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CentralNic says it’s making more money than expected

Kevin Murphy, October 18, 2021, Domain Registries

Domain all-rounder CentralNic this morning told the markets it thinks it will hit or beat expectations this year.

CEO Ben Crawford said in a statement this morning that at the end of 2021 the company expects to be “at or above” analyst estimates of $348.6 million to $355.3 million at the top line and profit of $41.1 million to $42.0 million.

For the nine month ended September 30, CentralNic expects revenue to come in at $280 million or above, with adjusted EBIDTDA of at least $32 million, up 66% and 45% respective on the same 2020 period.

That represents organic growth, normalizing the impact of acquisitions, or 29%, the company said.

While the company did not reveal the drivers behind its growth, in recent quarters the best performer has been its domain monetization business, which provides revenue from parking ads and traffic redirection.

It will report its results November 22.

Dead dot-brands top 100. Here’s the list and breakdown

Kevin Murphy, September 22, 2021, Domain Registries

The list of dot-brand gTLDs that have had their ICANN registry contracts torn up has now topped 100.

SC Johnson, the big American cleaning products company, has informed the Org it no longer wishes to run .afamilycompany, .duck, .glade, .off, .raid, and .scjohnson.

Regular readers will know that I’ve been keeping a running tally of dot-brand terminations for the last several years, and according to that tally that number is now 101.

But it’s a bit more complex than that, so I thought I’d use the occasion of this milestone to provide a more substantial breakdown.

ICANN has records for 104 dot-brands either being terminated by ICANN or asking to be terminated of their own accord.

The number of registry-initiated termination requests is 90. These are typically gTLDs that were never used, or were experimented with and then abandoned. A smaller number relate to brands that were discontinued following mergers or product end-of-life, rendering the dot-brand pointless.

ICANN initiated the other 14 terminations, mostly because the registry operator got cold feet during the pre-delegation testing phase, before going live, but also in one instance for non-payment of fees and in two cases whatever the hell this is.

Six of the registry-initiated transfer requests were withdrawn before being fully processed. Of those, three (.boots, .mobily, and its Arabic translation) went on to be terminated anyway.

Two registries filed for self-termination then changed their minds and committed auto-genericide by selling their contracts — for .bond and .sbs — to discounting portfolio registry ShortDot instead.

One dot-brand, .case, withdrew its December 2020 termination request and appears to still be active.

Thirteen termination requests are currently in the system but have not yet been fully processed.

Five dot-brand gTLD contracts — .observer, .quest, .monster, .select, .compare — were sold to other registries to be repurposed as open generics. You could add .cyou to that list, depending on how you define a dot-brand.

One gTLD that was originally a generic — .moto — made the move in the other direction to become a dot-brand.

Here’s the list of dot-brands that have either requested a termination, or been terminated.

