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Most registrars did NOT “fail” abuse audit, ICANN says

Kevin Murphy, October 15, 2021, Domain Registrars

Most registrars did not “fail” a recent abuse audit, despite what I wrote in my original coverage, according to ICANN.

“Referring to a certain blog, none of the registrars failed the audit,” ICANN senior audit manager Yan Agranonik said during a session of ICANN 72’s Prep Week last night.

He’s talking about ME! He’s talking about ME!

“Failure would mean that there’s an irreparable finding of deficiency that can not be corrected timely or it just goes against the registrar’s business model,” Agranonik said.

An accompanying presentation reads:

None of the registrars “failed” the audit. “Failure” means that the auditee did not acknowledge/remediate identified violations of the RAA or their business practices are not compatible with RAA.

At the risk of prolonging a tedious semantic debate, what I reported in August, when the results of the audit were announced, was: “The large majority of accredited registrars failed an abuse-related audit at the first pass, according to ICANN.”

A bunch of registrar employees, and now apparently ICANN’s own head auditor, disagreed with my characterization.

ICANN had issued a press release stating that of 126 audited registrars, it had identified 111 “that were not fully compliant with the RAA’s requirements related to the receiving and handling of DNS abuse reports.”

To me, if ICANN checks whether you’re doing a thing you should be doing and you’re not doing the thing, that’s a fail.

But to ICANN, if ICANN checks whether you’re doing a thing you should be doing and you’re not doing the thing, and it tells you you’re not doing the thing you should be doing, so you start doing the thing, that’s not a fail.

I think reasonable people could disagree on the definitions here.

But I did write that the registrars “failed… according to ICANN”, and that appears to be inaccurate, so I’m happy to correct the record today.

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Surprise eleventh-hour picks for NomCom leadership after ICANN U-turn

Kevin Murphy, October 14, 2021, Domain Policy

ICANN has named the new chair of its influential Nominating Committee, and it’s not who you might have expected.

The Org last night said Michael Graham will chair NomCom for the 2022 cycle, with Damon Ashcraft taking the chair-elect role.

The news came weeks later than expected — live during an online Prep Week session of ICANN 72 last night in fact — and followed a secretive ICANN vote that saw the board of directors U-turn on its initial selection.

ICANN said that 2021 chair-elect Tracy Hackshaw — who under ICANN convention was the heir apparent for the chair, replacing Ole Jacobsen — had “withdrew his candidacy for 2022 NomCom Chair due to a new professional role he has taken”.

No additional information on the withdrawal, which came as a surprise even to NomCom insiders, was made available. Hackshaw has not responded to an October 5 request for comment and does not appear to have addressed his withdrawal in public.

It’s the second time in recent years a chair-elect has not gone on to take the chair. In 2015, Ron Andruff was snubbed after poor peer-evaluation results. Hackshaw, however, appears to have scored more respectably in his review.

While the leadership picks were not revealed until the 11th hour, it seems ICANN actually made its choice in secret two weeks ago.

In a September 30 vote, the board selected Graham and Ashcraft.

But that resolution actually overrode and replaced a September 12 resolution, which was never published, appointing Hackshaw as NomCom chair. The September 30 resolution states:

Whereas, prior to publishing the Approved Resolutions of the 12 September 2021 Board meeting, the Board became aware of new information that is relevant to the evaluation of candidates.

Whereas, taking into account this new information, the BGC has recommended that the Board rescind its previous resolution and approve Michael Graham be appointed as the 2022 NomCom Chair and J. Damon Ashcraft be appointed as the 2022 NomCom Chair-Elect

That resolution was redacted in its entirety until last night. For some reason ICANN found it necessary to keep its NomCom picks secret until the very last moment.

The 2022 NomCom has the responsibility of picking three ICANN directors, one member of the Public Technical Identifiers board, two ALAC reps, and one member each of the ccNSO Council and GNSO Council.

