The tragic irony of Amazon vs. Amazon

Imagine if a Brazilian technology company created an online store called Appalachia. And, over the years, Appalachia.com grew to become a global giant, so much so that the company pursued exclusive ownership of the top-level domain Appalachia. So not only would it have control over Appalachia.com, but also .Appalachia, making it sole landlord over a name that so many Americans call home.

This is precisely what is now happening with Amazon (the company) and the region known as the Amazon. On May 15, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) approved delegation of the Amazon domain to the company pending a 30-day comment period, which is largely a formality. This concludes a seven-year battle between the eight countries of the Amazon Basin and the company that has long fought for global control of the name. In the future, instead of entering Amazon.com to visit the website one might simply enter the word Amazon.

There are, of course, the “optics” of an American company taking over a name of a region of the world outside of America, which are less than ideal. But Amazon has rarely been one to worry about optics — and perhaps “conservation” is a concept Amazon should be more sensitive to.

It is sad irony when a company so closely associated with the global forces of consumerism has taken over the name of a region imperiled by the global forces of consumerism.

According to the World Wildlife Fund, one in ten known species on Earth call the Amazon home. Approximately 40% of South America falls within the Amazon Basin, accounting for 1.4 billion acres of dense forests and half of the planet’s remaining tropical forests. Scientists have long noted a clear link between the health of the Amazon and the health of our planet. What message are we sending the next generation when we completely divorce a name from the region it represents, particularly a region that we all need to not only survive but thrive?

This point is not lost on the presidents of the four Andean nations (Peru, Colombia, Bolivia and Ecuador) who recently signed a declaration in protest, writing (in part) that “ICANN would not only be setting a serious precedent by prioritizing private commercial interests over the considerations of public policy of the States, such as the rights of indigenous peoples and the preservation of the Amazon in favor of Humanity and against global warming.”

While Amazon may have the legal right to the name, there are larger rights at stake. The rights of nature. The rights of the next generation to a world that is not irreparably consumed and commercialized. ICANN can always change its bylaws to respect the rights of nature, just as it respects the rights of trademark holders.

Ideally, Amazon would have followed the lead of Patagonia (the company). When Patagonia attempted to own the top-level domain .Patagonia, it too met resistance from South American countries. But, unlike Amazon, Patagonia simply withdrew its request. Perhaps the company realized that some names are best left alone.

Amazon’s decision to move forward with .amazon, though it may comply with ICANN’s rules and regulations, sends a troubling message to the world at a time when the world should be prioritizing conservation over commerce. If we can’t even protect the name, what does this mean for the region?

Perhaps if Jeff Bezos were to do it again he’d select a name not so obviously associated with a place, a name that would be more easily trademarked. But money brings might, and this might has won over common sense. Amazon, the company, is not as important to the planet as Amazon, the region.

Should Amazon be limited to .com (and its many country codes), consumers would not suffer. We have all managed to find our way to the home page of Amazon over the years. Owning the top-level domain is simply another step toward world domination, but a step too far.

Even Mr. Bezos is quick to remind the world that he expects Amazon, the company, to one day fail. He once said “Amazon will go bankrupt. If you look at large companies, their lifespans tend to be 30-plus years, not a hundred-plus years.” Let us hope that the future of the Amazon region is considerably brighter than Amazon the company.

What can we, the consumers of the world, do? We can write to Mr. Bezos and tell him do his part to not only conserve the name but also the region. Even if Amazon does secure this top-level domain, there is no reason why the company can’t keep the name off-limits to commerce, or, better yet, devote this virtual real estate to helping protect the physical real estate.

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