Blockchain Identifiers: Navigating Risks of Internet Fragmentation
Blockchain identifiers are being sold as a new type of domain name. Although innovation is always welcome, this attempt at creating an alternative root server creates a real risk of fragmentation of the internet.
During the previous ICANN meeting in Washington, the Governmental Advisory Committee (GAC) representatives voiced a significant request to ICANN. They sought the organisation's assistance in conducting capacity-building sessions focused on blockchain identifiers. In essence, they recognised the need for training and understanding in this rapidly evolving field and its potential implications for internet fragmentation.
Blockchain-based "domains" or identifiers are not entirely new phenomena. Over the years, various attempts have been made to create alternate root servers for the Internet. However, most of these efforts have met with limited success or, in some cases, have thankfully failed. This is primarily because these systems operate independently of the globally recognised root servers, necessitating the use of specific browser add-ons for functionality. Their utility is severely restricted; for instance, they cannot be used for sending and receiving emails.
These initiatives can be broadly categorised into three types, each with its distinct objectives:
1. State-sponsored initiatives: These are orchestrated by governments intending to exercise control over the information accessible to their citizens.
2. Uncensored initiatives: These initiatives aim to ensure the free flow of information beyond the purview of any oversight.
3. Commercial initiatives: Driven primarily by profit motives, these endeavours seek to capitalise on emerging trends.
Blockchain-based initiatives predominantly fall into the third category. Promoters of these services are seeking to leverage the DNS industry to generate revenue. Interestingly, unlike domain names, blockchain identifiers do not inherently require a dot for their functionality. They could just as easily employ an @ or even a # symbol; the inclusion of a dot is essentially an attempt to mimic conventional domain names.
The reason for government representatives seeking training on this subject stems from the fact that some registrars have begun offering their customers the registration of blockchain identifiers. Should these initiatives prove successful, despite their limitations, there is a genuine risk of internet fragmentation. This is not a declaration against the merits and potential uses of blockchain technology, which indeed has various benefits. However, attempting to use blockchain identifiers as a parallel naming system is a complex and contentious undertaking that warrants careful consideration.
About the Author:
Luc Seufer is the Chief Legal Officer at EuroDNS. He's been deep in the trenches, negotiating with ICANN to make the internet a safer place. With tons of experience in the domain name world, he's super passionate about tackling DNS abuse and making the online world a better place for all of us.