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Verisign says its coronavirus fee waivers have saved businesses millions

Verisign has decided to extend the temporary fee waiver it introduced in April for another two months, declaring the scheme a success so far.

On April 2, the company said it would no longer charge a fee when a registrant restores a domain in the period between expiration and deletion. Many registrars passed this on to their customers.

The stated goal of the offer was to help out registrants laid low by coronavirus.

“We estimate these restore fee waivers have already saved several million dollars for registrants of all types, including hard hit small businesses,” Verisign said in a blog post yesterday.

The service typically retails for around $80, so we’re talking about tens of thousands of domains that have been restored post-expiration for free over the space of two months.

Now, Verisign says the offer, which had been due to expire at the start of June, will end on August 1.

The company added that it will also waive the restore fees for names in .cc, .tv, .name and its four IDN gTLDs effective June 1.

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Industry growth driven by new gTLD(s) in Q1

The number of domain names registered worldwide increased by 4.5 million in the first quarter, a sequential growth of 1.2%, largely due to new gTLDs and one new gTLD in particular, judging by Verisign’s latest data.

According to the company’s latest Domain Name Industry Brief, ShortDot’s .icu grew by 1.6 million domains during the quarter.

That’s more than half the growth of the new gTLDs as a whole, which grew by three million names to close March at 32.3 million.

.icu is one of those inexplicable, faddy Chinese phenomena. Its top registrar, West.cn, is currently selling them for the equivalent of $0.70 for the first year.

It’s now the eighth-largest TLD of any type, sitting on the DNIB league table between .org and .nl.

Fellow Chinese favorite .top was responsible for about 300,000 extra domains, though it’s lost most of that growth post-quarter, if zone files are any guide.

.xyz also appears to have had a decent quarter, growing by a couple hundred thousand names.

Verisign’s own .com contributed an additional 1.9 million domains, ending Q1 at 147.3 million. Baby brother .net was basically flat at 13.4 million.

The ccTLD space continued the decline of the last few quarters, coming in down 200,000 names at 157.4 million. Annually, ccTLDs were up by 600,000 names, however.

Overall, there were 366.8 million domain registrations in the world at the end of Q1, an increase of 14.9 million or 4.2% compared to the same moment last year.

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World’s youngest country launches its Nazi-risk TLD next week

South Sudan is gearing up to launch its controversial top-level domain, .ss, on Monday.

It’s being run by the National Communication Authority for the country, which was founded in 2011 after its split from Sudan and is the world’s youngest nation.

As I noted back then, while SS was the natural and obvious choice of ISO country code, it’s potentially controversial due to the risk of it being used by modern-day Nazis in honor of Hitler’s Schutzstaffel.

Arguably, the risk nine years later is even greater due to the rise of the populist, nationalist right around the world.

So some readers may be pleased to hear that the registry is playing its launch by the book, starting with a sunrise period from June 1 to July 15. Trademark owners will have to show proof of ownership.

I’m sure Hugo Boss already has an intern with a checkbook, trademark certificate and sleeping bag outside the registry’s HQ, to be sure to be first in line on Monday.

Sunrise will be followed by a landrush period from July 17 to August 17, during which names can be acquired for a premium fee.

Immediately after that there’ll be an early access period, from August 19 to August 29, with more premium fees. General availability will begin September 1.

Perhaps surprisingly, given the direction other ccTLDs have been taking over the last decade, South Sudan has opted for a three-level structure, with registrations possible under .com.ss, .net.ss, .biz.ss, .org.ss, .gov.ss, .edu.ss, .sch.ss and .me.ss.

The com/net/biz/me versions are open to all. The others require some proof that the registrant belongs to the specific category.

The registry says it plans to make direct second-level regs available “at a later date”.

Getting your hands on a .ss domain may prove difficult.

Trademark owners won’t be able to use their regular corporate registrar (at least not directly) as NCA is only currently accredited South Sudan-based registrars. So far, only two have been accredited. Neither are also ICANN-accredited.

One is rather unfortunately called JuHub. It’s apparently using a free domain from Freenom’s .ml (Mali) and is listed as having its email at Gmail, which may not inspire confidence. Its web site does not resolve for me.

The other is NamesForUs, which is already taking pre-registration requests. No pricing is available.

The registry’s web site has also been down for most of today, and appears to have been hacked by a CBD splogger at some point, neither of which bodes well.

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Is ICANN chickening out of Whois access role?