TLD/RegistryInitiated ByStatus
.active (Active Network, LLC)RegistryTerminated
.afamilycompany (Johnson Shareholdings, Inc.)RegistryPending
.africamagic (Electronic Media Network (Pty) Ltd)ICANNTerminated
.aigo (aigo Digital Technology Co, Ltd.)iCANNTerminated
.blanco (BLANCO GmbH + Co KG)RegistryTerminated
.bnl (Banca Nazionale del Lavoro)RegistryTerminated
.bond (Bond University Limited)RegistryWithdrawn
.boots (The Boots Company PLC)RegistryTerminated
.boots (The Boots Company PLC)RegistryTerminated
.cartier (Richemont DNS Inc.)RegistryTerminated
.case (CNH Industrial N.V.)RegistryWithdrawn
.caseih (CNH Industrial N.V.)RegistryTerminated
.ceb (The Corporate Executive Board Company)RegistryTerminated
.chloe (Richemont DNS Inc.)RegistryTerminated
.chrysler (FCA US LLC.)RegistryTerminated
.dabur (Dabur India LimitedRegistryPending
.dodge (FCA US LLC.)RegistryTerminated
.doha (Communications Regulatory Authority (CRA)RegistryTerminated
.DOOSAN (Doosan Corporation)RegistryTerminated
.dstv (MultiChoice (Proprietary) Limited)iCANNTerminated
.duck (Johnson Shareholdings, Inc.)RegistryPending
.duns (The Dun & Bradstreet Corporation)RegistryTerminated
.dwg (Autodesk, Inc.)RegistryTerminated
.emerson (Emerson Electric Co.)RegistryTerminated
.epost (Deutsche Post AG)RegistryTerminated
.esurance (Esurance Insurance Company)RegistryTerminated
.everbank (EverBank)RegistryTerminated
.FLSMIDTH (FLSmidth A/S)RegistryTerminated
.fujixerox (Xerox DNHC LLC)RegistryTerminated
.glade (Johnson Shareholdings, Inc.)RegistryPending
.goodhands (Allstate Fire and Casualty Insurance Company)RegistryTerminated
.gotv (MultiChoice (Proprietary) Limited)iCANNTerminated
.honeywell (Honeywell GTLD LLC)RegistryTerminated
.htc (HTC Corporation)RegistryTerminated
.iinet (Connect West Pty)RegistryTerminated
.intel (Intel Corporation)RegistryTerminated
.iselect (iSelect Ltd)RegistryTerminated
.iveco (CNH Industrial N.V.)RegistryTerminated
.iwc (Richemont DNS Inc.)RegistryTerminated
.jcp (JCP Media, Inc.)RegistryTerminated
.jlc (Richemont DNS Inc.)RegistryTerminated
.kyknet (Electronic Media Network (Pty) Ltd)iCANNTerminated
.ladbrokes (Ladbrokes International PLC)RegistryTerminated
.lancome (L'Oréal)RegistryTerminated
.liaison (Liaison Technologies, Incorporated)RegistryTerminated
.lixil (LIXIL Group Corporation)RegistryPending
.lupin (Lupin Limited)RegistryTerminated
.mcd (McDonald's Corporation)RegistryTerminated
.mcdonalds (McDonald's Corporation)RegistryTerminated
.meo (MEO Servicos de Comunicacoes e Multimedia, S.A.)RegistryTerminated
.metlife (MetLife Services and Solutions, LLC)RegistryTerminated
.mnet (Electronic Media Network (Pty) Ltd)iCANNTerminated
.mobily (GreenTech Consultancy Company W.L.L.)RegistryWithdrawn
.mobily (GreenTech Consultancy W.L.L.)iCANNTerminated
.montblanc (Richemont DNS Inc.)RegistryTerminated
.mopar (FCA US LLC.)RegistryTerminated
.movistar (Telefónica S.A.)RegistryTerminated
.mtpc (Mitsubishi Tanabe Pharma Corporation)RegistryTerminated
.multichoice (MultiChoice (Proprietary) Limited)iCANNTerminated
.mutuelle (Fédération Nationale de la Mutualité Française)RegistryTerminated
.mzansimagic (Electronic Media Network (Pty) Ltd)iCANNTerminated
.nadex (Nadex Domains, Inc.)RegistryTerminated
.naspers (Intelprop (Proprietary) Limited)iCANNTerminated
.nationwide (Nationwide Mutual Insurance Company)RegistryTerminated
.newholland (CNH Industrial N.V.)RegistryTerminated
.off (Johnson Shareholdings, Inc.)RegistryPending
.onyourside (Nationwide Mutual Insurance Company)RegistryTerminated
.orientexpress (Orient Express)RegistryTerminated
.pamperedchef (The Pampered Chef, Ltd.)RegistryTerminated
.panerai (Richemont DNS Inc.)RegistryTerminated
.payu (MIH PayU B.V.)iCANNTerminated
.piaget (Richemont DNS Inc.)RegistryTerminated
.qvc (QVC, Inc)RegistryPending
.raid (Johnson Shareholdings, Inc.)RegistryPending
.rightathome (Johnson Shareholdings, Inc.)RegistryTerminated
.rmit (Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology)RegistryPending
.sapo (MEO Servicos de Comunicacoes e Multimedia, S.A.)RegistryTerminated
.sbs (SPECIAL BROADCASTING SERVICE CORPORATION)RegistryWithdrawn
.scjohnson (Johnson Shareholdings, Inc.)RegistryPending
.scor (SCOR SE)RegistryTerminated
.shriram (Shriram Capital Ltd.)RegistryTerminated
.spiegel (SPIEGEL-Verlag Rudolf Augstein GmbH & Co. KG)RegistryTerminated
.srt (FCA US LLC.)RegistryTerminated
.starhub (StarHub Ltd)RegistryTerminated
.statoil (Statoil ASA)RegistryTerminated
.supersport (SuperSport International Holdings Proprietary Limited)iCANNTerminated
.swiftcover (Swiftcover Insurance Services Limited)RegistryPending
.symantec (Symantec Corporation)RegistryTerminated
.telecity (TelecityGroup International Limited)RegistryTerminated
.telefonica (Telefónica S.A.)RegistryTerminated
.theguardian (Guardian News And Media Limited)iCANNTerminated
.uconnect (FCA US LLC.)RegistryTerminated
.vista (Vistaprint Limited)RegistryTerminated
.vistaprint (Vistaprint Limited)RegistryTerminated
.warman (Weir Group IP Limited)RegistryTerminated
.xperia (Sony Mobile Communications AB)RegistryTerminated
.zippo (Zadco Company)RegistryTerminated
xn--3oq18vl8pn36a (Volkswagen (China) Investment Co., Ltd.)RegistryPending
xn--estv75g (Industrial and Commercial Bank of China Limited)RegistryTerminated
xn--kpu716f (Richemont DNS Inc.)RegistryTerminated
xn--mgbb9fbpob (GreenTech Consultancy Company W.L.L.)RegistryWithdrawn
xn--mgbb9fbpob (GreenTech Consultancy W.L.L.)iCANNTerminated
xn--pbt977c (Richemont DNS Inc.)RegistryTerminated
xn—4gq48lf9j Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.RegistryTerminated

