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BREAKING: ICANN’s number two Cyrus Namazi quits. Probably due to sexual discrimination claims.

Kevin Murphy, April 1, 2020, Domain Policy

The head of ICANN’s Global Domains Division, Cyrus Namazi — arguably ICANN’s number-two exec — has resigned from the organization, according to multiple sources. I believe it’s related to allegations of sexual discrimination.

ICANN staffers were told this evening that he’s resigned “effective immediately” and that a public announcement will follow.

Long-time ICANN staffer Theresa Swinehart, currently senior VP of multistakeholder strategy and strategic initiatives, will run GDD while a replacement is sought.

While I don’t expect ICANN to announce the reasons for Namazi’s departure, I believe it’s related to allegations of sexual indiscretions.

I’ve been aware for a few months of allegations against Namazi for sexual discrimination and/or sexual harassment, but I’ve been unable to get sufficient on-the-record information to run a story.

What I do know, from digging around on court web sites, is that ICANN was sued about a year ago by a former staffer called Jennifer Gore for alleged disability and gender discrimination, allegedly carried out by Namazi.

Gore’s complaint can be read here (pdf). ICANN’s response can be read here (pdf).

I’ve also been made aware of a few other female ICANN staffers who have quit allegedly due to Namazi’s behavior.

And I gather he’s been on-leave recently. Anyone who was at ICANN 67 will have noted his absence.

I’ve not heard of any allegations that could be described as remotely criminal. We’re just talking about allegations of inappropriate comments and actions at work.

I have absolutely no idea how many of the allegations, if any, are true. None. I just know that there are a lot of them.

I do know that ICANN’s PR team have been banned from talking to me for the last few weeks, since I learned about these allegations — by senior VP of global communications Sally Newell Cohen — because I talked offensive smack about Namazi to him and to another senior staffer on social media messaging channels.

ALL .za domains have to link to government coronavirus web site

Kevin Murphy, March 30, 2020, Domain Policy

The South African government has decreed that every web site using a .za domain name must now carry a link to an official government coronavirus advice site.

The regulation (pdf), which largely focuses on other types of teleconmmunications services, came into effect last Thursday. It states:

Internet sites operating within .zaDNA top level domain name must have a landing page with a visible link to www.sacoronavirus.co.za

The rule applies to every site, not just those purveying health news.

ZADNA’s front page currently features this clickable graphic, slightly below the fold.

ZADNA site

ZADNA is the registry for .za, but also the city gTLDs .joburg and .capetown. The wording of the regulation suggests that these two gTLDs are also covered by the rule, but official government communications make no mention of either.

The rules also require fake coronavirus news to be blocked, but that’s on the ISPs to implement.

You may notice that the government’s domain is SAcoronavirus.co.za. This appears to be because coronavirus.co.za currently belongs to a domainer. That bare-bones site has a non-clickable link to the government site, and also an offer to sell the domain.

An open question to the domain name industry about coronavirus

Kevin Murphy, March 24, 2020, Domain Policy

“Don’t worry. We’ve done this before.”

That was pretty much the first sentence out of my grandmother’s mouth when I called to wish her a happy Mother’s Day.

She was talking about World War II and the immediate post-war years. She’s 93, so she saw both.

She’s no Uncle Albert. I don’t think I’ve ever heard her talk about “The War” before. Not once. But when her grandson called her for the first time in embarrassing months, that was where her mind went straight away.

They couldn’t get oranges, for years, back then. If you were diabetic, you couldn’t get sugar, but they gave you extra butter instead. She developed an aversion to canned pineapple chunks that persists to this day. She still has her ration book, a souvenir of trying times, squirreled away somewhere.

She was in generally good spirits. She knows that Covid-19, if it gets through the front door of her granny flat, will very likely be the end of her. Her mind is fully intact, but her body is all kinds of fucked up. But she and the family members who bring her food are taking the proper precautions. And, she said, she’s been self-isolating since November anyway. What’s another 12 weeks?

The WWII comparison was not at all surprising to hear, of course. A lot of us have been thinking similar things. The media is currently resplendent with uplifting examples of what we Brits refer to as the “Blitz spirit” — unity and stoicism in the face of overwhelming adversity.

There are significant differences, of course.

The enemy now is not an identifiable political faction with a skull on its cap, but a remorseless, invisible beastie. The Allies are not a collection of like-minded liberal nations, but literally the entire human species.