Kevin Murphy, May 26, 2020, Domain Policy

As talks over a centralized system for Whois access enter their eleventh hour, confusion has been sown over whether ICANN still wants to play ball.

The ICANN working group tasked with creating a “unified access model” for Whois data, currently rendered private by the GDPR privacy law, was forced last week to ask ICANN’s board of directors three blunt questions about how it sees its future role.

The group has been working for two years on a system of Whois access based around a central gateway for requests, which could be made only by those given credentials by an accreditation authority, which would also be able to revoke access rights if abused.

The proposed model as a whole has come to be known as SSAD, for System for Standardized Access/Disclosure.

The assumption has been that ICANN would act in these roles, either hands-on or by subcontracting the functions out to third parties, largely because ICANN has given every indication that it would and is arguably inventor of the concept.

But that assumption was thrown into doubt last Thursday, during a working group teleconference, when ICANN board liaison Chris Disspain worried aloud that the group may be pushing ICANN into areas beyond its remit.

Disspain said he was “increasingly uncomfortable with the stretching of ICANN’s mandate”, and that there was no guarantee that the board would approve a policy that appeared to push it outside the boundaries of its mission statement and bylaws.

“While it may be convenient and it might seem to solve the problem to say ‘Well, let ICANN do it’, I don’t think anyone should assume that ICANN will,” he said.

He stressed that he was speaking in his personal capacity rather on behalf of the board, but added that he was speaking based on his over eight years of experience on the board.

He spoke within the context of a discussion about how Whois access accreditation could be revoked in the event that the user abused their privileges, and whether an ICANN department such as Compliance should be responsible.

Several working group members expressed surprise at his remarks, with Milton Mueller of the Non-Commercial Stakeholders Group later calling it “a sudden and rather suspicious departure from nearly two years of ICANN Org statements and activities”.

The confusion comes at a critical juncture for the working group, which has to wrap up its work before chair Janis Karklins quits on June 30.

Karklins wrote to the board late last week to ask:

If SSAD becomes an adopted consensus policy, would ICANN Org will perform the Accreditation Authority function?

If SSAD becomes an adopted consensus policy, would ICANN Org will perform the central Gateway function?

If SSAD becomes an adopted consensus policy, would ICANN Org enforces compliance of SSAD users and involved parties with its consensus policy?

It’s a kinda important set of questions, but there’s no guarantee ICANN will provide straight answers.

When the working group, known as the EPDP, wraps up, the policy will go to the GNSO Council for approval before it goes to the board.

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Irony alert! Data protection agency complains it can’t get access to private Whois data

Kevin Murphy, May 26, 2020, Domain Policy

A European data protection authority has complained to ICANN after a registrar refused to hand over one of its customers’ private Whois records, citing the GDPR data protection regulation, according to ICANN.

Compounding the irony, the DPA wanted the data as part of its probe into an alleged GDPR violation at the domain in question.

This is the frankly hilarious scenario outlined in a letter (pdf) from ICANN boss Göran Marby to Andrea Jelinek, chair of the European Data Protection Board, last week.

Since May 2018, registrars and registries have been obliged under ICANN rules to redact all personally identifiable information from public Whois records, because of the EU’s General Data Protection regulation.

This has irked the likes of law enforcement and intellectual property owners, who have found it increasingly difficult to discover the identities of suspected bad actors such as fraudsters and cybersquatters.

Registrars are still obliged to hand over data upon request in certain circumstances, but the rules are vague, requiring a judgement call:

Registry and Registrar MUST provide reasonable access to Personal Data in Registration Data to third parties on the basis of a legitimate interests pursued by the third party, except where such interests are overridden by the interests or fundamental rights and freedoms of the Registered Name Holder or data subject pursuant to Article 6(1)(f) GDPR.

While an ICANN working group has been attempting to come up with a clearer-cut set of guidelines, administered by a central body, this so-called SSAD (System for Standardized Access/Disclosure) has yet to come to fruition.

So when an unidentified European DPA recently asked a similarly unidentified non-EU registrar for the Whois data of somebody they suspected of GDPR violations, the registrar told it to get stuffed.

It told the DPA it would “not act against a domain name without any clear and unambiguous evidence for the fraudulent behavior” and said it would respond to legal requests in its own jurisdiction, according to ICANN.

The DPA complained to ICANN, and now ICANN is using that complaint to shame the EDPB into getting off the fence and providing some much-needed clarity about when registrars can declassify Whois data without breaking the law.