ICANN spills beans on Marby’s million-dollar payday

Kevin Murphy, August 17, 2021, Domain Policy

ICANN appears to have increased its transparency when it comes to executive pay, at least when it comes to the CEO.

Göran Marby was revealed earlier this year to have banked more than $1 million in ICANN’s fiscal 2020, and he received another 5% boost at a board meeting this February.

Six months later, the board of directors has finally approved the minutes of that meeting, and for the first time it actually minutes the meeting, revealing the contents of the discussion and the names of the three dissenting directors.

In the past, minutes of decisions involving pay typically just restate the resolution and rationale with no additional context. They don’t usually even reveal the vote tally.

According to the minutes, there was some debate about the method used to determine how much Marby should be paid.

ICANN’s longstanding policy has to offer executive pay within the “50% and 75% percentile of comparable position salaries” in the general for-profit industries, high-tech industry, and non-profits.

What often bothers ICANN watchers, and bothered some directors in February, is how these three comparable industries are mixed and weighted when figuring out how much an ICANN employee is worth.

If high-tech is given more weight, that would pull in the direction of a higher salary. If non-profits were weighted more, that would pull in the opposite direction.

According to the minutes, Avri Doria raised this issue in February, suggesting that non-profit salaries should be more influential in the mix, when future CEOs are selected.

Chair Maarten Botterman said in the minutes that the blend of comparisons doesn’t really matter all that much because Marby’s compensation is “well below” the percentile threshold ICANN has set itself, regardless of the mix.

The discussion continued:

Nigel Roberts noted that looking at sectors other than non-profit is important because while ICANN might not be a big commercial company, it is certainly in competition with those companies for executive leadership candidates and that he believes ICANN needs to compensate well because of that. Becky Burr similarly noted that it is important to understand from where ICANN is drawing its leadership so that the compensation can be competitive, while also acknowledging that the compensation level under discussion is below the target range.

The problem with these arguments is that Marby was not hired from any of the three sectors ICANN uses for comparison.

