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ICANN dragged into Gamergate as Whois reform cast as misogynist threat

Kevin Murphy, July 2, 2015, 19:20:57 (UTC), Domain Policy

What do ICANN’s current Whois privacy reform proposals have to do with the “Gamergate” controversy?
Quite a lot, according to the latest group to slam the proposals as an enabler for “doxing… harassment… swatting… stalking… rape and death threats.”
The Online Abuse Prevention Initiative was formed in March by female software developers in the wake of a sexism slash online abuse scandal that continues to divide the video game community.
Led by Randi Harper, OAPI’s first public move was to today write to ICANN to complain about the GNSO Privacy & Proxy Services Accreditation Issues (PPSAI) Working Group Initial Report.
The report, as previously reported, contains a minority opinion that would ban transactional e-commerce sites from using Whois privacy services.
OAPI said today that this posed a risk of “doxing” — the practice of publishing the home address and other personal information about someone with the aim to encourage harassment — and “swatting”, where people call up America’s notoriously trigger-happy cops to report violent crimes at their intended victim’s home address.
Harper, who was one of the targets of the Gamergate movement (Google her for examples of the vitriol) claims to have been a victim of both. The OAPI letter says she “was swatted based on information obtained from the WHOIS record for her domain.”
The letter, which is signed by groups including the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the National Network to End Domestic Violence, the National Council of Women’s Organizations, and dozens of noted digital rights voices, says:

We strongly oppose the Working Group’s proposal, which will physically endanger many domain owners and disproportionately impact those who come from marginalized communities. People perceived to be women, nonwhite, or LGBTQ are often targeted for harassment, and such harassment inflicts significant harm

Even the most limited definition of a “website handling online financial transactions for commercial purpose” will encompass a wide population that could be severely harmed by doxing, such as:

  • women indie game developers who sell products through their own online stores
  • freelance journalists and authors who market their work online
  • small business owners who run stores or businesses from their homes
  • activists who take donations to fund their work, especially those living under totalitarian regimes
  • people who share personal stories online to crowdfund medical procedures

To make things worse, the proposed definition of what constitutes “commercial purpose” could be expanded to include other types of activity such as running ads or posting affiliate links.

The letter does not directly refer to Gamergate, but some of the signatories are its most prominent victims and the allusions are clearly there.
Gamergate is described somewhere in its 9,000-word Wikipedia article as “part of a long-running culture war against efforts to diversify the traditionally male video gaming community, particularly targeting outspoken women.”
At its benign end, it was a movement for stronger ethics in video game journalism. At its malignant end, it involved quite a lot of male gamers sending abuse and violent threats to female players and developers.
The PPSAI report is open for comment until July 7. It has so far attracted over 10,000 emails, most of them rustled up by registrar letter-writing campaigns here and here.

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Comments (2)

  1. John Berard says:

    ICANN often operates as if its policies do not have effect beyond the niche it serves, but testimony like this is proof that the real world is complex and requires more thought that the often “did not, did too” back-and-forth heard inside ICANN.

  2. DWG says:

    I find these sort of articles so entertaining, particularly the fact that despite GamerGate being “dead” and “over” (where have we heard that before?) they need to keep repeating it ad nausea, as if by some literary magic that might make it true.
    There could be ten people in GamerGate, as long as the right information keeps getting in the right hands, as long as changes continue to be made and the malicious tampering in good people’s lives are not allowed to go unchecked I will continue to find humor in this obvious ploy.
    Meanwhile in the real world, who could care less about hashtags balance continues to be maintained, and counterpoints mysteriously keep finding their way into the public discourse from more and more notable sources. How strange.
    Considering the authors need to attribute a group that could not care less about this issue by name *just* to declare it’s “benign end” is woefully transparent and detracts from any integrity regarding the stated issue.
    To wit: More privacy is *always* a good thing. I may sign the damn thing myself, healthy disdain for Harper’s tactics aside.

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