Both chair and chair-elect are IP lawyers. New chair Graham is travel company Expedia’s top IP guy, and Ashcraft is a partner at the law firm Snell & Wilmer. It’s Ashcraft’s second go at the job in recent years, having chaired the 2019 committee.

Due to the leadership kerfuffle, the NomCom is starting its work on this cycle slightly later than usual.

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Man with broken shift key sues ICANN and GoDaddy over Bitcoin domain

Kevin Murphy, October 13, 2021, Domain Policy

Sometimes I wonder if all they teach you at American law schools is how to correctly use upper-case letters.

A Georgia man who lost a cybersquatting case with Sotheby’s, concerning his registration of sothebysauctionbitcoin.com, has taken the auction house, along with ICANN, GoDaddy, and ADR Forum to court.

Harris’ case is filed pro se, which is Latin for “he doesn’t have a lawyer, his complaint makes no sense, and the case is going to get thrown out of court”.

He claims a UDRP decision that went against him recently was incorrect, that ADR Forum is corrupt and biased, and that the UDRP itself is flawed.

The domain was registered with GoDaddy, and ADR Forum was the UDRP provider.

He wants his domain back, along with root-and-branch reform of the UDRP and “self-regulating lumbering Monopolistic Behemoth” ICANN, which is apparently still working under the auspices of the US Department of Commerce.

Here’s a flavor of the filing (pdf), which was filed in a Georgia District Court yesterday:

We are ASKING THE Court to find the UDRP (Uniform Dispute Resolution Procedure) #FA2108001961598 (Sotheby’s and SPTC v Harris) Arbitration process and resulting ruling was Fatally Flawed; whereas ICANN failed to properly parse the “Provider” and we believe allowed Sotheby’s Counsel of Record in those proceeding to have specifically chosen ADR Form ADR FORUM whose history is tainted by a Consent Decree in their previous corporate iteration as an arbitration Provider for bad behavior and is also known to be a pro Claimant Provider.

In the version published to PACER, the complaint ends abruptly mid-sentence and seems to have one or more pages missing.

The decision in the original UDRP case is equally enlightening. Harris apparently sent nine responses to the complaint, many of which seemed to argue that Sotheby’s should have made an offer for the domain instead of “intimidating and bullying” him.

Harris apparently argued that the registration was a “legitimate investment”, thereby conferring rights to the domain.

Sole panelist Neil Anthony Brown seems to have taken pity on Harris, who had declared that Sotheby’s citation of previous UDRP cases was “irrelevant”, by deciding the case (against him, of course) without direct reference to prior precedent.

It was basically a slam-dunk decision, as I expect this lawsuit will also be.

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Alice’s Registry disappears down the rabbit hole

Kevin Murphy, October 13, 2021, Domain Registrars

One of the oldest domain registrars appears to be on its way out.

San Francisco-based Alice’s Registry has been hit with a breach notice and termination warning by ICANN after apparently being incommunicado for over a year.

According to ICANN, they last spoke in August 2020, when AR indicated that it was thinking about “shutting down the registrar business”.

Since then, the web site has stopped working and ICANN can’t get through on the telephone.

The breach notice claims past-due fees and a failure to operate a working Whois service, and gives the registrar until November 1 to pay up or get its contract terminated.

Alice’s Registry is one of the oldest registrars, founded in 1999, but it’s never had more than a few thousand names under management. Its founder, Rick Wesson, has been involved in the ICANN community since pretty much the beginning.

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Nominet rebels dominate directorship slate

Kevin Murphy, October 12, 2021, Domain Registries

Nominet has named the six people nominated for its two open non-executive director positions, and the slate is very much slanted towards the new postbellum reality of UK domain politics.

The PublicBenefit.uk campaign, which saw the CEO forced out and half the board fired at an EGM earlier this year, leading to a broad suite of proposed reforms, has a strong presence on the candidate list.

Simon Blackler of Krystal Hosting, who created and spearheaded the campaign, is standing for one of the so-called “NED” seats. He is also named as a proposer/seconder of two of his rival candidates.