While he has a background in tech, he was a telecoms regulator on a government salary in Sweden when he applied for the ICANN gig. He’s being paid more than his predecessors who did come directly from high-tech.

The minutes go on to note that director Ihab Osman pointed out that Marby gets paid more than the secretary-general of the United Nations and the CEO of the American Red Cross.

He wondered aloud whether the skill set of an ICANN CEO is the same as a high-tech CEO, while director Mandla Msimang questioned whether ICANN’s revenue should play a factor in setting compensation.

Osman also noted the potentially poor optics of giving Marby a big pay rise in the midst of a pandemic.

When it came to a vote, Doria, Osman and Msimang all voted against the 5% pay increase, but the remaining 11 directors voted in favor. Marby and Ron Da Silva were not present for the discussion.

Nominet names new chair, slashes exec pay, promises reforms and more boardroom exits

Nominet has named its new chair as former BT Openworld CEO Andy Green, who has already laid out a suite of measures — including more blood on the boardroom floor — to address the barrage of criticisms from members who ousted his predecessor earlier this year.

Green is a serial director, with previous board and advisory positions at over a dozen other companies and organizations, mostly in technology and telecommunications.

Nominet, in announcing his appointment, highlighted that he’s a National Infrastructure Commissioner, chair of WaterAid UK, and vice chair of the Disasters Emergency Committee.

He’s got a foot in both the worlds of internet infrastructure and public-benefit causes, in other words — a CV seemingly ideal for the role at this time in Nominet’s troubled history.

In an email to members last week, Green said:

The EGM in March showed that Nominet has failed over a number of years to sufficiently engage with members about the scope and direction of the company. I start my term as Chairman committed to controlling costs (including executive pay), delivering value to members, restoring Nominet’s reputation for great public benefit work at scale and communicating transparently with members about the future direction of Nominet.

March’s Emergency General Meeting was called by members that Nominet seemed to be acting more as a commercial player rather than a public-benefit member organization, more concerned with branching out into new markets and stuffing its directors wallets than focusing on .uk and giving profits to charitable causes.

The EGM saw members narrowly vote to kick out almost half of the board, including the chair. Then-CEO Russel Haworth had quit just a few days earlier, before he too could be ejected.

Green said he wants to “reset the relationship with members starting now”.

He announced six reviews covering controversial areas including registry fees, executive/director compensation, charitable giving, member engagement and non-core services.

He also said that he expects that, following its Annual General Meeting on September 22, more than half of the board of directors will comprise people who were not in place prior to the March EGM.

By next year’s AGM, the board would be “substantially replenished”, he said.

Executives are also getting a battering — Green announced that Nominet has closed its long-term incentives scheme, “which will mean significantly reduced remuneration overall for senior executives”.

The company has named another new director, Eva Lindqvist, who as new chair of the board’s Remuneration Committee will oversee who gets paid what.

No more acquisitions for Nominet

Nominet isn’t in the market for buying up other companies any more.

The .uk registry said today that its board of directors has dissolved its mergers and acquisitions committee, which means no more deals in the rapidly consolidating domain name space for the foreseeable future.

The company said the board has “agreed to a proposal to dissolve the M&A Committee in recognition that this type of activity is unlikely to form a central component in the corporate strategy moving forward.”

It’s also dissolved its Cyber Advisory Panel, which looked for potential business opportunities in the internet security space.

The moves come a couple of months after member pressure forced the resignation or sacking of five members of Nominet’s board, including its CEO, in part because of a perception that diversification was harming the core .uk domains business.

But a spokesperson confirmed that the M&A ban is “across the board”, including core and non-core sectors. The decision may be revisited in future, but there are no plans to do so right now.

The PublicBenefit.uk campaign that forced the change of strategic direction had also called for lower .uk prices, more profit sent to public benefit causes, and for greater member engagement.

At its May board meeting, Nominet also agreed to an as-yet-unspecified pricing promotion, an emphasis on public benefit contributions in its budget, and the creation of a UK Registry Advisory Council.

A call for applications for seats on this Council will go out next week.

