ICANN took a giant step towards true internationalization last week when it signed a new agreement with the U.S. government that explicitly envisions a transition into privatization of the organization. Granted, the new agreement still gives the U.S. Department of Commerce a role in overseeing and coordinating ICANN activities, but ICANN accountability is now routed through internal processes instead of through the U.S. Department of Commerce. This move is squarely aimed at criticism that ICANN is too U.S.-centric and doesn’t represent the global nature of the Internet.
But the U.S. government has not completely stepped out of regulating the Internet: on the contrary, the FTC has just passed new guidelines that extend existing regulations to mandate disclosure of conflicts of interests in blogger product reviews. For example, the guidelines now require that bloggers disclose any payment they’ve received for their endorsements and celebrity endorsers must disclose advertiser relationships even when their endorsements occur outside of traditional advertisements–clearly a warning to the Twitter crowd. Although a violation does carry potentially hefty fines, the FTC has hastened to give assurances that they’ll only target advertisers and “big fish” bloggers. Given the size of the blogosphere and the FTC’s limited resources, such a strategy may be the only practical approach to take. However, any attempt to regulate Internet content must run through a jungle of legal issues, with First Amendment, safe harbor and jurisdictional questions being only a few that spring to mind. The FTC will have to step carefully, since it could very well be the precedent-setter for this administration’s regulation of the Internet.