This PublicBenefit slate includes Ashley La Bolle, recently promoted head of domains at Tucows, and consultant and former lawyer Jim Davies, both of whom have Blackler’s endorsement.

La Bolle’s candidacy statement focuses on the need for increased transparency and member engagement, while Davies stands on a platform of constitutional and financial reform.

In his endorsements, Blackler cites Tucows’ endorsement of the PublicBenefit campaign as a crucial turning point in its ultimate success, and Davies’ resignation from the Nominet board in 2009, in which he cited high executive pay and low transparency as reasons for his departure.

One incumbent NED is standing for re-election, David Thornton. Nominated by Michele Neylon and Jothan Frakes, Thornton has a platform based on governance and structural rebalancing.

Internet policy all-rounder Liz Williams is also standing, talking up her extensive experience in areas such as ICANN, privacy and security.

Then there’s Bulgaria-based Brit Stephen Yarrow, whose main policy concerns appear to be raising Nominet’s profile and distancing .uk from the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation.

Nominet members should already have been sent the election materials. Everyone else can read them here (pdf).

Votes will be cast November 18 at Nominet’s Annual General Meeting. There are two seats available.

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10 Years Ago… new gTLDs, ICANN pay, DNS abuse and ethics

Kevin Murphy, October 11, 2021, Domain Policy

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

I’ve been in a reflective mood recently, and it’s a slow news day, so I thought now might be a good time to launch a new, irregular feature — a trawl back through the DI archives to see what we were all talking about a decade ago this month.

In many respects, the conversations haven’t changed all that much in the last 10 years. Some are being repeated almost verbatim today. Others seem almost laughably naive with hindsight.

New TLDs

We were just a few months away from the opening of the first big new gTLD application window, but in October 2011 many of the rules of the program were, remarkably, still up in the air.

ICANN still hadn’t decided how much an application would cost. It had yet to decide how it would subsidize poorer applicants.

No Trademark Clearinghouse supplier had yet been found, and there was still some confusion about how the application process would work, and how it would be communicated to potential applicants.

The industry was awash with speculation, as it had been for the whole year, about who might apply for a gTLD. In October, there were stories about potential applications from New South Wales, Orange, Corsica, and BITS.

Afilias was offering $5,000 for new gTLD ideas.

But perhaps the strangest idea was a pitch from CentralNic to the super-rich. For $500,000, it would apply for your family name as a new gTLD. This came to nothing in the 2012 round, but CentralNic’s site is still live.

While new gTLDs were still in the future, October 2011 saw the ongoing sunrise period for the previous round’s .xxx, auctions following the recent launch of .co, and the creation of two new ccTLDs.

Abuse

October 2011 was marked by the registrar community reluctantly agreeing to enter talks with ICANN to renegotiate their standard Registrar Accreditation Agreement, which would ultimately lead to the current 2013 RAA.

The move came as the Governmental Advisory Committee was on the warpath on behalf of its law enforcement allies, demanding more action from the industry on DNS abuse and threatening legislation if it didn’t happen.

Imagine that.

Meanwhile, Verisign asked ICANN for more powers to take down abusive domains, which faced immediate pushback from registrars and others, before the request was retracted mere days later.

The Revolving Door

There was a lot of talk during and around ICANN 42 about conflicts of interest, particular with regards the emergence of a so-called “revolving door” between ICANN’s top brass and the domain industry.

It had been just a few months since chair Peter Dengate Thrush had, on the eve of his retirement from the board, pushed through final approval of the new gTLD program and promptly took a top job at portfolio applicant Minds + Machines.

It looked rotten, and ICANN CEO Rod Beckstrom, who had himself announced he was quitting just months earlier, had made its his personal mission to reduce at least the perception of conflicts of interest at the Org.

He ruled out being replaced by a fellow director, threw money at consultants, and said the next CEO should be an industry outsider.

It was probably all pointless.