Marby wrote that registrars are having to apply their “subjective judgment and discretion” and will most often come down on the side of registrants in order to reduce their GDPR risk. He wrote:

ICANN org would respectfully suggest to the EDPB that a more explicit recognition of the importance of certain legitimate interests, including the relevance of public interests, combined with clearer guidelines on balancing, could address these problems.

ICANN org would respectfully suggest to the EDPB to consider issuing additional specific guidance on this topic to ensure that entities with a legitimate interest in obtaining access to non-public gTLD registration data are able to do so. Guidance would in particular be appreciated on how to balance legitimate interests in access to data with the interests of the data subject concerned

ICANN and the EDPB have been communicating about this issue for a couple of years now, with ICANN looking for some clarity on this largely untested area of law, but the EDPB’s responses to data have been pretty vague and unhelpful, almost as if it doesn’t know what the hell it’s doing either.

Will this latest example of the unintended consequences of GDPR give the Board the kick up the bum it needs to start talking in specifics? We’ll have to wait and see.

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ICANN dissenter explains why she wanted .org sale approved

ICANN has finally published the dissenting statement made by one of its directors following the vote to deny Ethos Capital the right to acquire Public Interest Registry from the Internet Society.

Avri Doria was one of only two directors to vote against the majority on the April 30 resolution, and the only one to file a written statement for the record, which ICANN has now published (pdf). It reads:

Briefly, I believe that the contractual conditions have been met by PIR and Ethos and that they have gone beyond these required contractual conditions to offer significant public interest commitments currently missing from the current contract.

On balance after intense study of the proposal I have come to conclusion that the Public Interest of registrants and users is better served by the PICs offered by PIR, though they could
be stronger, than by forcing PIR to remain within ISOC without any guarantees on public interest related to data usage and freedom of expression.

In exchange for ICANN approval of the deal, Ethos had promised to cap its price increases at 10% for eight years and to create a largely independent stewardship council to monitor issues related to privacy and free speech in .org.

With ICANN voting to deny the acquisition, PIR is not required to live up to those commitments, but opponents of the deal feel that its not-for-profit status under ISOC control provide stronger protections against bad behavior.

ICANN said it rejected the deal on “public interest” grounds for a variety of reasons including the lack of transparency into Ethos’ ultimate ownership, distrust that Ethos would be able to service its debt, doubt over its management in the long term, and the sheer volume of dissent from the community.

Also playing a strong role was an objection from the California attorney general, who pulled rank and informed ICANN that it should reject the deal, reminding the organization that it was subject to his oversight. This has been described as a dangerous precedent.

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CSC removes reference to “retiring” new gTLD domain after retiring new gTLD domain

The corporate registrar and new gTLD management consultant CSC Global has ditched a new gTLD domain in favor of a .com, but edited its announcement after the poor optics became clear.

In a brief blog post this week, the company wrote:

We’re retiring cscdigitalbrand.services to give you a more user-friendly interface at cscdbs.com.

From the trusted provider of choice for Forbes Global 2000 companies, this more user-friendly site is filled with information you need to secure and protect your brand. You’ll experience a brand new look and feel, at-a-glance facts and figures, learn about the latest digital threats, access our trusted resources, and see what our customers are saying.

Visit the site to learn more about our core solutions: domain management, domain security, and brand and fraud protection.

But the current version of the post expunges the first paragraph, referring to the retirement of its .services domain, entirely.

I’m going to guess this happened after OnlineDomain reported the move.

But the original text is still in the blog’s cached RSS feed at Feedly.

CSC blog post

It’s perhaps not surprising that CSC would not want to draw attention to the fact that it’s withdrawn to a .com from a .services, the gTLD managed by Donuts.

After all, CSC manages dozens of new gTLDs for clients including Apple, Yahoo and Home Depot, and releases quarterly reports tracking and encouraging activation of dot-brands.

Interestingly, and I’m veering a little off-topic here, there is a .csc new gTLD but CSC does not own it. It was delegated to a company called Computer Sciences Corporation (ironically through an application managed by CSC rival MarkMonitor) which also owns csc.com.

Computer Sciences Corporation never really got around to using .csc, and in 2017 merged with a unit of HP to form DXC Technology.

If you visit nic.csc today, you’ll be redirected to dxc.technology/nic, which bears a notice that it’s the “registry for the .dxc top-level domain”.

