Four U.S. legislators have warned the nonprofit group overseeing internet domain names that certain generic top-level domain strings (gTLDs), such as .cpa, could be used to deceive consumers about professional services – in this case, the services of certified public accountants.
Representatives Steve Pearce (R-New Mexico), Michael Conaway (R-Texas), Steve King (R-Indiana) and Ruben Kihuen (D-Nevada) wrote a letter to Göran Marby, president and CEO of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), urging him to develop verification regulations for the top-level domain strings that the legislators believe are at the greatest risk for fraud and abuse.
“By their very nature, gTLDs pose a far greater risk to the public than standard internet domains,” the legislators wrote. “As a result, we ask for an immediate review of the policies surrounding gTLDs to ensure the highest level of safety and accountability possible.”
It’s not a new concern. A 2013 communication from ICANN’s Governmental Advisory Committee identified several domain strings that are linked to regulated or professional services.
The committee “recognized that ‘these [gTLDs] are likely to invoke a level of implied trust from consumers, and carry higher levels of risk associated with consumer harm,’” the legislators wrote. “Further, the [committee] communique highlighted that gTLDs such as ‘.cpa’ could be used to deceive consumers of CPA services in the United States and around the world if granted to those outside the global CPA community.”
The committee recommended that ICANN work with regulators or industry groups to develop ways to “mitigate as much as possible the risks of fraudulent and other illegal activities.” The committee also cited .cpa as a domain string that requires Category 1 safeguards.
Why ICANN hasn’t fully implemented its committee’s recommendation isn’t made clear in the legislators’ letter.
“While it has taken steps in the right direction, gTLDs, such as ‘.cpa,’ are still not regulated in a way to prevent fraud and abuse,” the four legislators wrote. “For a gTLD that has a strong connection to a regulated industry, such as ‘.cpa,’ the protection of the public against fraud or other illegal activities should be of paramount concern to ICANN. Strong, reliable verification procedures are essential to protect the public interest. The importance of the public trust to the CPA profession around the world cannot be overstated, and the potential harm to the public of fraudulent or illegal use of a ‘.cpa’ domain is immense.”
The legislators suggest that ICANN develop a verification process for gTLDs such as .cpa.
“ICANN cannot combat fraud by simply requiring applicants to make a representation without any verification,” they wrote.
While the legislators recognize that verification isn’t a simple process, “it is an essential one,” they wrote.
Several entities, including the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA), have filed applications for the right to register the .cpa domain name. Donuts Inc., a Bellevue, Washington-based company, is also vying for the domain and opposes Australian group CPA Australia Ltd. in registering the same domain name.
About Terry Sheridan
Terry Sheridan is an award-winning journalist who has covered real estate, mortgage finance, health care, insurance, personal finance, and accounting and taxation issues for newspapers, magazines, and websites. A Chicago native and former South Florida resident, she now lives in New England.