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Jul 24

Do we really want Google and Amazon to control the (online) world?

Why aren’t we alarmed by the web giants’ efforts to increase their control of online commerce?

amazon-googleAmazon and Google are 2 of the most influential companies in the U.S., if not the world.  Clearly their business models have been hugely successful and their online innovations cannot be denied–but at what cost?  Is it a good development if Amazon succeeds in putting bookstores out of business or if Google controls the top-level generic domain .movie?

Today on Salon.com a story by Evan Hughes, “Here’s how Amazon self-destructs” examines the ways Amazon (and we) could suffer if brick and mortar bookstores go out of business:

The brick and mortar outlets that Amazon is imperiling play a huge role in driving book sales and fostering literary culture. Although beaten by the Internet in unit sales, physical stores outpace virtual ones by 3-to-1 in introducing books to buyers. Bookshelves sell books. In a trend that is driving the owner of your neighborhood independent to drink, customers are engaging in “showrooming,” browsing in shops and then buying from Amazon to get a discount. This phenomenon is gradually suffocating stores to death. If you like having a bookseller nearby, think carefully before doing this. Never mind the ethics of showrooming — it’s self-defeating. You’re killing off a local business you like.

Amazon was also made headlines this week because of its quest to secure .amazon as one of the  new “generic top level” domain names that will soon be made available (to those who can afford them).  ICANN’s (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) Governmental Advisory Committee recommended rejecting the company’s request for control over the domain name in response to complaints by various South American countries who argued “Amazon” was a geographical reference for their region.

Shouldn’t we be concerned with the possibility that control of the top level generic domains such as .music and .movie  could go to the highest bidder?  According to Bizjournals.com:

It appears Google applied for the most domains, although it did so under a different name, Charleston Road Registry. Charleston Road applied for domains such as .google, .chrome, .gmail and .earth. But it also applied for some more generic words, including .fly, .dad, .home and .love.

This issue has, it seems, slid under the radar until now, but as I wrote in a blog post nearly a year ago, the notion that large corporations could control these generic domain names is troubling.  At the time Consumer Watchdog expressed this concern in a letter sent to Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), Chairman of the Senate’s Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation:

We believe the plans by Google and Amazon are extremely problematic and call on you to help prevent their implementation. It is one thing to use a Top Level Domain name that is associated with your brand name. In Google’s case that might be .Google or .YouTube or .Android. Similarly it makes make sense for Amazon to acquire .Amazon or .Kindle. But, that is not what is happening.Google has ponied up $18.7 million to buy 101 domain strings like .eat, .buy, .book, .free, .web, and .family. Amazon is close behind the Internet giant applying for 76 domain strings including such names as .free, .like, .game, and .shop.

If these applications are granted, large parts of the Internet would be privatized. It is one thing to own a domain associated with your brand, but it is a huge problem to take control of generic strings. Both Google and Amazon are already dominant players on the Internet. Allowing them further control by buying generic domain strings would threaten the free and open Internet that consumers rely upon. Consumer Watchdog urges you to do all that you can to thwart these outrageous efforts and ensure that the Internet continues its vibrant growth while serving the interests of all of its users.

According to Bizjournals.com it costs $185,000 application fee per name (chump change for Google and Amazon):

Companies paid a $185,000 application fee per name and will have to pay $25,000 a year to run the registry where other companies will be able to register to use that “top-level” domain.

I don’t know about you, but the thought of Google and Amazon gaining even more control over web commerce sends shivers down my spine.  Here’s a graphic of the top level domains that Google has applied for.

google-top-level-domains

Maybe Google should consider going after the .piracy domain while they’re at it?   Do we really want Google to control the top level domain name “movie?”  I don’t.

Google is one of 8 companies that have applied for control of "movie" domain name

Google is one of 8 companies that have applied for control of “movie” domain name

You have to wonder why Google opted to apply under Charleston Road Registry rather than use their brand name, but I suppose that’s a story for another day…

At any rate, speaking of movies and piracy–and since we’re on the subject of Google and Amazon–I thought I’d share a website I came across today.  It’s a Google-sponsored Blogspot.com pirate site that offers illegal downloads links for dozens of indie films and, for good measure, there’s a pop-up advertisement for Amazon.com at the bottom of the page….2 peas in a piracy pod.

Google-amazon-piracy-profits

Wasn’t it just this week the Victoria Espinel, U.S. Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator for the Obama administration announced a new initiative “Coming Together to Combat Online Piracy and Counterfeiting” in which companies would voluntarily support efforts to thwart piracy profiteers? According to her statement:

Today, 24/7 Media, Adtegrity, AOL, Condé Nast, Google, [emphasis added] Microsoft, SpotXchange, and Yahoo!, with the support of the Interactive Advertising Bureau, committed to a set of best practices to address online infringement by reducing the flow of ad revenue to operators of sites engaged in significant piracy and counterfeiting. The Administration strongly supports voluntary efforts by the private sector to reduce infringement and we welcome the initiative brought forward by the companies to establish industry-wide standards to combat online piracy and counterfeiting by reducing financial incentives associated with infringement.

Forgive my cynicism, but until the enablers of piracy put their money where their mouths are when it comes to “best practices” I can’t take this so-called “commitment” too seriously. Advertisers (like Amazon) need to stop engaging in ad-sponsored piracy, take responsibility  and demand accountability with regard to where their ads appear.  Meanwhile, Google needs stop talking and start doing by aggressively disabling blogger-hosted pirate websites, delisting pirate search results, terminating pirate AdSense accounts, etc.

 

This post was originally published on voxindie.org.