Internet gold rush: Amazon wants .mail, Guardian wants .observer and S.C. Johnson wants .mrmuscle

As new top level domains go on sale, companies bid for the land rush.

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, ICANN, has released the full list of the companies bidding on new personalisable top level domains, known as generic TLDs (gTLD). These take the place of the ".com" in a url, and allow companies to have websites at addresses like "video.youtube" or "gameofthrones.hbo".

Any company bidding on a domain name has to pay a non-refundable $185,000, and if there are multiple bidders, ICANN will assess them on "technical merits" and may hold an auction. Winners are then also obliged to pay high annual fees to the corporation.

Not every company bid on domain names using their own name. Google, for instance, has already revealed that it is bidding on names like .youtube and .lol, but on the ICANN document the bidder for those names shows up as "Charleston Road registry", and it is difficult to tell whether this is a Google shell or a company bidding for multiple domains for multiple clients.

Some of the companies that did bid for domains are below:

Guardian News and Media ltd bid for .gdn, .guardian, .guardianmedia, .observer, and .theguardian. Total cost: $925,000.

Amazon EU bid for 76 names, including .app, .author, .book, .cloud, .drive, .fast, .hot, .jot, .joy, .kindle, .like, .mail, .new, .shop, .smile and .zero, at a total cost of $14.06m

The British Broadcasting Corporation bid for .bbc. Cost: $185,000

Apple inc. bid for .apple. Cost: $185,000

Wal-Mart stores bid for .一号店, .asda, .george, .grocery, .samsclub and .walmart. Total cost: $1.11m

Nominet UK (the UK's registrar, responsible for the .uk TLD) bid for .wales and .cymru at a cost of $370,000

Hasbro international bid for .transformers, cost $185,000

Microsoft corporation bid for 11 names, including .azure, .bing, .windows, .skype and .xbox. Cost: $2.035m

Sony, through three subsidiaries, bid for .playstation, .sony and .xperia. Cost: $555,000

Ladbrokes bid on .bet and .ladbrokes, costing $370,000.

Uniregistry, corp bid on 55 names including .sexy, .hiphop, .christmas, .pizza, .tattoo and .yoga. It cost $10.175m

 

Klondyke City, or .klondyke? Photograph: Getty Images

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

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“Stinking Googles should be killed”: why 4chan is using a search engine as a racist slur

Users of the anonymous forum are targeting Google after the company introduced a programme for censoring abusive language.

Contains examples of racist language and memes.

“You were born a Google, and you are going to die a Google.”

Despite the lack of obscenity and profanity in this sentence, you have probably realised it was intended to be offensive. It is just one of hundreds of similar messages posted by the users of 4chan’s Pol board – an anonymous forum where people go to be politically incorrect. But they haven’t suddenly seen the error of their ways about using the n-word to demean their fellow human beings – instead they are trying to make the word “Google” itself become a racist slur.

In an undertaking known as “Operation Google”, some 4chan users are resisting Google’s latest artificial intelligence program, Conversation AI, by swapping smears for the names of Google products. Conversation AI aims to spot and flag offensive language online, with the eventual possibility that it could automatically delete abusive comments. The famously outspoken forum 4chan, and the similar website 8chan, didn’t like this, and began their campaign which sees them refer to “Jews” as “Skypes”, Muslims as “Skittles”, and black people as “Googles”.

If it weren’t for the utterly abhorrent racism – which includes users conflating Google’s chat tool “Hangouts” with pictures of lynched African-Americans – it would be a genius idea. The group aims to force Google to censor its own name, making its AI redundant. Yet some have acknowledged this might not ultimately work – as the AI will be able to use contextual clues to filter out when “Google” is used positively or pejoratively – and their ultimate aim is now simply to make “Google” a racist slur as revenge.


Posters from 4chan

“If you're posting anything on social media, just casually replace n****rs/blacks with googles. Act as if it's already a thing,” wrote one anonymous user. “Ignore the company, just focus on the word. Casually is the important word here – don't force it. In a month or two, Google will find themselves running a company which is effectively called ‘n****r’. And their entire brand is built on that name, so they can't just change it.”

There is no doubt that Conversation AI is questionable to anyone who values free speech. Although most people desire a nicer internet, it is hard to agree that this should be achieved by blocking out large swathes of people, and putting the power to do so in the hands of one company. Additionally, algorithms can’t yet accurately detect sarcasm and humour, so false-positives are highly likely when a bot tries to identify whether something is offensive. Indeed, Wired journalist Andy Greenberg tested Conversation AI out and discovered it gave “I shit you not” 98 out of 100 on its personal attack scale.

Yet these 4chan users have made it impossible to agree with their fight against Google by combining it with their racism. Google scores the word “moron” 99 out of 100 on its offensiveness scale. Had protestors decided to replace this – or possibly even more offensive words like “bitch” or “motherfucker” – with “Google”, pretty much everyone would be on board.

Some 4chan users are aware of this – and indeed it is important not to consider the site a unanimous entity. “You're just making yourselves look like idiots and ruining any legitimate effort to actually do this properly,” wrote one user, while some discussed their concerns that “normies” – ie. normal people – would never join in. Other 4chan users are against Operation Google as they see it as self-censorship, or simply just stupid.


Memes from 4chan

But anyone who disregards these efforts as the work of morons (or should that be Bings?) clearly does not understand the power of 4chan. The site brought down Microsoft’s AI Tay in a single day, brought the Unicode swastika (卐) to the top of Google’s trends list in 2008, hacked Sarah Palin’s email account, and leaked a large number of celebrity nudes in 2014. If the Ten Commandments were rewritten for the modern age and Moses took to Mount Sinai to wave two 16GB Tablets in the air, then the number one rule would be short and sweet: Thou shalt not mess with 4chan.

It is unclear yet how Google will respond to the attack, and whether this will ultimately affect the AI. Yet despite what ten years of Disney conditioning taught us as children, the world isn’t split into goodies and baddies. While 4chan’s methods are deplorable, their aim of questioning whether one company should have the power to censor the internet is not.

Google also hit headlines this week for its new “YouTube Heroes” program, a system that sees YouTube users rewarded with points when they flag offensive videos. It’s not hard to see how this kind of crowdsourced censorship is undesirable, particularly again as the chance for things to be incorrectly flagged is huge. A few weeks ago, popular YouTubers also hit back at censorship that saw them lose their advertising money from the site, leading #YouTubeIsOverParty to trend on Twitter. Perhaps ultimately, 4chan didn't need to go on a campaign to damage Google's name. It might already have been doing a good enough job of that itself.

Google has been contacted for comment.

Amelia Tait is a technology and digital culture writer at the New Statesman.