ICANN name servers come under attack

Kevin Murphy, April 30, 2021, Domain Tech

ICANN’s primary name servers came under a distributed denial of service attack, the Org said earlier this week.

The incident appears to have gone largely unnoticed outside of ICANN and seems to have been successfully mitigated before causing any significant damage.

ICANN said on its web site:

ICANN was subjected to a Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attack targeting NS.ICANN.ORG. This event did not result in harm to the organization. It was mitigated by redirecting traffic flows through a DDoS scrubbing service.

ns.icann.org is the address of ICANN’s name servers, which handle queries to ICANN-owned domains such as icann.org and iana.org.

The servers are also authoritative for Ugandan ccTLD .ug for some reason, and until a few years ago also handled the .int special-purpose TLD and sponsored gTLD .museum.

ICANN did not disclosed the exact date of the attack, nor speculate about whether it was targeted and why it might have happened.

Universal Acceptance – making the internet work for everyone [Guest Post]

Kevin Murphy, March 24, 2021, Domain Tech

Editor’s note: this is a guest post written by Aman Masjide, head of compliance at new gTLD registry Radix.

Back in 2014, to foster innovation and to better the choice in domain names, ICANN introduced new generic top-level domains through its New gTLD Program. It was a monumental move that enabled businesses, individuals, and communities across the globe to mark their presence on the internet.

Allowing users to be present digitally in their chosen language (non-ASCII characters and scripts) gave opportunities to local businesses, civil societies, and governments to better serve their communities.

Analysys Mason conservatively estimates that there is scope of $9.8 billion growth in potential revenue from both; existing users who are using new domain names and from new internet users coming online through Internationalized Domain Names (IDNs).

To achieve this, Universal Acceptance of new gTLDs and IDNs is critical in making the Internet more accessible to the next billion users. Founded in February 2015, the Universal Acceptance Steering Group (UASG) undertakes activities to promote Universal Acceptance of all valid domain names and email addresses.

Through its ambassadorship and local Initiative programs, UASG promotes Universal Acceptance globally. Their efforts are divided and executed through five working groups that include:

  • Technology Working Group
  • Email Address Internationalization Working Group
  • Communications Working Group
  • Measurement Working Group
  • Local Initiatives Working Group

Before we get into the acceptance of new domain extensions (nTLDs), we must first understand what acceptance means and how it’s measured.

The Universal Acceptance Steering Group’s mission sums up acceptance in one short statement: “All domain names and all email addresses work in all software applications.”

While this is a simple understanding of the concept, for an end user of an nTLD, this statement further branches out into multiple questions such as:

  • Will my domain name work on all platforms/applications–online or offline?
  • Will my email address on a new domain extension get accepted on all websites/platforms and pass all the validation tests?
  • Will my emails on new domain extensions, once accepted, stop going into the junk folder?
  • Will I be able to use all the features of a website/platform irrespective of my domain extensions? For example, will a social media platform accept a new domain extension in the bio, comments, posts, messenger, etc, and process it exactly like any other legacy TLD?

The Universal Acceptance (UA) of all domain names and email addresses requires that every piece of software is able to accept, validate, process, store, and display them correctly and consistently.

As a new domains registry, it was critical for us to understand what the gaps were and how to close them so that the internet operates the same for nTLD users as it does for the legacy TLD users.

Initial research concluded that UA readiness issues occur when applications are not able to handle the following categories of a domains name or email addresses:

Domain Names

  • New short top-level domain names: example.fun, example.site
  • New long top-level domain names: example.berlin, example.space
  • Internationalized Domain Names: παράδειγμα.ευ

Email Addresses

  • ASCII@ASCII; new short or long TLD: ekrem@misal.istanbul
  • ASCII@IDN: john@société.org
  • Unicode@ASCII: 测试@example.com
  • Unicode@IDN: ईमेल@उदाहरण.भारत
  • Unicode@IDN; right to left scripts: لیم@لاثم.عقوم ای

For Universal Acceptance to succeed, it needs to be examined holistically.

