On 27 July 2021, ICANN’s Asia Pacific Regional At Large Organisation (APRALO) hosted an online seminar focused on the advancement of Internationalised Domain Names (IDNs) and the role of IDNs for creating a more inclusive Internet.
This event hosted several speakers to deliver their research and findings on IDNs. The speakers were Emily Taylor of Oxford Information Labs, Sarmad Hussain of ICANN, Justine Chew of APRALO and the session was moderated by Satish Babu, Chair, APRALO & Co-Chair, At-Large IDN Working Group.
Highlights from the IDN World Report 2021
First, Emily Taylor, CEO of Oxford Information Labs (OXIL) presented highlights from the 2021 World Report on IDNs. The presentation provided a focus on the use of IDNs in the Asia-Pacific region, where some of the largest IDN TLDs such as .中国 (China) and .рф (Russia) are located. OXIL’s research showed the growth of IDNs is more volatile than regular domains. Ten years ago IDNs were experiencing a high level of growth but in the past few years IDNs have grown less compared to all domains.
The presentation also covered a recent study on the Universal Acceptance of emails, conducted by OXIL on behalf of EURid for the IDN World Report. The purpose of the study was to investigate the performance of major email clients and services in supporting IDNs. The study found that the underlying message transfer agent (MTA) software has been shown to successfully support IDNs, Unicode email prefixes and Unicode content and headers. However, the issues with MTA supporting IDNs are usually down to a lack of support by custom integrated software used for configuration. OXIL discussed how leading mail clients still have a long way to go to fully support IDNs and achieve UA in email.
The presentation also highlighted other main findings from the EURid UNESCO 2021 IDN World Report. For example, they discussed the linguistic variation and patterns for IDNs and concluded that four scripts comprise more than 90% of IDN registrations and those are Han Chinese, Latin, Cyrillic and Hangul. Also, OXIL showed that the majority of IDN registrations are in the Asia-Pacific region. The World Report’s analysis of IDN scripts and language content over the last ten years supports two key observations. One, the geographical distribution of IDNs reflect the scripts most commonly associated with regional languages clustering in those areas, such as Han script being most common in China for example. Second, the script of IDN is a reliable indicator of the language of web content behind the IDN. In other words, a Cyrillic script IDN name will most likely contain content in the Russian or Bulgarian language. Overall, these findings provide further information and context for the ways in which IDNs can promote and foster linguistic diversity in cyberspace globally - a key priority for UNESCO in support of WSIS action line C8 (Cultural diversity and identity, linguistic diversity and local content).
ICANN and IDNs
Sarmad Hussain Sr Director, ICANN UA & IDN Programs then presented findings on IDNs by first giving a detailed account of IDN implementation since 2003 - the year in which the IDN Guidelines were endorsed by the ICANN Board. It was noted that these Guidelines have since been updated and amended several times. Sarmad described how ICANN responded to concerns expressed by the global IDN community on how Top-Level Domains should reflect labels that, while distinct or different at a purely technical level, would be considered as equivalent by people who speak the language in question. For example, in cases where traditional Chinese and simplified Chinese characters are the same, the resulting IDN TLDs will still have distinct punycode strings for the technical domain label. Initially this may not appear to be problematic but it does raise security concerns because if there are variant labels for two TLDs which appear as identical to users, then end users may easily become confused between the two IDN TLDs. Sarmad noted this could be used as a ransomware trap for end users to fall into.
Sarmad then elaborated on the findings of Universal Acceptance from the UASG027. This showed encouraging findings for IDN progress, such as email addresses are increasingly being accepted by global websites. In fact, the email address internationalisation (EAI) now has a working EAI Checker online, which is a globally accessible widget enabling users to ascertain whether the mail server advertises support for receiving EAI emails.
APRALO and IDNS
Justine Chew, ALAC Member & At-Large liaison for Subsequent Procedures gave a brief update on Subsequent Procedures policy recommendations for the next round of IDN new gTLD applications. Justine’s research was also aimed at advancing IDN accessibility and use to create a more inclusive Internet. The recommendations in this presentation were primarily focused on how IDNs can better practice and maintain TLD variants. One of the key recommendations made in this presentation was explaining the need to keep labels and variants together at top level IDNs. Further research recommended how to better organise and manage second level labels in IDNs to prevent confusion and keep TLDs variants distinct and clear for users.
The APRALO event was valuable for the IDN community as speakers were able to share useful IDN resources such as the EAI checker. Consequently, the APRALO event was successful in advancing the understanding of IDNs as it allowed for information sharing from several speakers and researchers of IDNs and provided a forum to share their expertise. The work discussed not only gave listeners insights, but also tangible resources for members of the Internet community to use in creating a more equitable internet environment. The presentations were followed by a lively discussion which highlighted opportunities for how the data and insights shared could be better understood and applied to tangible efforts to make IDNs more widely accessible.