Big Pharma Given Control Of New .pharmacy Domain; Only Available To 'Legitimate' Online Pharmacies

from the guess-who-they-will-be dept

Just over a year ago, Techdirt reported on big pharma’s application to run a new .pharmacy domain, and later on an attempt by Canadian pharmacies to prevent that happening. They failed, apparently (found via Intellectual Property Watch):

As the registry operator of the new .pharmacy domain, the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP), under a contract with the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), will soon provide a means for identifying safe online pharmacies and resources. Under the Association?s Registry Agreement, executed with ICANN on June 19, 2014, the new .pharmacy generic Top-Level Domain (gTLD) will be available only to legitimate online pharmacies and related entities located in the United States or other countries. The Registry Agreement also includes a number of safeguards intended to protect consumers around the world.

The question is: what will “only available to legitimate online pharmacies” and “intended to protect consumers” mean in practice? The concern is that these are euphemisms for big pharma shutting out those competitors offering lower-cost products, particular foreign pharmacies, and manufacturers of generics. That fear is not assuaged by the following comment from the NABP in its response to such concerns (pdf)

the .PHARMACY TLD will provide a powerful tool to educate consumers, distinguish legitimate Internet pharmacies from the thousands of rogue Internet drug outlets, and reinforce the value of purchasing medications only from trusted online sources.

Big pharma is clearly as keen as the copyright industries to “educate” consumers about what they ought to be doing. The danger here is that such “education” will include not trusting perfectly safe pharmacies outside the US (in Canada, for example), and not using much cheaper generics. Since NABP now controls this entire domain it will have a free hand to block any outfit that does not subscribe to those views, and thus to attempt to delegitimize them in the eyes of the consumer.

This is something new. Hitherto, there has been no danger of this kind of discrimination against particular classes of Internet users, since registry operators were focused on maximizing profits by getting as many domains issued as possible. That won’t be the case for .pharmacy, where the aim is to police the online pharmacy world, and to protect the generous profits of big pharma — not make a few dollars selling a domain or two. Assuming that happens, we can probably expect other industries to follow suit in creating and controlling new domains, and for the Internet to become less free and neutral.

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Comments on “Big Pharma Given Control Of New .pharmacy Domain; Only Available To 'Legitimate' Online Pharmacies”

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Violynne (profile) says:

“the .PHARMACY TLD will provide a powerful tool to educate consumers, distinguish legitimate Internet pharmacies from the thousands of rogue Internet drug outlets, and reinforce the value of purchasing medications only from trusted online sources.”

Sure will educate them, which is why they’ll go to another website to buy the drugs they can afford.

Dibs on “deathto”.

scotts13 (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I’m not sure how a trade association can have the unprecedented control over a TLD, but so be it – I assume they paid for the privilege.

Doesn’t matter, people will quickly learn that .pharmacy only leads to prices they’re not willing to pay, and it will fade into obscurity. People aren’t QUITE as stupid as NABP thinks.

TasMot (profile) says:

IMHO this is going to be a big “yawn” win for big pharma. As Techdirt has pointed out in the past, people don’t type in People open or it automatically opens as a home page and type in aspirin and look at the search results. It is going to take a long time for the “average internet user” to even notice that the name ends in “.pharmacy”. The “.com” name is what people expect to see at the end of a “legitimate” company website. The other TLDs are the ones that get picked when the “.com” version is not available.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I’m also extremely sceptical about this ever working in the way that it’s being talked about, and I certainly doubt that a move away from .com is likely to happen quickly, if at all. The majority of what I’m seeing a cash grab.

However, that’s not really the point. Even if these people are 99.9% likely to be throwing money away, the fact is that if it does work, corruption and protectionism is built in from the beginning. That’s worth talking about, even if the reality ends up being that we laugh at the charred remains of a failed market in 5 years.

“people don’t type in People open”

Indeed. But, as we’ve seen a little too often recently, some companies don’t mind getting the courts to force Google to change their search results. What happens if the pharmaceutical companies successfully lobby for a law that says that Google cannot return results from anything other than a .pharmacy TLD, under the assumption that anything else must be fake? I wish that was far-fetched, but from recent evidence it does seem like a real danger.

Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Re: Re:

how much does this matter? would people trust a website address that ends in “.pharmacy” more than one that ends in “.com”? is there going to be another law soon that prohibits sales from any TLD other than “.pharmacy”?

