Amazon offered the governments of Brazil and Peru millions of dollars' worth of Kindles and AWS hosting if they would stop blocking its effort to get hold of the .amazon top-level domain.
The governments turned the offer down.
This is the latest twist in the long-running saga between one of the world's most powerful companies and two South American governments irritated with US government spying.
Meeting at a conference run by DNS overseer ICANN this week, Amazon again pushed to be allowed to set up and run the .amazon top-level domain having won an independent appeal process that said the decision to block it had been arbitrary.
ICANN has been stuck in the middle of the dispute since 2012 when it opened up the internet's naming systems to any and all applications. Amazon applied for .amazon and passed the various application requirements with flying colors and, critically, no objections.
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But then, shortly after the extent of US mass surveillance was revealed by Edward Snowden, including the detail that Brazil's then-president Dilma Rousseff had been tapped by the NSA, the Brazilian government came out very strongly against the application, arguing that handing dot-amazon to Jeff Bezos' online bazaar would cause damage. The Amazon river runs through Brazil's territory, don't forget.
How would an internet extension affect a river and geographic region? No one knows. But it didn't stop the Brazilian and Peruvian governments from insisting it not go forward. And ICANN's staff and board of directors formally agreed, blocking it from ending up in Bezos' hands.
Critically, however, neither the governments nor ICANN ever gave a rationale for their decision, so when Amazon took the issue to ICANN's independent review panel, the three judges decided that the DNS overseer had broken its own bylaws and ordered that it reconsider Amazon's application to operate dot-amazon.
You two talk about it
ICANN attempted to stay out of the fight, and told Amazon and the Brazilian government (it is mostly the Brazilians that are fighting the issue) to sort out the matter between themselves.
And this week, we got to see the end result of those negotiations. According to a letter [PDF] sent by the Amazon Cooperation Treaty Organization's (ACTO) – which has been in talks with the mega-corporation for more than a year - Amazon offered to:
- Set up and promote Amazonian culture and heritage to the tune of $1m over four years.
- Block registration of a long list of names under the .amazon extension given to it by the Brazilian and Peruvian governments.
- Offer $5m in "credits" for Amazon goods and services – basically free Kindle e-readers and free AWS hosting services
Despite all that, however, the Brazilian government still said no.
That has put ICANN on the wringer. Having kowtowed to governments and blocked the application without going through the proper processes, it was then hoisted on its own petard by Amazon which used the accountability measures introduced in part to allow ICANN to be freed from US government control.
ICANN can neither ignore the world's governments, nor be seen to be ignoring its own systems which were specifically introduced to stop it from becoming the plaything of the world's governments.
So, um, another meeting?
What’s the upshot? More punting in the long grass of course. In a Board resolution passed a few days ago, ICANN directed its CEO to host yet more meetings between Amazon and the South American governments and come up with a proposal to present to the ICANN Board.
But even that decision – finally taken more than six years after the initial application – includes in it the strong likelihood that no agreement will be reached. It includes the words "if possible" in the text of the resolution:
The Board directs the ICANN President and CEO or his designee(s), if possible, to provide a proposal to the Board, on the .AMAZON applications to allow the Board to take a decision on the delegation of the strings represented in the .AMAZON applications.
Having turned down $5m of free gear, you have to wonder what exactly will budge the Brazilian government from its opposition to Amazon's own internet extension. With ICANN's independence and credibility at stake, the time for serious negotiations has begun.
Unfortunately, we have yet to find a single person that believes ICANN has the skills to pull off such a delicate act of diplomacy. So the ticking time bomb keeps ticking. ®