Over the years, UASG working group members have conducted several gap analysis on programming languages and frameworks, networking command-line tools, web browsers, websites, and have made great strides in acceptance of new domain extensions.

According to UASG’s FY 2020 report, tests conducted on top websites showed that

  • The acceptance rate of emails on short nTLDs has increased from 91% in 2017 to 98.3% in 2020.
  • The acceptance rate of emails on long nTLDs has increased from 78% in 2017 to 84.8% in 2020.

table

Note: The table above compares the 2020 results to the earlier 2017 and 2019 testing results.

Two important caveats should be remembered in this case:

  • Different email addresses were tested (but they were of the same type).
  • The websites tested in 2020 were different from previous ones as they were the 50 most popular in the 20 countries rather than the 1,000 most popular globally.

However, these results may still be used to compare overall trends.

Universal Acceptance Readiness Report 2020 (pdf) also segregated test websites as per different categories such as eCommerce, government, education, etc and the results were promising.

table

Such studies help UASG ambassadors and advocates to identify and focus on websites of a specific category that require immediate attention. We conducted a similar study at Radix where we analysed top websites belonging to different categories. These were the results (click to enlarge):

table

While the acceptance rates for new short and new long cases is more than 80% under most categories, we see a drastic dip when a domain is on an IDN TLD. Such comparisons highlight problem areas and provide direction to ambassadors and members who are advocating for Universal Acceptance.

Radix’s contribution to UASG

UA is something that affects nTLD users the most. This is why it’s crucial to focus on the feedback that we receive from them. At Radix, we work closely with our users to ensure we have the first hand information on any UA related issues faced by the customer.

The feedback could be about linkification, validation or acceptance of emails on nTLDs on different websites and platforms. Radix also actively invests its resources in gap analysis by testing various websites and social media platforms. We are also part of the ambassadorship program promoting and supporting local and global UA initiatives.

Here are some of the UASG initiatives that Radix is part of:

At Radix, our objective is to ensure that nTLDs are accepted across websites and platforms. To achieve this, we actively work with UASG and share as many issues and gaps noticed and reported by customers.

Contribution by other registries

A key objective for most registries is to ensure great customer experience when it comes to their nTLDs and I’ve always admired it when registry operators have actively taken initiative and participated in the five UASG groups mentioned above.

One of the ways to do this is to capture all the queries and complaints reported by their customers/registrar partners and share it with UASG. This will help their support team direct their resources in solving the problems and encouraging those websites to become UA compliant.

Contribution by registrars

When it comes to UA-related issues, registrars are the first in chain to receive a complaint or feedback from the user. Therefore, it’s crucial that their support teams have all the necessary information needed on how to best handle such complaints.

For now, they can:

  • Inform the customer about the potential UA issue and raise a request on behalf of the customer with UASG. Issues can be logged at – https://uasg.tech/global-support-center/
  • Report these instances to the Registry Operator so that they can connect and follow up with UASG.
  • Join any of the five working groups and participate.

The path ahead

The UASG is consistently compiling and sharing all the important information needed for organizations and developers to become UA ready. This is not only about ensuring the readiness of a system to accept certain TLDs or emails, but also about realising the full potential of an organization by connecting with people and businesses that might not be even on it’s radar.

Every successful step taken by an organization towards UA readiness is also a step towards equality and inclusiveness on the internet.

Guest poster Aman Masjide leads compliance and abuse mitigation at Radix.

Motion to fire five Nominet directors passes in tight vote

Kevin Murphy, March 22, 2021, Domain Registries

Nominet’s members this afternoon voted to fire five of the .uk registry’s directors, including its chair and CEO, in an unexpectedly tight poll.

There were 2,432,105 votes in favor of the motion to fire Mark Wood, Eleanor Bradley, Ben Hill and Jane Tozer, compared to 2,179,477 against, which works out to 52.74% for and 47.26% against.

Members get allotted votes according to how many domains under management they have, capped at 3% of the total cross-membership vote count.

In the end, it appears that the vote was swung by a small handful of larger registrars. Tucows and Namecheap were the largest registrars to say they would vote for the board cull.