The baddies don’t want to shoot you. They want to infiltrate your nasal cavity and make you accidentally kill your parents with a hug. You kill them with soap.

Back then, we required young men to travel overseas to kill and potentially die to serve the greater good. We asked the women they left behind to take to the factory floors and work traditionally male jobs. Now, all we ask of them is that they don’t go down the pub on a Saturday night, and apparently sometimes even that’s too big of an ask.

Society is asking me to work from home during the day and do nothing more than watch TV and play Xbox in the evenings. Fine. I can do that. I was doing that anyway. This, apparently, is how my generation gets to save lives.

It doesn’t feel like much of a sacrifice.

Worldwide, people are sitting alone at home, twiddling their thumbs, watching slightly-less-than-hi-def Netflix, and wondering how they can do more to make a positive difference in this civilizational battle.

In the domain industry, we’ve recently seen the Internet Commerce Association attempt to help out people who are financially struggling due to coronavirus with its #DomainAssist Twitter campaign.

I’m not sure how effective it’s going to be, but ICA members have money, are trying to make a difference, and I’m certainly not going to knock them for it.

But there is one battle that the domain industry is uniquely positioned, and maybe even obligated, to fight.

That’s the fight against misinformation.

The World Health Organization started alerting the world to the Covid-19 “infodemic” in early February.

“We’re not just fighting an epidemic; we’re fighting an infodemic,” WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom said at the Munich Security Conference February 15. “Fake news spreads faster and more easily than this virus, and is just as dangerous.”

Hear that? The world’s top doc says that misinformation is just as dangerous as something that could kill your grandmother.

Just as crime flourished in London during the Blitz, 21st century fraudsters have been quick to take advantage of the coronavirus panic.

The fake news ranges from the harmlessly satirical — a quarantined Tom Hanks being supplied with a volleyball for company — to the life-threatening — tales of how ingesting silver, taking cocaine or drinking bleach can protect your from the virus.

In India, fake news is persuading people to drink cow piss.

Some of these scammers are just conspiracy theorists raging against the Big Pharma machine. Others are actively trying to make money hawking bogus and dangerous fake vaccines and cures. In the era of pandemic, they’re just as bad as each other.

It’s serious stuff. An infected person who thinks they’ve ingested the magic cure is less likely to take the proper precautions and more likely to transmit the virus to others, who will transmit it to others, who will transmit it to others… and then a bunch of people die.

So far, the WHO and other health authorities have rightly been focused largely on the social media platforms where the majority of this bogosity spreads.

The likes of Facebook, Twitter and Google have made changes to their usage policies or content-promotion algorithms in response to the crisis.

Twitter has banned tweets that go against the official guidance on reducing the spread of the virus. Facebook is promoting authoritative news sources and fact-checking misinformation. Google searches for coronavirus return curated, science-based info embedded in the results page, and banned coronavirus-related advertising. YouTube is taking down videos peddling dangerous misinformation.

The social media side of the technology industry certainly seems to be backtracking on its usual “we just a neutral platform” stance.

But it’s not just happening on social media. Many of these posts lead to web sites that are harmful. Some are simple frauds and phishing attacks. Others promote fake cures or urge readers to ignore the official science-based advice.

These web sites use domain names. Thousands have been registered in recent weeks.

NewsGuard has identified dozens of web sites that are promoting coronavirus misinformation. Fact-checking sites such as the AFP and Snopes have identified many more.

So here’s my open question, which I pose to every registry, registrar and reseller reading this:

If you are told about a domain name under your management that is publishing dangerous misinformation, will you take it down?

I’d like to think I know the answer to this question already, but I’m not sure I do.

Registries and registrars are notoriously reluctant to act on complaints about the contents of web sites. Many require a court order before taking action.

During peace time, worthy principles such as free speech, privacy, and legal due process all play a role in this kind of decision-making.

The latest version of the Framework to Address DNS Abuse lists four types of content that its dozens of domain-industry signatories “should” (as opposed to “must”) act on — child sex abuse material, illegal opioid sales, human trafficking, and credible incitements to violence.

The underlying principle leading to this list is “the physical and often irreversible threat to human life”.

I’m reminded of the ethical conundrum faced by EasyDNS and CEO Mark Jeftovic back in 2014, when the company changed its usage policies after a guy died due to fake pharma bought via a domain under its management.