Just wait. There will soon be attempts to pass laws that say search engines can only list “legitimate” pharmacies — as defined as those with .pharmacy domains. And that FedEx and UPS can only deliver from such pharmacies…

Just look at the history of “legitscripts” and attempts to stop Google from linking to Canadian pharmacies…

DannyB (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

The pessimist in me says you’re probably right.

But can they restrict businesses to using only certain domains? That seems like it would be a nightmare of a definition to write.

Businesses already have to register multiple domains now to increase visibility. (.com, .org, .info, .biz, and possibly country names, etc)

Maybe a backward country could require use of certain domains, but can they make the rest of the world comply? Can they make ICANN comply?

It gets interesting as people with delusions of power want to assert more and more control over everyone.

Todd (profile) says:

Re: Re: Industry group control of TLD

This was exactly my reaction, as soon as I started reading the post. It has nothing to do with how many people would naturally use the .pharmacy TLD, and everything to do with establishing control over “legitimacy”. The .pharmacy moniker is a crappy TLD. Nobody would ever use it. Unless it was the only way to purchase an entire class of products online. That would seem to be the motivation. Expect rapid progress, given the amount of dollars involved.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

The fact that it’s even profitable for consumers to buy from Canadian pharmacies shows how messed up America’s healthcare system still is. Especially since many of those drugs are made right in America.

Your economic system is totally screwed up if it’s cheaper to buy a product from a reseller that bought it from the original source rather than from the original source. Especially when you take the cost of shipping into account.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Just wait. There will soon be attempts to pass laws that say search engines can only list “legitimate” pharmacies —

How will that work when people search for a drug name, rather than pharmacies?
Will Big Pharma try to get Google to send all searches for a list of drug names to its own sites, which would hide any reports of side effects from users of such drugs; a side effect that would not upset Big Pharma in the least.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

“As soon as nobody in the US can purchase the product, it won’t matter much if you can find them in Google.”

Nah. Before the internet, Americans were buying drugs from Canadian pharmacies. It’s called the black market — and if purchasing drugs over the internet becomes impossible, the old system will return.

Todd (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Black Market

Agreed, there will be a black market.

Today, I can send a copy of my prescription from a doctor in the US to a Canadian pharmacy and legally get a prescription filled. In that scenario, nobody has broken a single law.

Tomorrow, I may be able to find someone to illegally fill that same prescription. For many people, these are not the same things.

It’s not “Nah”. It’s “ok, if you want to do this illegally, there is a way to do it”. If “Nah” means I can still get my legally prescribed drugs illegally, well, I guess that will always be the case.

FWIW, I’m completely in agreement with your argument. There is a price that will settle somewhere between the ridiculous amounts being charged in the US, and the “friction free” CDN prices of today that will reward smugglers. My take on it is that this is not what we (collectively) want.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:5 Black Market

In part I’m sure, but the biggest cause is likely sheer and simple greed. They charge insane amounts because they can, because when you’re faced with ‘Pay obscene amount and live/not be sick’, and ‘Don’t pay, and die/remain ill and take your chances’, that provides some pretty hefty incentive for people to just pay up, and they know it.

DannyB (profile) says:

I've got an idea!

Why not categorize traffic by top level domain names, and give control of those to some private interest who wants to protect a certain group of established players in a particular business?

Create an .XXX domain for adult material. That way only legitimate adult material can use that domain.
Create a .spam domain for spammers. That way only legitimate spammers can use that domain.
Create a .scam domain for scammers. That way only legitimate scammers cna use that domain.
Create a .crook domain for crooks. That way only legitimate crooks can use that domain.

With more and more top level domains, a business will want to list itself under more than one domain to increase visibility. For example, how many domains would Prenda or Righthaven need to register?

Of course, domain registrars will be thrilled with having more and more top level domains to increase registration business.

But seriously, a business now probably wants to try to get .com, .org, .biz, .info, and a country .com domain if applicable.

Whatever (profile) says:

There are few TLDs that have really caught on in any big way, so these guys are certainly fighting against the tide to get it done. Also, they are doing something which I personally think is not going to help them, picking a long TLD, which is harder to type, especially from a mobile device.

I would say that .pharm or similar would have been enough.

I also think that to some extent it will be successful if they can sell the public on these domains being a a stamp of legitimacy, then they have some hope. Otherwise, they will again be fighting against the tide.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Well, you have a couple of good points, and you’re factually correct about a couple of things (especially that longer gTLDs are naturally going to be used less by mobile users on a standard keyboard). Bravo.

