A new way for disgruntled parties to gripe about businesses is on the horizon: the “.sucks” generic top-level domain, or gTLD.

This new domain, intended to “help consumers find their voices and allow companies to find the value in criticism” – at least according to the website of owner Vox Populi Registry Ltd. – has created controversy well before its formal launch.

ICANN and new gTLDs

For background, four years ago, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) opted to expand the number of gTLDs from the 20-plus existing ones, including the likes of .com, .org and  .net.  Today there are hundreds of these new gTLDs that have been or are being rolled out by ICANN, ranging from .baseball, .cpa and .news to .lol, .ninja and .porn.

These new gTLDs are intended to benefit both businesses and consumers, or as ICANN states on its website, the goal is: “enhancing competition and consumer choice, and enabling the benefits of innovation”

A ‘platform for dialogue’

When Vox Populi scooped up “.sucks,” it envisioned the domain becoming a destination for consumer feedback.

“It’s a platform for dialogue, and a chance for brands to learn more about product development, customer service and customer loyalty,” Vox Populi CEO John Berard told the Financial Post.

Of course, with “sucks” as the top-level domain, the potential feedback on these future websites is, of course, most certainly going to be critical in nature.  Given First Amendment protections, that is the least of business’s concerns.  After all, there are countless [Company]sucks.com websites today.

Extortion allegations

More concerning is the claimed extortion of brands, as many feel Vox Populi has engaged in a type of quasi-cybersquatting.  Beginning March 30, 2015, a 60-day “Sunrise Period” began in which registered trademark holders have been able to pay $2,499 (an annual fee) to register their “.sucks” addresses before other parties snatch them up.

On June 1, the addresses will become generally available for a much lower, but still expensive, price of $249 per year.

“I basically thinks it’s extortion,” J. Scott Evans, Adobe’s associate general counsel, told NPR in an April interview. “We are not going to participate in any sort of extortion scheme… I told my people the best way not to get included is not to suck.”

Whether or not they approve of the .sucks top-level domain name, many companies have nonetheless purchased .sucks domains, most likely to ensure others do not use the domains.

For example, Vox Populi’s www.nic.sucks website shows that recent registrations by companies hoping to protect their brands include jcpenney.sucks, macbookpro.sucks, panera.sucks, skype.sucks, timewarnercable.sucks, xbox360.sucks and yahoo.sucks.

Vox Populi was recently criticized at a U.S. congressional hearing, this coming a couple months after IP attorneys and brand owners petitioned to ICANN to stop this “predatory scheme.”

Berard says the rationale for the premium $2,499 per domain cost, among other reasons, was actually to weed out potential cybersquatters.

Evolution of the internet

There are certainly grounds to make the extortion argument and, for many, it might make the most sense to adopt the Adobe line of thinking and not pay a premium price to secure a .sucks domain.

If nothing else, this is just a new outlet for disgruntled parties to attack businesses, which businesses will need to take into account.  Certainly, the Googles, Apples, and Microsofts of the world are unlikely to feel any of the heat dished out by the operators of .sucks websites, but a different story might unfold for smaller businesses.

Furthermore, it will be interesting to see how these new websites potentially rank in search.  One would have to guess that a Yahoo!-registered yahoo.sucks, for example, would carry some weight in search results. So what is stopping a .sucks website owned by some random disgruntled party from ranking highly as well?