A call for a moratorium on the .health generic top-level domain: preventing the commercialization and exclusive control of online health information

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.

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.

However, rather than engage in constructive dialogue with the public health community over its concerns, ICANN chose the International Chamber of Commerce—a business lobbying group for industries to adjudicate the .health concerns. This has resulted in 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.

This follows ICANN's award of several other health-related generic top-level domain names that have been unsuccessfully contested. In response, 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.

Published on: 2014-09-26

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