As it turned out, the guy who replaced Beckstrom, Fadi Chehade, put in a few years in the corner office before prematurely quitting for private equity, where he now runs the company that owns Donuts, itself run by Chehade’s ICANN number two, Akram Atallah.

The amount of revolving door action at less-senior levels has been so frequent since 2011 that I don’t even keep track of it any more.

ICANN Pay

ICANN gave its top execs big pay raises. Along with death and taxes, this is a universal constant.

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Nominet to purge £50 million from war chest for good causes as new chair outlines strategy

Kevin Murphy, October 8, 2021, Domain Registries

.uk registry Nominet is to take £50 million ($68 million) it had set aside for acquisitions and instead donate it to public benefit causes, as part of a suite of reforms outlined by new chair Andy Green yesterday.

“We’ve made a clear commitment that we’re about purpose, not profit,” Green said in a short video address to members.

The money is about half of Nominet’s reserve fund, which will be reduced to about £50 million over the next three years. The company also committed to donating at least £5 million a year from profits in future.

While the company has talked a good game about addressing critics’ concerns over the few months since its CEO walked and half its board were fired by angry members, it’s the first big example of Nominet putting some concrete pounds-sterling numbers on its new strategy.

And it doesn’t stop at good causes. The company is scrapping its ambitions to broaden out into domain-adjacent sectors such as security, and will sell off its Cyglass network security business.

“We’ve decided to abandon the idea of building a global cyber[-security] business,” Green told members, in an address that promised to put the registry at the center of everything.

Cyglass lost about £2.2 million in the last six-month reporting period, the company revealed.

Nominet will keep one foot in DNS infrastructure security, where it services the UK government, Green said. That business also currently makes a loss, about £1 million, but is targeted for profitability by 2024.

On the issue of executive and director pay, he reiterated that the company has scrapped an incentive plan that he said was “clearly a misstep”, and noted that his own compensation is lower than his predecessors.

Staff wages will be compared against not only companies in the tech sector, but also other public-benefit concerns, he said.

Domainers and registrars who were hoping Nominet would slash its .uk wholesale fees have less to be cheerful about — Green said that Nominet will instead commit to freeze its prices until 2024.

After that time, the company will take another look and decide whether to raise, freeze, or even lower its fees, Green said.

Reaction from some of the members whose uprising caused the current change of strategy appeared to welcome the changes warmly on social media, while expressing concern that Nominet has not yet picked a new permanent CEO to guide the firm on this new path.

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.club — the whole TLD just went down

Kevin Murphy, October 7, 2021, Domain Registries

GoDaddy Registry’s .club gTLD appears to have been down for the last few hours.

At time of writing, no .club domain names are resolving, instead returning NXDOMAIN errors to browsers, and the registry is reportedly working on fixing whatever ails it.

The .club registry accounts for over a million domains, so the problem is affecting a lot of people.

At 1107 UTC, the registrar Namecheap wrote that “the DNS information cannot be queried for the domains”, updating half an hour later to say the registry is “working to resolve the issue within the nearest time possible.”

Cloudflare, also alerted by its customers, said on Twitter that it had “identified the name resolution problem on upstream Registry.”

Tucows confirmed that the problem is preventing customers from registering or managing their .club domains.

It appears to be a DNS issue. The gTLD’s name servers, which are all found at get.club, are not currently responding. All six official names servers use the same IPv4 and IPv6 addresses.

It appears that .hsbc, the dot-brand for the global bank HSBC, is suffering identical problems. It also runs on the GoDaddy back-end. Other gTLDs on the same infrastructure I checked appear to be working normally.

This is highly unusual. Entire TLDs do not typically just drop off the internet like this.

Like all gTLDs, .club has a DNS availability service level agreement of 100% uptime baked into its ICANN Registry Agreement, which it clearly has failed to meet this month.

The .club gTLD was acquired by GoDaddy from .CLUB Domains earlier this year, raising the possibility of some kind of handover-related problem. However, .club was already running on the old Neustar back-end, which GoDaddy acquired last year.