“In one case we have people allegedly pirating Honey Boo Boo reruns and on the other we have people dying. We don’t know where exactly, but the line goes somewhere in between there,” Jeftovic wrote at the time.

I don’t wish to pick on EasyDNS or Jeftovic — changing one’s mind in the face of new evidence is an admirable trait — but I think his quote poses the question quite well.

There’s a line where free speech ends and incitement to virological violence begins.

Figuring out where that line is is something the domain name industry is going to have to get to grips with, fast.

More ICANN events cancelled for May

Kevin Murphy, March 20, 2020, Domain Policy

ICANN has cancelled its annual GDD Industry Summit and DNS Symposium, which had been scheduled to take place in Paris, France, in May.

“The decision to cancel these events was made in light of the rapidly evolving COVID-19 virus outbreak and, for the GDD Summit, included conversations with the Contracted Parties House,” ICANN said in a statement.

The two events had been due to take place back to back from May 3 to 6 and May 7 and 8, respectfully.

The GDD event is for commercial members of the domain name industry — registries and registrars — while the Symposium focuses on the technical side of the industry and had planned to focus on DNS security.

It appears that, unlike ICANN 67, neither is being replaced with a virtual meeting.

Delay .org deal because of… coronavirus? Gimme a break

Kevin Murphy, March 18, 2020, Domain Policy

Opponents of Public Interest Registry’s proposed acquisition by Ethos Capital are now claiming that ICANN should delay approval of the deal due to coronavirus.

A statement, released yesterday by digital rights group Access Now with the apparent approval of several other like-minded groups, outlines a few reasons why coronavirus means ICANN should reject, or at least delay its consideration of, the deal.

ICANN is currently working towards a March 20 deadline to deliver its verdict.

Peter Micek, general counsel for Access Now, said in the statement:

Far from routine, this transfer would further imperil crucial channels of trusted information in a precarious time. From Médecins Sans Frontières to Wikipedia to many of the world’s hospitals, organizations that disseminate accurate health information and connect affected communities with public resources depend on the .ORG domain. Now is not the time to shift the ground beneath their online activities.

Could a $0.97 increase in the cost of wikipedia.org this year see Wikipedia’s hive mind crumble and turn into the digital equivalent of Jenny McCarthy’s brain? Will it prompt MSF volunteers to retreat, screaming, from the front lines? I don’t think so.

The statement goes on to suggest that China would be able to use its substantial financial and political clout to lean on Ethos’ secretive backers to something something something coronavirus. Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch said:

The Chinese government routinely uses economic pressure to censor critics or inconvenient information, such as about its disastrous early cover-up of the coronavirus outbreak. Investors in the private equity firm that wants to buy the .ORG domain inevitably will have economic interests that Beijing could threaten.

While there may well be a nugget of truth in there, I fail to see how it applies to the current pandemic. Is the argument that China will pressure Ethos’ billionaire money men to close down domains belonging to organizations disseminating accurate Covid-19 information? It seems a stretch.

China already has substantial powers to shut down domains within its own borders, and requires registries operating in the country to comply with Draconian censorship rules. I’m not aware of any cases of these existing powers being exercised against domains globally.

A third argument is that ICANN is using coronavirus as a convenient smokescreen to quietly approve the acquisition while everyone else is busy ram-raiding corner stores for toilet paper.

Daniel Eriksson, head of technology at Transparency International, said in the statement:

If this transfer goes ahead during the current crisis as planned, we’ll look back on it as an example of vested interests taking advantage of the extraordinary situation created by the COVID-19 pandemic to further their own concerns at the expense of the broader good of society. We need to be vigilant against any such actions, and this is precisely the role of many civil society organizations that have a watchdog function. We need maximum transparency and integrity around the sale of .ORG, and that is simply not possible if the sale is rushed through at a moment when peoples’ attention is elsewhere.

Again, this seems like a stretch. The announcement of the acquisition predates the discovery of Covid-19 by weeks, and it has been subject to intense scrutiny, engagement, comment and unprecedented — albeit imperfect — levels of transparency ever since. This is an acquisition being negotiated to a large extent in the public square.

I’ll be generous and suggest a fourth explanation: this is probably just a poor-taste (but, let’s face it, successful) attempt to grab headlines by linking the #SaveDotOrg campaign, however thinly, to the pandemic currently occupying the world’s collective conscious.

There are plenty of good arguments that could be — and are being — made in favor of further delay and scrutiny of the deal, but I don’t think coronavirus is one of them.

