Health domains for sale: the need for global health internet governance.J Med Internet Res. 2014;16(3):e62
Authors: Mackey TK, Liang BA, Kohler JC, Attaran A
A debate on Internet governance for health, or "eHealth governance", is emerging with the impending award of a new dot-health (.health) generic top-level domain name (gTLD) along with a host of other health-related domains. This development is critical as it will shape the future of the health Internet, allowing largely unrestricted use of .health second-level domain names by future registrants, raising concerns about the potential for privacy, use and marketing of health-related information, credibility of online health content, and potential for Internet fraud and abuse. Yet, prospective .health gTLD applicants do not provide adequate safeguards for use of .health or related domains and have few or no ties to the global health community. If approved, one of these for-profit corporate applicants would effectively control the future of the .health address on the Internet with arguably no active oversight from important international public health stakeholders. This would represent a lost opportunity for the public health, medical, and broader health community in establishing a trusted, transparent and reliable source for health on the Internet. Countries, medical associations, civil society, and consumer advocates have objected to these applications on grounds that they do not meet the public interest. We argue that there is an immediate need for action to postpone awarding of the .health gTLD and other health-related gTLDs to address these concerns and ensure the appropriate development of sound eHealth governance rules, principles, and use. This would support the crucial need of ensuring access to quality and evidence-based sources of health information online, as well as establishing a safe and reliable space on the Internet for health. We believe, if properly governed, .health and other domains could represent such a promise in the future.