UPDATE: As of 1325 UTC, domains in .club and .hsbc appear to be resolving again (at least from where I’m sitting in the UK) after at least two and a half hours of downtime.

After the incident was resolved, the registry tweeted:

GoDaddy Registry tweeted:

UltraDNS, the massively redundant DNS resolution service still owned by Neustar, identified the problem starting at 1030 UTC and being fixed by 1415 UTC. It did not specify what caused it, and suggested (contrary to the experience of some internet users) that it was restricted to Asia and Europe.

I’ve reached out for comment, and will update as we discover more…

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Donuts’ DropZone approved despite competition fears

Kevin Murphy, October 6, 2021, Domain Registries

ICANN has approved Donuts’ proposed drop-catching service, DropZone, despite concerns it could add cost to the dropping domains market.

The Org and Donuts subsidiaries representing over 200 gTLDs signed amendments September 29 that incorporate DropZone into their Registry Agreements, according to ICANN records.

The full new text in the amendments, which does a pretty good job of describing the service, is:

Dropzone Service

Registry Operator may offer the Dropzone service, which is a Registry Service that will manage the release of domain names that have reached the end of their life cycle.

The Dropzone is a separate system, parallel to the main EPP system, that will manage on a daily basis the release of domain names that have been purged for a short period of time, called the Dropzone. Any TLD-accredited registrars may use the Dropzone to register a recently-purged domain name.

On a daily basis, at the end of the Dropzone period, the Registry will execute an awarding process, which will select, per domain name, the first domain creation request submitted (first come, first serve).

What the amendment doesn’t mention are fees. The original Donuts Registry Service Evaluation Request stated in August:

In addition to the standard or premium registration prices of a given domain name, The Dropzone service can support additional application fees to be configured on a per TLD basis. Applications fees where applicable will be charged in addition to the standard registration price of a domain name.

This caused concern at TurnCommerce, the company that runs the DropCatch.com network of registrars, which told ICANN last month that DropZone was anti-competitive and could raise the price of dropping domains.

But ICANN responded that DropZone passed its competition sniff test, and would not be referred to government authorities.

Donuts has not yet publicly announced plans to launch DropZone.

A virtually identical service, that did not mention added fees in its RSEP, was previous approved for Afilias, the registry operator Donuts acquired at the start of the year.

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I’m not kidding, ICANN is flirting with banning jokes

Kevin Murphy, October 6, 2021, Domain Policy

ICANN has come a long way since 2005 or thereabouts, when, at a public meeting, I made deputy general counsel Dan Halloran laugh so hard he vomited out of his nose.

Now, the increasingly po-faced Org has crawled so far up its own arse that it’s openly talking about banning — or at the very least discouraging — humor and lightheartedness during its thrice-annual get-togethers.

Ombudsman Herb Waye today blogged up his traditional pre-meeting reminder about the Expected Standards of Behavior, ahead of this month’s ICANN 72 AGM, which is taking place virtually.

There’s nothing wrong with this — the ESOB is merely a form of institutionalized politeness — but it’s being embellished this time around with a warning not to joke around in the Zoom chat rooms.

Waye wrote:

the intention of a comment can be difficult to ascertain without the benefit of vocal tone and body language. What was intended as a joke or light-hearted observation online to a group can unintentionally make the subject of the comment feel unfairly targeted.

I consulted with the ICANN community and organization (org) leadership for thoughts on how to promote a respectful virtual environment while also supporting the spirit of open dialogue that drives ICANN. I am grateful for their input. To ensure our Zoom sessions are engaging, inclusive, and productive, please remember these tips:

  • To avoid confusion and to respect the session’s planned agenda, please keep your interventions in the public chat on the topic that is being discussed.
  • Use private messages for off-topic comments.
  • Before commenting or adding a joke, please remember the cultural diversity of the ICANN community and consider how your comment could be perceived.

Remember, ICANN meetings are designed to be soul-crushingly dull, and attended only by sensitive North American children, so let’s keep them that way.

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