.
The hope is that, collectively, green activists can score a major victory on the internet, which could in turn help to achieve real environmental victories thanks to increased visibility. Heads of the World Wildlife Foundation, part of the Big Room alliance, believe that securing .eco sites amongst an alliance of various environmental groups could strengthen the movement overall. “The platform itself is an opportunity to create greater unity,” said a spokesperson.
Despite the current display of unity by existing Big Room members, experts expect that ICANN will consider environmentalism to be too wide of a spectrum for a single group to make decisions for an entire movement. While that may be true at its core, allowing money to determine control of .eco domains is hardly a preferable alternative.
Full disclosure: This website, Care2, has signed on as a partner with Big Room, in an effort to support environmentalist control of the .eco domain.