All new gTLD applicants will have to abide by stricter rules on security and Whois accuracy under government-mandated changes to their contracts approved by the ICANN board.
At least one of the new obligations is likely to laden new gTLDs registries with additional ongoing costs. In another case, ICANN appears ready to shoulder the financial burden instead.
The changes are coming as a result of ICANN’s New gTLD Program Committee, which on on Tuesday voted to adopt six more pieces of the Governmental Advisory Committee’s advice from March.
This chunk of advice, which deals exclusively with security-related issues, was found in the GAC’s Beijing communique (pdf) under the heading “Safeguards Applicable to all New gTLDs”.
Here’s what ICANN has decided to do about it.
Mandatory Whois checks
The GAC wanted all registries to conduct mandatory checks of Whois data at least twice a year, notifying registrars about any “inaccurate or incomplete records” found.
Many new gTLD applicants already offered to do something similar in their applications.
But ICANN, in response to the GAC advice, has volunteered to do these checks itself. The NGPC said:
ICANN is concluding its development of a WHOIS tool that gives it the ability to check false, incomplete or inaccurate WHOIS data
Given these ongoing activities, ICANN (instead of Registry Operators) is well positioned to implement the GAC’s advice that checks identifying registrations in a gTLD with deliberately false, inaccurate or incomplete WHOIS data be conducted at least twice a year. To achieve this, ICANN will perform a periodic sampling of WHOIS data across registries in an effort to identify potentially inaccurate records.
While the resolution is light on detail, it appears that new gTLD registries may well be taken out of the loop completely, with ICANN notifying their registrars instead about inaccurate Whois records.
It’s not the first time ICANN has offered to shoulder potentially costly burdens that would otherwise encumber registry operators. It doesn’t get nearly enough credit from new gTLD applicants for this.
Contractually banning abuse
The GAC wanted new gTLD registrants contractually forbidden from doing bad stuff like phishing, pharming, operating botnets, distributing malware and from infringing intellectual property rights.
These obligations should be passed to the registrants by the registries via their contracts with registrars, the GAC said.
ICANN’s NGPC has agreed with this bit of advice entirely. The base new gTLD Registry Agreement is therefore going to be amended to include a new mandatory Public Interest Commitment reading:
Registry Operator will include a provision in its Registry-Registrar Agreement that requires Registrars to include in their Registration Agreements a provision prohibiting Registered Name Holders from distributing malware, abusively operating botnets, phishing, piracy, trademark or copyright infringement, fraudulent or deceptive practices, counterfeiting or otherwise engaging in activity contrary to applicable law, and providing (consistent with applicable law and any related procedures) consequences for such activities including suspension of the domain name.
The decision to include it as a Public Interest Commitment, rather than building it into the contract proper, is noteworthy.
PICs will be subject to a Public Interest Commitment Dispute Resolution Process (PICDRP) which allows basically anyone to file a complaint about a registry suspected of breaking its commitments.
ICANN would act as the enforcer of the ruling, rather than the complainant. Registries that lose PICDRP cases face consequences up to an including the termination of their contracts.
In theory, by including the GAC’s advice as a PIC, ICANN is handing a loaded gun to anyone who might want to shoot down a new gTLD registry in future.
However, the proposed PIC language seems to be worded in such a way that the registry would only have to include the anti-abuse provisions in its contract in order to be in compliance.
Right now, the way the PIC is worded, I can’t see a registry getting terminated or otherwise sanctioned due to a dispute about an instance of copyright infringement by a registrant, for example.
I don’t think there’s much else to get excited about here. Every registry or registrar worth a damn already prohibits its customers from doing bad stuff, if only to cover their own asses legally and keep their networks clean; ICANN merely wants to formalize these provisions in its chain of contracts.
Actually fighting abuse
The third through sixth pieces of GAC advice approved by ICANN this week are the ones that will almost certainly add to the cost of running a new gTLD registry.
The GAC wants registries to “periodically conduct a technical analysis to assess whether domains in its gTLD are being used to perpetrate security threats such as pharming, phishing, malware, and botnets.”
It also wants registries to keep records of what they find in these analyses, to maintain a complaints mechanism, and to shut down any domains found to be perpetrating abusive behavior.
ICANN has again gone the route of adding a new mandatory PIC to the base Registry Agreement. It reads:
Registry Operator will periodically conduct a technical analysis to assess whether domains in the TLD are being used to perpetrate security threats, such as pharming, phishing, malware, and botnets. Registry Operator will maintain statistical reports on the number of security threats identified and the actions taken as a result of the periodic security checks. Registry Operator will maintain these reports for the term of the Agreement unless a shorter period is required by law or approved by ICANN, and will provide them to ICANN upon request.
You’ll notice that the language is purposefully vague on how registries should carry out these checks.
ICANN said it will convene a task force or GNSO policy development process to figure out the precise details, enabling new gTLD applicants to enter into contracts as soon as possible.
It means, of course, that applicants could wind up signing contracts without being fully apprised of the cost implications. Fighting abuse costs money.
There are dozens of ways to scan TLDs for abusive behavior, but the most comprehensive ones are commercial services.
ICM Registry, for example, decided to pay Intel/McAfee millions of dollars — a dollar or two per domain, I believe — for it to run daily malware scans of the entire .xxx zone.
More recently, Directi’s .PW Registry chose to sign up to Architelos’ NameSentry service to monitor abuse in its newly relaunched ccTLD.
There’s going to be a fight about the implementation details, but one way or the other the PIC would make registries scan their zones for abuse.
What the PIC does not state, and where it may face queries from the GAC as a result, is what registries must do when they find abusive behavior in their gTLDs. There’s no mention of mandatory domain name suspension, for example.
But in an annex to Tuesday’s resolution, ICANN’s NGPC said the “consequences” part of the GAC advice would be addressed as part of the same future technical implementation discussions.
In summary, the NGPC wants registries to be contractually obliged to contractually oblige their registrars to contractually oblige their registrants to not do bad stuff, but there are not yet any obligations relating to the consequences, to registrants, of ignoring these rules.
This week’s resolutions are the second big batch of decisions ICANN has taken regarding the GAC’s Beijing communique.
Earlier this month, it accepted some of the GAC’s direct advice related to certain specific gTLDs it has a problem with, the RAA and intergovernmental organizations and pretended to accept other advice related to community objections.
The NGPC has yet to address the egregiously incompetent “Category 1” GAC advice, which was the subject of a public comment period.