WE’RE ALL GONNA DIE! In other news, ICANN 67 was… “muted”

Kevin Murphy, March 13, 2020, Domain Policy

Without wishing to scaremonger about Covid-19, I don’t mind admitting that I’ve never been so terrified of anything as much in my adult life.

I have relatives in their nineties or with existing lung conditions, and I’m generally a pretty unhealthy middle-aged bloke myself. In the last few days, I’ve become increasingly concerned that not every member of the clan is going to make it out of 2020 alive.

I’m sure many readers are feeling the same way right now.

The UK government’s response may or may not be scientifically sound, but it seems to me the underlying strategy is not to prevent people from getting the disease, which may well no longer be possible, but rather to spread out infections over as long a period as possible, so as to reduce the peak strain on the National Health Service.

My feeling, which I don’t think is particularly paranoid, is that Boris Johnson, in apparent contrast to other world leaders, has made the call to throw a generation of British grannies under the bus in the name of herd immunity.

We’re living in dark times, and it’s going to get worse before it gets better.

I hope all my readers stay safe. And, in all seriousness, keep washing those hands and stay at home if you start coughing!

Awkward segue incoming.

There was little doubt in my mind that ICANN made the correct decision three weeks ago when it cancelled the in-person Cancun public meeting and quickly organized a much-truncated online-only ICANN 67 instead. There seemed a possibility that it was acting through an over-abundance of caution.

But, given the developments in the coronavirus pandemic since ICANN pulled the plug on Cancun, all such doubt has surely been eliminated. ICANN made entirely the right call.

That’s not to say that 67 was a roaring success. It suffered from the entirely predictable and unavoidable limitations of online conferencing.

When I say it was “muted”, I mean that in two senses of the word.

Watching the American late-night talk show hosts last night performing to empty audiences this morning was a surreal experience. Like watching survivors of the zombie apocalypse broadcasting a plaintive SOS into an eerily silent ether.

I kinda felt the same listening to ICANN 67.

While I’m no stranger to remote participation — that’s how I experience most ICANN meetings — there’s usually a detectable sense of place, of a jostling community on the other side of the Zoom room. I hesitate to use a word as strong as “vibrancy”, but you probably know what I’m getting at.

There was none of that at 67, which largely played out in much the same way as a regular policy working group call.

And that’s when we get to the other sense of the word “muted” — I lost count of the amount of time squandered to technical issues such as dropped or laggy connections, background noise, and, most commonly, people not realizing that they have to unmute their lines before speaking.

I don’t think a single session I attended was not plagued by periods of uncomfortable silence.

As I said, this was entirely predictable and largely unavoidable. I don’t think the fact that each session’s Zoom room appeared to be configured differently helped, but it’s probably a problem that will be mitigated as people become more accustomed to the Zoom platform.

The next ICANN meeting, numbered 68, is currently still scheduled to take place in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, from June 22, but I think that it’s almost inevitable that we’ll be looking at another online-only session.

Malaysia currently has 158 confirmed cases of coronavirus, suggesting that it’s still in the relatively early stages of the pandemic compared to, say, Europe.

With UK experts predicting peak infections here around late May, it’s entirely possible ICANN 68 would take place while Malaysia’s problem is significantly worse than it is today.

ICANN chair: “all options open” on .org deal

Kevin Murphy, March 10, 2020, Domain Policy

ICANN has not yet decided to approve the acquisition of Public Interest Registry by Ethos Capital, but has not ruled out rejecting the deal either.

That’s according to chair Maarten Botterman, speaking to his Governmental Advisory Committee this evening.

At the online-only ICANN 67 meeting, he was asked by GAC chair Manal Ismail whether ICANN is considering withholding its consent for the $1.13 billion deal, which would see the .org registry return to for-profit hands for the first time in 18 years.

“At this moment all options remain open. We are open-minded to taking all input into account before it is time for us to decide,” Botterman replied.

“ICANN will consider the request based upon the totality of the information received,” he also said.

ICANN has the ability, under its registry agreement with PIR, to reject a change of control such as an acquisition, if it believes it’s not in the public interest.

Critics of the deal believe it would allow private equity firm Ethos and its anonymous backers to price-gouge non-profits such as charities, which need the money more.

But Ethos has offered to cap price increases at 10% per year on average for the next seven years, reimposing a price cap that PIR negotiated its way out of last year.

Could .org debate bring back the glory days of ICANN public forums?