Now, do you have any comments on the points raised in the article, rather than something only tangentially related to them? How about the point made by Mike in the thread (inadvertently repeated by myself) that this could be the first step in forcing sites like Google to only direct people to those pre-screened sites?

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

“Whatever made the same point I was going to make. .pharmacy is long and kinda hard to spell, it’s not going to be used much”

Yep, but that’s only half the point, if that. The fact that it’s almost 99% certain that nobody will type the domains directly doesn’t mean there’s not a problem with the way this is being run.

“Plus, it’s not like the pharmacies are going to give up their .com domain names.”

Of course they’re not. That’s not even a factor in the discussion here.

“This is at best a waste of time and DNS storage space, at worst a deliberate money grab.”

Agreed with the cash grab. Very few of these things have been successful and they’ve not replaced the old way of doing things in any of those cases. It’s probably just going to benefit ICANN’s bottom line.

But, combine this with the way things like the “right to be forgotten” and previous attacks on Google have happened, plus the fact that a lot of people use Google without looking at the URL they’re being directed to, and it’s a problem. Once a gTLD has been established for an industry, it’s possible that they can be forced only to send searches for a subject to that gTLD. Particularly in an industry that requires some kind of licencing to operate.

The problem isn’t that people looking for meds might suddenly start typing rather than It’s that collusion and disproportionate control could send traffic to sites controlled by the major companies and act as a backdoor methods to locking out legitimate competition.

Now, I’ll agree that this is a worst case scenario that requires a lot more to happen before we’ll start seeing the effects. But, it’s certainly worth talking about the potential ramifications in the meantime. It’s certainly worth keeping an eye on it, even if it’s unlikely that people will consciously decide to go to a site ending in .pharmacy

Chronno S. Trigger (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

The larger implications of this are being debated further up in the comment section. It’s already being covered and I cannot add to the discussion. I don’t agree with the fear that comes from it, but I can’t adequately explain why, so I stay out of it.

The logical fallacy of even creating the .pharmacy TLD hadn’t been covered until Whatever pointed it out. That I could adequately explain and would have if it hadn’t already been pointed out. The only reason I responded at all is because you pulled out the “there-are-children-starving-in-Fuckistan” argument.

Just because there are bigger problems further up doesn’t mean we can’t point out the problems at the root.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

“The only reason I responded at all is because you pulled out the “there-are-children-starving-in-Fuckistan” argument.”

Go on. I literally have no idea what you mean by this. Please explain for the people here too mature to use words like “fuckistan”.

“Just because there are bigger problems further up doesn’t mean we can’t point out the problems at the root.”

There are no problems at the root.

ICANN have made a decision to sell gTLDs to virtually anyone who goes through the process, and there have been many articles here pointing out what a silly cash grab most of it is. They have been written for years while this process has been going on, and don’t really need to be repeated.

What does, however need to be pointed out are the implications of the decision to give an industry that’s already been shown to be hostile to an open internet full control over something that – if successful (however big that “if” actually is) – can be used to lock out legitimate competition.

Whatever, as is his wont, opted to ignore those implications while smugly pronouncing something else. It’s a true statement, but concentrating on that at the exclusion of all else is misleading. He’s not technically wrong, but it’s a tactic I’m tiring of seeing in every thread where he can’t outright lie or take a sentence out of context to attack.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:5 Re:

Sorry, I can’t hear you over your refusal to answer direct questions and your outright lies on other in other threads you posted on yesterday.

Why do you post here if you can’t take criticism and lie, distort and cheat on every comment you make? Other than those where you’re whining about people calling you out on it, of course.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re:

” if they can sell the public on these domains being a a stamp of legitimacy, then they have some hope”

Agreed. Of course, they also have to overcome the fact that the pharmaceutical industry has a pretty bad public image problem to begin with. I don’t think them stamping “legitimate” on things carries much weight with most people.

Dave Cortright says:

This will work as well as outlawing free book shipping in Europe will be a great flag to use in my Google search to eliminate overpriced options.

I highly doubt the seniors who care very much about issues surrounding prescriptions are going to let legislators pass laws about where they can and cannot order their drugs. But even if big pharma does get their way…

If I were a foreign pharmacy shipping to the US, I would use a series of generic return addresses, swapping them out every month or 2. Welcome to whack-a-mole, the meat-space version.

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