Last month, we wrote about a troubling decision by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) to give control over the new .pharmacy domain to big pharma -- thus allowing it to lock out sites around the world that threaten its generous profit margins. An article in the journal "Globalization and Health" warns that something similar could be about to happen in the realm of public health:
In just a few weeks, the Internet could be expanded to include a new .health generic top-level domain name run by a for-profit company with virtually no public health credentials -- unless the international community intervenes immediately. This matters to the future of global public health as the "Health Internet" has begun to emerge as the predominant source of health information for consumers and patients.
The paper, which is open access, and can therefore be read for free in its entirety, gives some hypothetical examples of what could happen:
http://www.[smoking].[health](potentially purchased by a tobacco company)
The paper's authors explain:
http://www.[vaccinatekids].[health](potentially purchased by anti-vaccine activists)
http://www.[obesity].[health](potentially purchased by a junk food company)
http://www.[cancer].[doctor](potentially purchased by unscrupulous vendors catering to the desperate dying)
Despite this increasing use and reliance on online health information that may have inadequate quality or reliability, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) recently announced it intends to move forward with an auction to award the exclusive, 10 year rights to the .health generic top-level domain name. This decision is being made over the protests of the World Medical Association, World Health Organization, and other stakeholders, who have called for a suspension or delay until key questions can be resolved.
ICANN responded to those concerns by asking the International Chamber of Commerce to decide whether a company, rather than a health organization, should be allowed to run the .health domain. No surprise what the outcome was:
a rejection of challenges filed by ICANN’s own independent watchdog and others, such that ICANN's Board decided in June 2014 that there are "no noted objections to move forward" in auctioning the .health generic top-level domain name to the highest bidder before the end of the year.
"No noted objections" if you exclude important chunks of the world's medical community, that is. Or perhaps ICANN simply meant "no noted objections from the companies that stand to gain the most from controlling this lucrative domain". The paper's authors conclude:
we call for an immediate moratorium/suspension of the ICANN award/auction process in order to provide the international public health community time to ensure the proper management and governance of health information online.
In fact, we need to go much further. Rather than simply calling for a moratorium on the auction of these new domains, we should be calling for ICANN itself to be abolished, and replaced with an organization that is concerned with maximizing the global benefits of running the Internet domain system and not, as presently seems the case, with maximizing the profits of a few lucky companies. ICANN has had long enough to show that it is a worthy guardian of this unique and critical resource; it has failed to do so. Time to get rid of it.
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