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ICANN warns about alt-root blockchain domain names

Organization is worried that consumers will be confused.

Image with the word "Blockchain"

ICANN has published a warning to consumers about alt-root domain names.

Alt-root domains are domain names that aren’t compatible with the existing domain name system (DNS). They require special software or browsers in order to resolve.

Attempts at creating top level domains that compete against the main DNS have been around for decades. The latest iterations are blockchain-based domains such as Handshake and Unstoppable Domains.

ICANN manages the process for adding “real” top level domains to the DNS.

ICANN warns that many consumers might not understand these alt-root domains and how they work. While blockchain fans understand what they are doing when creating a domain in these systems, some domain registrars are now selling alt-root domains directly to the public alongside regular top level domains.

I suspect that blockchain enthusiasts will retort that ICANN is merely trying to dissuade people from using the competition. But ICANN has reason to be worried about consumer confusion. The typical consumer probably doesn’t understand exactly what they’re getting. This extends beyond alt-root domains as well. I’m sure many consumers were surprised to learn that the third-level domains they bought from registrars that looked like country code domains were anything but.

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  1. chad

    ICANN budget of fancy locations and huge salaries for 100’s of people in the org to manage a public goods platform(DNS) in a centralized system is the challenge they are hopefully seeing, not a threat on confusion of end users. Blockchain Domains just put it open and at the edges so this will be more about centralized controlled systems verses decentralized and open platforms, something not present in the previous DNS attempts to bring additional market options to the shady ICANN organization (.org deal).

    • Steve Gobin

      ICANN is what it is but some of the people and organisations that run alt-root TLDs are not better. I remember once seeing on a forum a guy that was proposing “new gTLDs” for “only” 50’000$ (instead of the 185’000$ charged by ICANN for a new gTLD application), but he “forgot” to mention that they were alt-root TLDs. Whatever the actual reason, which ICANN posted the warning for, the warning is 100% relevant.

  2. John Berryhill

    “There are now a few ICANN-accredited registrars that are offering non-DNS domain names for purchase.”

    Imagine how happy ICANN must have been to learn that an auction of TLDs several months ago included corresponding alt-root-system crypto TLDs. If they are upset over registrars selling alt domain names (as they historically have been), how would a rational person predict they would react to that dumb idea?

    The “alt root” bogeyman is second only to the “ITU takeover” bogeyman in the ICANN catalogue of manipulative scary campfire stories.

    As far as ICANN worrying about competition goes, you do have to back up every now and then and ask “competition for what?” If ICANN disappeared tonight, the DNS would work just fine tomorrow. The “competition” to alt roots is not really ICANN, but simply the inertia of consensus that has no reason to change.

  3. rubensk

    ICANN is only a mammoth because special interests that wanted to regulate gTLDs pushed down that path. Everything else was and it’s still managed by IANA, which requires very little staff and budget.

  4. Computer

    ICANN is overreaching. They don’t own the DNS, it’s a matter of consensus. It’s obvious Handshake is becoming the DNS of choice.

    • John Berryhill

      “it’s a matter of consensus”

      Indeed. All that is required is a change of consensus among a sufficient number of stakeholders. Microsoft, for example, looks at it this way:

      “Blockchain domains are an emerging threat outside
      of regulation.”

      (Microsoft Digital Defense Report, October 2021, p. 39, https://query.prod.cms.rt.microsoft.com/cms/api/am/binary/RWMFIi )

      In the 1999ish round of “alt roots will rule the future”, there was a lot of discussion about the development of compelling content that would induce demand for alt root tlds, along with efforts to obtain a buy-in from ISPs and browser publishers.

      When the 87% market-share OS publisher refers to a technology as “an emerging threat”, that’s quite a headwind.

      I know, I know… people will be abandoning MS in droves, once they find out that there are a whole bunch more TLDs they’ve never heard of where its easier to find malicious content, trade in fentanyl and meth, or ideological zealots with persecution complexes and a heady mix of paranoia and firearms.

    • rubensk

      IETF is a consensus-based organization, and there is no sign of Handshake there. If they really want to get adoption from the global community, that’s where they should start.

    • Tony R

      Handshake insiders are not overreaching? Aren’t they auctioning out new TLDs like .amazon, .kids, .music, .web and .hotel? Here is an example: https://www.namebase.io/domains/music

      There was thread about this: https://github.com/handshake-org/hs-names/issues/6

      Handshake may be the “DNS of choice” but for scammers, abusers and cybersquatters. Amazon and Verisign won’t be too happy that their TLDs are being auctioned out to enrich the Handshake insiders and venture capitalists (https://handshake.org/grant-sponsors). The venture capitalists behind Handshake must be happy about the Handshake pump and dump.

  5. Online

    It’s nice that ICANN has cautioned/warned about alt-root domains.
    Many novice people, new domain investors, do not have in-depth knowledge about the working of DNS system. They think, hey, I’m getting a generic word, or personal-name .hype domain for just less than $5 a lifetime and people will visit it from all over the world. Even Google and Bing will show it in their search engines. But a decade ago there was similar New.net alt-root dns system which failed. It’s going to fail as masses will not be going to their PC and laptops and smartphone to change settings just to visit 2 or 3 alt-root sites. I think only the owner of such domains would do! Just think, even today there is public DNS from Google and Cloudflare, and respectively, beside few techies, people from hosting and domain industry, common people use the default DNS servers from the ISP, mobile network providers and fiber optic broadband providers. They don’t even know exists. Neither will they change it. Same thing with DNS system. Only fraction or less than 1% of internet population might change and that too many of them would be the alt-root domain owners themselves!

  6. Ed

    Handshake – the game isn’t the domains rather the ENS value that underpins the transactions. The full custody blockchain model means brand owners have no recourse unless the Devs fork the protocol. Good luck with that. Haven’t seen cybersquatting like this since the mid 90s.

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