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Now new gTLDs are being scapegoated for child abuse material (rant)

Kevin Murphy, April 5, 2017, 18:35:52 (UTC), Domain Registries

The guy responsible for getting the string “rape” closely restricted for no reason in .uk domain names is now gunning for ICANN and new gTLDs with a very similar playbook.

Campaigner John Carr, secretary of the little-known Children’s Charities’ Coalition on Internet Safety, wants ICANN to bring in strict controls to prevent convicted pedophiles registering domains in child-oriented domains such as .kids.

He’s written to the UK prime minister, the two other ministers with the relevant brief, the US federal government and the California attorney general to make these demands.

That’s despite the fact that he freely acknowledges that he does not have any evidence of a problem in existing kid-oriented TLDs and that he does not expect there to be a problem with .kids, should it be delegated, in future.

Regardless, ICANN comes in for a bit of a battering in the letter (pdf), with Carr insinuating that it and the domain industry are quite happy to throw child safety under the bus in order to make a quick buck. He writes:

ICANN has definitely not been keeping the internet secure for children. On the contrary ICANN shows complete indifference towards children’s safety. This has led to real dangers that ICANN could have prevented or mitigated.

ICANN, the Registries and the Registrars have an obvious financial interest in increasing the number of domain names being sold. Their interest in maximising or securing their revenues appears sometimes to blind them to a larger obligation to protect the weak and vulnerable e.g. in this instance children.

Despite this worrying premise, Carr admits in an accompanying paper (pdf) that the Russian version of .kids (.дети), which has been live for three years and only has about 1,000 registrations, does not seem to have experienced a deluge of sex offenders.

Nevertheless, he says ICANN should have forced the .дети registry to do criminal background checks on all registrants to make sure they did not have a record of sexual offences.

While at the time of writing we have no information which suggests anything untoward has happened with any Russian .kids websites, and we understand the volume of sales has been low so far, the matter should never have been left open in that way. When ICANN let the contract it could have included clauses which would have made it a contractual obligation to carry out the sort of checks mentioned. The fact that ICANN did not do this illustrates a degree of carelessness about children’s well-being which is tantamount to gross negligence.

Quite how a domain registry would go about running criminal records checks on all of its customers globally, and what the costs and the benefits would be, Carr does not say.

The letter goes on to state incorrectly that Amazon and Google are in contention for .kids.

In fact, Google applied for the singular .kid. While the two strings are in contention due to an adverse String Confusion Objection, there’s also a second applicant for .kids, the DotKids Foundation, which proposes to keep .kids highly restricted and which Carr is either unaware of or deliberately omits from his letter.

Based on his assumption that .kids is a two-horse race between Amazon and Google, he says:

while I am sure both Google and Amazon will choose to do the right thing, whichever one is the eventual winner of the contract, the point is matters of this kind should never have been left as an option

So not only does Carr not have any evidence that extant “.kids” domains are currently being abused years after delegation, he’s also sure that .kids won’t be in future.

But he wants Draconian background checks implemented on all registrants anyway.

His letter coincides with the release of and heavily cites the 2016 annual report (pdf) of the Internet Watch Foundation — the organization that coordinates the takedown of child abuse material in the UK and elsewhere.

That report found that new gTLD domains are being increasingly used to distribute such material, but that Verisign-run TLDs such as .com are still by far the most abused for this purpose.

The number of takedowns against new gTLD domains in 2016 was 272 (226 of which were “dedicated to distributing child sexual abuse content”) the IWF reported, a 258% increase on 2015.

That’s 272 domains too many, but averages out at about a quarter of a domain per new gTLD.

There were 2,416 domains being used to distribute this material in 2016, IWF said. That means new gTLDs accounted for about 11% of the total child abuse domains — higher than the 7.8% market share that new gTLDs command (according to Verisign’s Q4 industry brief).

But the IWF report states that 80% of the total abuse domains are concentrated in just five TLDs — .com, .net, .se, .io, and .cc. Even child abusers are not fans of new gTLDs, it seems.

Despite the fact that two of these domains are operated under ICANN contract, and the fact that .io is operated by a British company representing a British overseas territory, Carr focuses his calls for action instead on new gTLDs exclusively.

And his calls are receiving attention.

A The Times article this week cries “New internet domain is magnet for paedophiles, charities warn”, while tabloid stable sister The Sun reported on “fears predators are exploiting new website addresses to hide indecent material”.

This is how it started with Carr’s campaign to get “rape” domains banned in the UK.

Back in 2013, he wrote a blog post complaining that it was possible to register “rapeher.co.uk” — not that it had been registered, only that it could be registered — and managed to place a couple of stories in the right-leaning press calling for Nominet to do more to prevent the registration of “depraved and disgusting” domains such as the one he thought up.

This led to a government minister calling for an independent policy review, an actual review, and a subsequent policy that sees some poor bastard at Nominet having to pore over every .uk registration containing rapey strings to see if they’re potentially advocating or promoting actual rape.

Implementation of that policy has so far confirmed that Carr’s worries were, as I said in my 2013 rant, baseless.

In 2016, there were 2,407 registrations of domains containing the string “rape”, but just one of them was found to be using it in the context of sexual assault and was suspended, according to Nominet stats.

In 2015, the number of suspensions was the same. One.

The same story is playing out now — a single Don Quixote with a tenuous grasp of the systems he’s criticizing calling for ludicrous policies to prevent a problem that he freely admits does not exist and probably won’t exist in future.

Still, at least he gets to wave some headlines in front of his employers to pretend he’s actually earning his salary.

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