Turnout was 53.5% of eligible voters, which I gather is extraordinarily high for a Nominet member vote. The full results are here (pdf).

The original motion also named CEO Russell Haworth, but he quit his board seat and executive role yesterday.

Bradley and Hill, respectively managing director of the registry and CFO, have left the board but keep their staff jobs.

Rob Binns is now acting chair, Nominet said.

The vote took place at an Extraordinary General Meeting held virtually this afternoon, which was called for after 5% of Nominet’s registrar/domainer members signed a petition at PublicBenefit.uk.

The campaign was orchestrated by Simon Blacker of the registrar Krystal Hosting, reflecting growing displeasure among members about Nominet’s strategic direction and lack of member engagement.

After the result was announced this hour, Blackler was quick to hail it as “a watershed moment in Nominet’s history”, saying that it “demonstrates the resolve of the membership to restore its original purpose”, in a letter (pdf) to the “remnant” board.

He went on to call for the campaign’s original two picks for chair and vice-chair replacements — Sir Michael Lyons and Axel Pawlik — to be appointed to the board on an interim basis.

The EGM, which lasted for about an hour, saw directors repeatedly acknowledge and occasionally apologize for taking too long to recognize the breadth and depth of members’ concerns, promising to turn things around.

The key theme to emerge was that the company is now on the same page as its members and is committed to addressing their concerns, but that eliminating almost half of the 11-person board would delay these actions by months.

Wood also reiterated that the threat of UK government intervention is real, should it be perceived that Nominet — a piece of critical infrastructure in all but name — was becoming unstable.

The EGM result was due around 1800 UTC but was delayed by more than three hours, apparently due to the higher than expected turnout.

Nominet boss jumps before he is pushed

Kevin Murphy, March 22, 2021, Domain Registries

With the almost inevitable prospect of being fired by Nominet’s membership this afternoon, CEO Russell Haworth yesterday quit the company.

He will leave both the board of directors and the corner office after a “short transition” and by “mutual consent”, the board announced. Interim leadership will be announced later.

Chair Mark Wood said in a statement: “The board appreciates his decision to step down now at a time when it is clear the company needs to consider its future direction.”

The announcement came a day before Nominet, the .uk registry, holds an Emergency General Meeting called by its membership of registrars and domainers, unhappy with the direction the company has taken over the five years of Haworth’s leadership.

He has faced criticism for diversifying the business outside of core registry services, inflating his own salary, increasing domain prices, ignoring member input, and slashing the amount of money given to public benefit causes.

Wood’s own position is still precarious — the EGM, which came about after a petition at PublicBenefit.uk secured the support of 5% of Nominet’s members, will in a matter of hours consider a motion to fire Haworth, Wood and three other directors.

A second motion, to install two new hand-picked directors who promised to reconfigure the registry’s strategy, did not make the agenda as Nominet says it is not compatible with the company’s own rules on director selection.

With Haworth’s departure evidently some kind of 11th-hour queen sacrifice, Wood made one last public plea to the PublicBenefit.uk campaign, which is led by Krystal Hosting’s Simon Blackler, to back off.

He told members that Nominet has already moved to address many of their concerns: freezing (although not lowering) domain prices, freezing board/executive compensation, donating more profit to worthy causes, and creating new channels for membership engagement. He wrote:

Nominet is not a standard company. It is a membership organisation, and the members need to buy into the company’s strategy. It is clear many do not.

Simon Blackler’s campaign tapped into this discontent, and we have seen his support grow. At the same time, I have also had the opportunity to speak with a large number of members of different types and sizes all around the world. I have heard consistently that Nominet should focus on registry, that they want better member involvement in decision-making, and that more of our financial reserves should be devoted to public benefit activity. That input should set the framework for where Nominet moves next. And the journey should begin at once.

With the vote now upon us, I think it no longer really matters which way the result goes. The campaign has had its desired impact, reinforced by the dialogue we have had with so many members. We are all moving in the same direction and aiming to achieve the same objectives.