Kevin Murphy, March 5, 2020, Domain Policy

ICANN is going to devote 90 minutes to discussing the controversial acquisition of Public Interest Registry by Ethos Capital on Monday, and the sparks could fly.

It’s actually going to be the first formal session of the abridged, online-only ICANN 67 meeting, which had been due to take place in Cancun but will now be carried out fully online. The customary opening ceremony has been scrapped.

Seventy minutes will be devoted to taking questions and comments from the “room”. ICANN 67 is sticking to Cancun’s time zone and the .org session starts at 1400 UTC, which would have been 0900 at the venue.

ICANN warned that the sessions is devoted to the process ICANN is using to approve, or not, the acquisition, and that it “cannot address questions and comments that relate to the ISOC, PIR, Ethos Capital, or other parties involved in the proposed transfer”.

The deal is controversial largely because critics believe Ethos, as a private equity company, is much more likely to start to rip off .org registrars with price hikes than not-for-profit ISOC. But Ethos has offered to bake conditions into its contract that limit it to 10% increases per year on average.

Given the vast amount of interest in the .org deal from outside the usual ICANN community, we could see the kind of robust debate that was common in the ICANN public forum sessions during the birth throes of the new gTLD program, but which has been sadly lacking in recent years.

Newcomers wishing to get involved might like to first familiarize themselves with ICANN’s Expected Standards of Behavior. Anyone dropping the F-bomb or calling the deal “gay”, as happened during the recent .com comment period, will very likely be kicked and banned. Just imagine you’re talking to Titania McGrath and you should be okay.

Poblete to replace Disspain on ICANN board

Kevin Murphy, March 3, 2020, Domain Policy

Chilean registry manager Patricio Poblete will join ICANN’s board of directors this October, replacing longstanding member Chris Disspain.

PobleteThe Country Code Names Supporting Organization confirmed Poblete as its new nominee at the weekend following a lengthy election process also fought by Australian Nigel Phair and South African Calvin Browne.

Poblete is the director of NIC Chile, the ccTLD registry for some almost 600,000 .cl domains. He’s been involved in ICANN since its very beginning.

In the election, he received 57 votes compared to Browne’s 42 and Phair’s eight.

Disspain, a very influential member of the board who was vice-chair for years until he stepped aside last September, is being forced out due to term limits in ICANN’s bylaws. He’s almost done serving his third and final three-year term.

Poblete will become one of two ccNSO-selected directors. The other is Nigel Roberts, who runs the Channel Islands ccTLDs. Roberts’ term ends next year.

The nomination frees up a spot for a possible future director from Asia-Pacific, while reducing the available spots from Latin America.

Most languages won’t be available at ICANN 67

Kevin Murphy, March 3, 2020, Domain Policy

Translation services are the first component of ICANN 67 to fail victim to the org’s decision to hold the meeting entirely online.

ICANN announced last week that it has cancelled the in-person meeting, which had been due to kick off this coming Saturday in Cancun, due to fears about importing Covid-19 into Mexico and exacerbating its worldwide spread.

But it seems the lack of physical space is going to cause problems. It simply doesn’t have the room at its Los Angeles headquarters to accommodate all of its usual services.

There will be eight rooms operating simultaneously via Zoom during the meeting, ICANN said yesterday, and only two of those will have real-time interpretation.

Of the five non-English United Nations languages usually supported — Arabic, Chinese, French, Russian, and Spanish — only French and Spanish will be supported live. Portuguese, which is also usually available, will not be supported.

Sessions of the Governmental Advisory Committee and other high-interest meetings such as open board meetings and the Public Forums, will be given priority.

According to data released by ICANN in December, it appears very few remote participants people actually take advantage of live interpretation.

Of the 1,752 remote participants at ICANN 66, only 15 people tuned in non-English web audio streams and nine of those were listening to the Spanish, this report states. It appears the Arabic interpreter was broadcasting to an international audience of literally nobody.

This, of course, does not take into account how many people were physically in the room and using the live-interpretation headsets ICANN provides. These people will presumably have to switch to the web streams this time around.

Translated transcripts will be available after the meeting, faster than they are normally provided, ICANN said.

It seems that ICANN community members with limited English are going to be hardest hit by the switch to online-only.

Given that these people are most likely reading this article via Google Translate, I’d just like to add for clarity: my lonely moped speedily devours yawning leopards, while gorgeous shoelaces envelope my thorax.