Given that the .dxc top-level domain doesn’t actually exist, I think this might make DXC the first company to openly declare its intent to go after a dot-brand in the next round of new gTLDs.

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Google launches .meet gTLD after Meet service goes free during lockdown

Google Registry is to launch its .meet gTLD next week with a sunrise period for trademark owners, but, perhaps controversially, it intends to keep the rest of the domains for itself.

It is expected that the company plans to use .meet domains in its Google Meet conferencing service, which was recently revamped and went free-to-use after Google realized that rival Zoom was eating its lunch during the coronavirus lockdown.

Google bought the .meet gTLD from Afilias back in 2015 but has kept it unused so far, even after the Meet service opened in 2017.

But according to ICANN records, it’s due to go into a one-month sunrise period from May 25, with an open-ended Trademark Claims period from June 25.

In a brief statement on its web site Google says:

Google Registry is launching the .meet TLD. This domain is Spec 9/ROCC exempt, which means we will be the registrant for all domains on the TLD and it will not be made generally available. The RRA for the TLD is available upon request, but registrations on behalf of the registry will be processed through a small number of registrars with whom the relevant product teams at Google work.

Translated from ICANN-speak, this means that Google has an exemption from Specification 9 in its .meet registry contract, releasing it from the Registry Operator Code of Conduct, which obliges registries to treat all registrars equally.

This means Google can’t sell the domains to anyone else, nor can it allow them to be controlled by anyone else, and it can use a limited pool of registrars to register names.

Spec 9 is a bit different to Spec 13, which exempts dot-brands from ICANN trademark-protection rules such as sunrise and Trademark Claims. You could argue that Spec 9 is “dot-brand lite”.

But what both Spec 9 and Spec 13 have in common is that they can’t be used in gTLDs ICANN considers a “generic string”, which is defined as:

a string consisting of a word or term that denominates or describes a general class of goods, services, groups, organizations or things, as opposed to distinguishing a specific brand of goods, services, groups, organizations or things from those of others.

Does .meet qualify there? It’s undoubtedly a dictionary word, but does it also describe a class of things? Maybe.

Google’s search engine itself gives one definition of “meet” as “an organized event at which a number of races or other athletic contests are held”, which one could reasonably argue is a class of services.

When Afilias applied for .meet in 2012, it expected it to be used by dating sites.

Google did not addresses the non-genericness of the string in its Spec 9 application. That judgement appears to have been made by ICANN alone.

Previously, requests for Spec 9 exemptions from the likes of .giving, .star, .analytics, .latino, .mutual, and .channel have been rejected or withdrawn.

It seems that Spec 9 exemption is going to somewhat limit .meet’s utility, given that third-parties will not be able to get “control or use of any registrations”.

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Aussie ccTLD surges under coronavirus lockdown

Australia’s .au ccTLD may have been in decline recently, but it saw a surge in new domain registrations during its coronavirus lockdown, according to registry stats.

auDA said that 48,754 new .au domains were registered in April, a more than 23% increase on its April 2019 number.

The registry called this leap “the biggest month for new domain name creations we’ve seen in a while”. It averages about 40,000 per month, with seasonality.

The overall number of extant registrations was down a bit to 3,168,883, but auDA chalks this up to the expiration of domains registered during registrar promotions a year ago.

Australia was under its lockdown, which was less severe than in other countries, for the whole month of April. The measures were put in place March 21 and relaxed last week.

Numbers for March show a year-over-year decline of 1.4% in new adds.

While auDA does not attribute its April growth to lockdown, I think the numbers show that the movement restrictions imposed certainly didn’t hurt .au’s business.

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Spring Break redux! ICANN picks Cancun for 2023 meeting

Kevin Murphy, May 13, 2020, Domain Policy

Having had its plans for a public meeting in Cancun, Mexico concurrent with Spring Break nixed by the nasty coronavirus this March, ICANN has decided to try again not once but twice.

Not only is it planning to hold its Community Forum there next year, but its board of directors has just voted to return in 2023 also, in a meeting that will run from March 11 to 16.

It will be ICANN 76. But the location of ICANN 75, scheduled for September 2022, is still a mystery. The board has authorized negotiations with the proposed venue(s) but has redacted any clues as to where it might be.

We don’t even know which of ICANN’s five rotating geographic regions it will be in, though Asia-Pac seems most likely, given that its last physical meeting there was in March 2019.

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