He went on to double-down on claims that the UK government may exercise its decade-old statutory powers to step in and take over the registry, if it detects the company has been destabilized.

I was not scaremongering in warning that government are also watching developments very closely. The .UK registry and our cyber platforms are key parts of critical national infrastructure, and they cannot be put at risk from internal upheaval at Nominet. We have been questioned in detail about developments and have been told bluntly that the government is dusting off its intervention powers under the 2010 Digital Communications Act. We must tread carefully.

The last-minute olive branch and warning combo is probably not enough to save Wood’s bacon, however.

On Twitter, the PublicBenefit.uk campaign this morning continued to call for “the immediate appointment of Sir Michael and Axel Pawlik”, the two men it backs to become chair and vice-chair respectively.

The members-only EGM will be held at 1500 UTC today. PublicBenefit has secured the support of almost 30% of members’ voting rights, including those of large registrars Tucows and Namecheap, but it only needs a simple majority of those who actually show up to the (virtual) meeting today in order to get its resolution passed. Such meetings are historically lightly attended.

IP lobby demands halt to Whois reform

Kevin Murphy, March 17, 2021, Domain Policy

Trademark interests in the ICANN community have called on the Org to freeze implementation of the latest Whois access policy proposals, saying it’s “not yet fit for purpose”.

The Intellectual Property Constituency’s president, Heather Forrest, has written (pdf) to ICANN chair Maarten Botterman to ask that the so-called SSAD system (for Standardized System for Access and Disclosure) be put on hold.

SSAD gives interested parties such as brands a standardized pathway to get access to private Whois data, which has been redacted by registries and registrars since the EU’s Generic Data Protection Regulation came into force in 2018.

But the proposed policy, approved by the GNSO Council last September, still leaves a great deal of discretion to contracted parties when it comes to disclosure requests, falling short of the IPC’s demands for a Whois that looks a lot more like the automated pre-GDPR system.

Registries and registrars argue that they have to manually verify disclosure requests, or risk liability — and huge fines — under GDPR.

The IPC has a few reasons why it reckons ICANN should slam the brakes on SSAD before implementation begins.

First, it says the recommendations sent to the GNSO Council lacked the consensus of the working group that created them.

Intellectual property, law enforcement and security interests — the likely end users of SSAD — did not agree with big, important chucks of the working group’s report. The IPC reckons eight of the 18 recommendations lacked a sufficient degree of consensus.

Second, the IPC claims that SSAD is not in the public interest. If the entities responsible for “policing the DNS” don’t think they will use SSAD due to its limitations, then why spend millions of ICANN’s money to implement it?

Third, Forrest writes that emerging legislation out of the EU — the so-called NIS2, a draft of a revised information security directive —- puts a greater emphasis on Whois accuracy

Forrest concludes:

We respectfully request and advise that the Board and ICANN Org pause any further work relating to the SSAD recommendations in light of NIS2 and given their lack of community consensus and furtherance of the global public interest. In light of these issues, the Board should remand the SSAD recommendations to the GNSO Council for the development of modified SSAD recommendations that meet the needs of users, with the aim of integrating further EU guidance.

It seems the SSAD proposals will be getting more formal scrutiny than previous GNSO outputs.

When the GNSO Council approved the recommendations in September, it did so with a footnote asking ICANN to figure out whether it would be cost-effective to implement an expensive — $9 million to build, $9 million a year to run — system that may wind up being lightly used.

ICANN has now confirmed that SSAD and the other Whois policy recommendations will be one of the first recipients of the Operational Design Phase (pdf) treatment.

The ODP is a new, additional layer of red tape in the ICANN policy-making sausage machine that slots in between GNSO Council approval and ICANN board consideration, in which the Org, in collaboration with the community, tries to figure out how complex GNSO recommendations could be implemented and what it would cost.

ICANN said this week that the SSAD/Whois recommendations will be subject to a formal ODP in “the coming months”.

Any question about the feasibility of SSAD would be referred back to the GNSO, because ICANN Org is technically not supposed to make policy.