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Friday, July 19, 2013

Amazon Rejected as Domain Name After South American Objections

A group of Latin American countries appears to have succeeded in an effort to block Amazon, the online retailer, from using .amazon as a new suffix for Internet addresses.

A committee of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, an international governance group for the Internet, recommended this week that. amazon not be approved for use as a so-called global top-level domain - the letters that follow the dot in Internet addresses.

At a meeting in Durban, South Africa, Icann reviewed applications for new domain suffixes like these in what has been billed as the biggest expansion of Internet addresses. Scores of companies, countries and organizations have applied to use their names or other terms as global top-level domains, alongside the handful of existing ones like .com and .org.

While Icann has approved several new dot-terms, including the Chinese word for game and the Russian word for network, English-language brand names derived from geographical locations have proved to be more complicated.

In the run-up to the Durban meeting, a group of Latin American countries, including Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Peru and Uruguay, sent a letter to Icann, in which they argued that .amazon should be rejected because a river runs through it.

“In particular ‘.amazon' is a geographic name that represents important territories of some of our countries, which have relevant communities, with their own culture and identity directly connected with the name,” the letter said. “Beyond the specifics, this should also be understood as a matter of principle.”

The group had also objected to another application, from the outdoor clothier Patagonia, to use its name as an address suffix. That application was withdrawn before the Durban meeting.

The decision on. amazon, by the Governmental Advisory Committee of Icann, is not necessarily final. The Icann board could overrule the committee, though in practice it rarely does so.

“We're reviewing the G.A.C. advice and we look forward to working with Icann and other stakeholders to resolve these issues as the process moves forward,” Amazon said in a statement.

One thing that remains unclear is why the United States government, represented in the Government Advisory Committee by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, an arm of the Commerce Department, went along with the decision.

The administration did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Before the meeting, it sent a letter to Icann in which it outlined its support for the use of names like. amazon as Internet suffixes, but added that it would stand aside if other governments objected.

“The United States affirms our support for the free flow of information and freedom of expression and does not view sovereignty as a valid basis for objecting to the use of terms, and we have concerns about the effect of such claims on the integrity of the process,” the administration said in the letter. “However, in the event the parties cannot reach agreement by the time this matter comes up for decision in the G.A.C., the United States is willing in Durban to abstain and remain neutral.”

One analyst said that while the specific reasons the United States government went along with the rejection were unclear, its position on Internet governance issues had been weakened by the recent leaks of information about a vast digital surveillance program by the National Security Agency. Several countries in South America - though not those in the Amazon basin or the Patagonian region - have offered the leaker, Edward J. Snowden, asylum.

“It is clear that the leaks of sensitive national security information have severely weakened the U.S. government's ability to fight for our economic interests and have left the U.S. isolated in the G.A.C.,” said Nao Matsukata, chief executive of FairWinds Partners, a Washington-based consulting firm that specializes in domain name strategy.

Milton Mueller, a professor at the Syracuse University School of Information Studies, said there might have been an element of horse-trading. By yielding to a broader consensus on the advisory committee, Washington could have been seeking to shore up broader support for Icann, whose control over the Internet address system has long irked the governments of countries like Russia and China.

“My hypothesis is that the U.S. government has been scared to death for some time that if G.A.C. doesn't get enough of what it wants, governments will give up on the whole Icann regime,” Mr. Mueller said.