ICANN Frowns on the Use of the Emoji in Domain Names

November 22, 2017
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Businesses May Want to Reconsider Using an Emoji in their Domain Name

Businesses that were hoping to capitalize on the emoji craze by incorporating them into their domain names will have to go back to the drawing board. The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers’ (ICANN) Security and Stability Advisory Committee (SSAC) recently published an advisory strongly opposing the use of an emoji.

ICANN Frowns on the Use of Emoji in Domain Names

Artwork courtesy of Emoji Island

Emojis are increasingly used to augment or replace text in everything from text messages to social media posts. Apple’s latest phone includes face scanners that can create a 3D emoji based on your expressions.

Not surprisingly, entities have sought to include emojis in their domain names. In May, the SSAC weighed in and recommended against the registration of any domain name that includes emoji. It concluded that such domains “may not function consistently or may not be universally accessible as expected.”

Use of Emoji Poses Risk of Confusion

As explained in the ICANN advisory, the standard for Internationalized Domain Names in Applications (IDNA) expressly excludes emoji from the characters accepted for use in domain names. Accordingly, the practical implication is that domain names with emoji would not be accepted or processed consistently by applications. “From an architectural perspective, if IDNs are to continue to be used as stable and secure identifiers, adherence to the original design goals of IDNA is needed,” the SSAC report concluded.

The SSAC advisory also noted that many emoji are visually similar and can be difficult to distinguish, especially when displayed in small fonts or by different applications. For instance, there are more than 20 emoji with different code points that can be used to convey a “happy face.”

While recipients of a text message can understand what the sender is intending to convey, when emoji are used in domain names, such ambiguities increase the risk of user confusion. “As a result, the user is less likely to reach the intended resource and may instead be tricked by a phishing site or other intentional misrepresentation,” the SSAC states. “It is likely to be even harder for the user to remember and type the exact emoji (or emoji sequence) that the registrant intended.”

The SSAC also raises concerns about the ability to use code to “glue” emoji together to create new ones. It highlights that a single unmodified emoji might look exactly the same as its “glued together” counterpart to some users. Moreover, systems that do not support emoji composition will display the individual components of a “glued together” emoji as a sequence of separate emoji, with results that may visually be very different from what was intended.

Along the same lines, the advisory cites the confusion that could be created by the ability to apply different skin tones to emoji. “This presents an obvious confusability challenge to users who may find it difficult to detect these color differences, either because they do not perceive them (e.g., they are color-blind) or because the emoji are displayed in a way that makes them indistinguishable,” the report states.

Lastly, the SSAC emphasized the importance of universal acceptance, specifically the importance of applications and systems accepting, validating, storing, processing, and displaying of all domain names unambiguously. “Currently, it is already difficult to get people to accept the new labels that have appeared with IDNs and the new generic TLD (gTLD) program,” the advisory states. “Adding emoji to domain name labels will only make this problem worse.”

Bottom Line for Businesses

As highlighted above, navigating the registration of domain names can be both technically and legally complex. Businesses should work with an attorney experienced in the domain name field to develop comprehensive domain name strategies that are tailored to their individual needs.

Do you have any questions? Would you like to discuss the matter further? If so, please contact me, David Einhorn, at 201-806-3364.