The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN, /ˈaɪkćn/ EYE-kan) is a nonprofit organization that is responsible for coordinating the maintenance and procedures of several databases related to the namespaces of the Internet, ensuring the network's stable and secure operation. ICANN performs the actual technical maintenance work of the central Internet address pools and DNS root zone registries pursuant to the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) function contract. The contract regarding the IANA stewardship functions between ICANN and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) of the United States Department of Commerce ended on October 1, 2016, formally transitioning the functions to the global multi-stakeholder community.
Much of its work has concerned the Internet's global Domain Name System (DNS), including policy development for internationalization of the DNS system, introduction of new generic top-level domains (TLDs), and the operation of root name servers. The numbering facilities ICANN manages include the Internet Protocol address spaces for IPv4 and IPv6, and assignment of address blocks to regional Internet registries. ICANN also maintains registries of Internet Protocol identifiers.
ICANN's primary principles of operation have been described as helping preserve the operational stability of the Internet; to promote competition; to achieve broad representation of the global Internet community; and to develop policies appropriate to its mission through bottom-up, consensus-based processes.
ICANN was created on September 18, 1998, and incorporated on September 30, 1998, in the state of California. It is headquartered in the Playa Vista neighborhood of Los Angeles.
One task that ICANN was asked to do was to address the issue of domain name ownership resolution for generic top-level domains (gTLDs). ICANN's attempt at such a policy was drafted in close cooperation with the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), and the result has now become known as the Uniform Dispute Resolution Policy (UDRP). This policy essentially attempts to provide a mechanism for rapid, cheap and reasonable resolution of domain name conflicts, avoiding the traditional court system for disputes by allowing cases to be brought to one of a set of bodies that arbitrate domain name disputes. According to ICANN policy, a domain registrant must agree to be bound by the UDRP—they cannot get a domain name without agreeing to this.
Examination of the UDRP decision patterns has caused some to conclude that compulsory domain name arbitration is less likely to give a fair hearing to domain name owners asserting defenses under the First Amendment and other laws, compared to the federal courts of appeal in particular.
In 2013, the initial report of ICANN's Expert Working Group has recommended that the present form of Whois, a utility that allows anyone to know who has registered a domain name on the Internet, should be "abandoned". It recommends it be replaced with a system that keeps most registration information secret (or "gated") from most Internet users, and only discloses information for "permissible purposes". ICANN's list of permissible purposes includes domain name research, domain name sale and purchase, regulatory enforcement, personal data protection, legal actions, and abuse mitigation. Whois has been a key tool of investigative journalists interested in determining who was disseminating information on the Internet. The use of whois by the free press is not included in the list of permissible purposes in the initial report.
Since its creation, ICANN has been the subject of criticism and controversy. In 2000, professor Michael Froomkin of the University of Miami School of Law argued that ICANN's relationship with the U.S. Department of Commerce is illegal, in violation of either the Constitution or federal statutes. In 2009, the new Affirmation of Commitments agreement between ICANN and the U.S. Department of Commerce, that aimed to create international oversight, ran into criticism.
During December 2011, the Federal Trade Commission stated ICANN had long failed to provide safeguards that protect consumers from online swindlers.
Also during 2011, seventy-nine companies, including The Coca-Cola Company, Hewlett-Packard, Samsung and others, signed a petition against ICANN's new TLD program (sometimes referred to as a "commercial landgrab"), in a group organized by the Association of National Advertisers. As of September 2014, this group, the Coalition for Responsible Internet Domain Oversight, that opposes the rollout of ICANN's TLD expansion program, has been joined by 102 associations and 79 major companies. Partly as a response to this criticism, ICANN initiated an effort to protect trademarks in domain name registrations, which eventually culminated in the establishment of the Trademark Clearinghouse.