ICANN, the organization that manages and assigns new top-level domains (like .com, .org, and .net) has recently been going through a process that would (in theory) make the proposal process for new extensions easier and (relatively) cheaper. While that would certainly make some people happy (namely registrars), other groups are concerned about this more open process. One influential organization in particular has made its concerns known.
“The Vatican warned the internet address-making body of the “perils” of allowing new internet domains such as “.catholic, .anglican, .orthodox, .hindu, .islam, .muslim, [and] .buddhist”. ICANN, frequently accused of mission creep, could find itself having to decide who gets to represent an entire religion on the internet, His Holiness pointed out, in a letter from Monsignor Carlo Maria Polvani.”
That’s right, religiously-themed top-level domains have become a very real possibility, and the Vatican is concerned about who might end up holding the reigns of those new extensions.
These gTLDs could provoke competing claims among theological and religious traditions and could possibly result in bitter disputes that would force ICANN, implicitly and/or explicitly, to abandon its wise policy of neutrality by recognizing to a particular group or to a specific organization the legitimacy to represent a given religious tradition.
In other words, what if an organization headed by a schismatic or Independent Catholic group got control of ‘.catholic’ (not that I see the Vatican letting that scenario go down without a fight), or, what if a rogue Subgenius had control over ‘.pope’ (charging twenty dollars per domain obviously)? More likely, what if control over religious top-level domains went to the groups with the most money?
“You have the right to contest any of these extensions by spending the $50,000+, it will take to object to each and every religious domain extension that might be applied for. Just ask the churchgoers to dig a little deep in their pocket to put more money in the collection plate, so they can fight each new extension religious extension. Seriously the many nightmarish problems and issues are just starting concerning these new extensions. What if multiple groups apply for a .god extension, who gets to play god? Well I guess the highest bidder, according to the ICANN’s Guidebook.”
To say this is a potential minefield is a huge understatement. So long as you have groups that insist they hold the only “proper” or “correct” way of administering legitimacy regarding a faith, tradition, text, title, or teaching, your going to run into serious problems. Worse, what would happen if enemies of a particular faith controlled the keys to its top-level domain? After all does the Pagan community have hundreds of thousands of dollars to challenge an evangelical group from running ‘.pagan’ or ‘.wicca’? So in this instance, and perhaps not for the exact same reasons I have, the Pope is right. Religious-themed extensions under the current system would be a potential nightmare. Without the promise of an affordable and open challenge mechanism, or the certainty that religious extensions would be controlled by ideologically neutral parties, ICANN should stay out of the God(s) business.