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ICANN staff swamped

Kevin Murphy, January 14, 2011, Domain Policy

ICANN’s board of directors is giving its staff and policy-making bodies more work than they can handle.

The GNSO Council yesterday voted to shelve board-requested work on the new top level domains program because no ICANN staffers have the time to help coordinate the project.

Last month, the board asked the GNSO and other constituencies to come up with ideas, before mid-March, about how to measure the consumer benefits of new TLDs after they launch.

But the Council yesterday was faced with having to suspend other policy development, in order to get the required staff support, so decided instead to defer the new work.

A senior ICANN executive at the meeting said that ICANN staff is “not an unlimited resource” and has “no bandwidth to keep taking these projects”.

This has apparently been an issue for over a year.

In this particular instance, the problem project comprised part of ICANN’s obligations under its Affirmation of Commitments with the US government, so it’s not trivial stuff.

As others have noted, sometimes the amount of policy development going on in ICANN can appear overwhelming to outsiders, but it seems that this problem also extends to ICANN internally.

Clinton agrees to do ICANN meeting

Kevin Murphy, January 14, 2011, Domain Policy

ICANN has confirmed that former US president Bill Clinton has agreed to speak at its San Francisco meeting in March.

But ICANN’s Scott Pinzon said in a blog post that a formal contract, which would be funded by a “targeted sponsorship” deal, has not yet been signed. He wrote:

We are also aware that ICANN meetings are highly structured, work-intensive events, and we want to be sure that an appearance by President Clinton enhances the meeting’s outcomes rather than distracts from them.

Read into that what you will.

Clinton’s appearance will likely make the San Francisco meeting ICANN’s best-attended so far, at least for a day or so. Expect TV.

It will also raise the profile of the new top-level domains program, if ICANN in fact approves it during the meeting.

On a personal level, this is tragic news. It’s already hard enough to get a coffee in the ICANN press room without a thousand other newbie reporters crowding the place out.

I’ve put in a request for an interview anyway.

Will Bill Clinton keynote at ICANN San Francisco?

Kevin Murphy, January 7, 2011, Domain Policy

There’s been a rumor going around for at least a month that Bill Clinton is being lined up to provide the keynote address for the next ICANN meeting, to be held in San Francisco in March.

I’m not going to pretend to have any inside information, but I’ve heard it from so many people recently that I thought it was worthy of a post.

One reason the rumor may have been reinvigorated this week is the revelation of the hefty sums ICANN is charging its top sponsors for the San Francisco meeting.

As I reported earlier in the week, VeriSign appears to have paid up $500,000 to get one of two top-tier Diamond-level sponsorship deals for the meeting.

Clinton, like many former world leaders, can command powerful sums for public speaking engagements, reportedly up to $350,000 a gig a few years ago.

ICANN, of course, was the brainchild of the Clinton administration in 1998.

While the US government’s attitude to ICANN’s activities has changed over the years, the organization was formed largely to introduce competition in the registrar and registry markets.

Since these are two likely results of the approval of the new TLDs program, Clinton’s appearance at the meeting where it will possibly happen would be appropriate.

ICANN wants to make millions from SF meeting

Kevin Murphy, January 5, 2011, Domain Policy

ICANN hopes to sign millions of dollars in sponsorship deals for its San Francisco meeting in March.

The organization has revamped its sponsorship options, adding new “Diamond” and “Platinum Elite” tiers (together worth up to $1.5 million) and doubling the price of its existing opportunities.

ICANN is looking for two companies to act as Diamond sponsors, paying $500,000 each, and two more to sign up for the Platinum Elite deal, each paying $250,000.

For the money, these companies will get the best booths, exclusive branding on bags and T-shirts, along with a bunch of other benefits not available to lesser sponsors.

Diamond sponsors will be given a “90-minute industry/technology related presentation delivered by your company at a scheduled session”, which I believe might be a first for ICANN.

They’ll also get “exclusive press access”, according to the ICANN site.

(In Cartagena, “the press” was pretty much just me and the guy from Managing Internet IP. I can’t speak for him, but access to me can be had in SF for the price of a couple of pints of Anchor Steam).

Prices for the Platinum, Gold, Silver and Bronze deals it has offered at previous meetings have also been doubled, to $100,000, $50,000, $20,000 and $10,000 respectively.

ICANN is also looking for another $160,000 to sponsor its three evening events, $125,000 to sponsor the twice-daily coffee breaks and $210,000 to sponsor the lunches.

According to my back-of-the-envelope calculations, ICANN took in less than half a million dollars in sponsorship money for its meeting in Brussels last summer, which was its last big “first-world” gig.

For the March meeting, the organization is clearly hoping to benefit from the concentration of technology companies in the San Francisco bay area, which of course includes Silicon Valley.

I suspect that tapping this pool of sponsor cash may be the main reason the conference is amusingly being referred to officially as the “Silicon Valley in San Francisco” meeting.

How many sponsorship slots get filled by the domain name industry will depend to a degree on how likely it appears that ICANN will approve the new top-level domains program at the SF meeting.

I expect there would be a reluctance from registry service providers to drop half a million bucks on a conference from which the main headline at the end of the week is “ICANN delays gTLDs again”.

The current ICANN budget, incidentally, forecasts just $500,000 in sponsorship revenue for fiscal 2011, which ends in June. Its meetings typically cost $1 million each to run.

UPDATED: In the two hours since this post was first published, .com registry VeriSign has appeared on the ICANN web site as the first $500,000 “Diamond” sponsor of the meeting.

ICANN Ombudsman loses ‘air rage’ appeal

Kevin Murphy, January 3, 2011, Domain Policy

Outgoing ICANN Ombudsman Frank Fowlie has lost an appeal with Canadian air regulators over his bust-up with a steward on a first-class flight in 2009.

In a February 2010 decision, the Canadian Transportation Agency found that Air Canada was within its rights to stop Fowlie boarding a connecting flight after he clashed with flight staff over poor service.

The CTA ruled that Fowlie had “engaged in abusive and offensive behaviour” during the flight.

He first appealed, in March, to have his name removed from the record, but the request was rejected in July.

According to the CTA, Fowlie said at the time that:

a non-publication order is necessary to prevent a serious risk to an important interest which in this case is Dr. Fowlie’s employment as an ombudsman that carries an emphasis on public perception of impartiality and neutrality

And that the publication of his name would have:

a direct and highly detrimental impact on that perception that goes beyond the scope of mere embarrassment and undermines public confidence in the Office of the Ombudsman

Then he appealed the original decision, based on “new evidence”, which turned out to be a witness statement from his “traveling companion”, now apparently also his wife.

In its latest ruling, the CTA didn’t think that was good enough grounds to revisit its original decision.

Fowlie, ICANN’s original Ombudsman, is leaving the organization’s payroll this month, and his position is likely to be reevaluated in light of the ATRT report I noted earlier today.

I offered Fowlie an unnecessarily snarky tip back in February:

if you’re a high-powered executive type, dining out on your reputation for integrity and sound judgement, racking up hundreds of thousands of first class air miles on a bottomless expenses account, and you get into a fight with a trolley dolly because your salmon en croute was a little late, try to avoid having the whole embarrassing incident entered into the public record by doing something silly like, you know, filing a complaint.

I’d like to amend that tip to include the following:

Oh, and if you’re paid a six-figure salary to provide oversight for an organization that ostensibly values openness and transparency above all, perhaps subsequently attempting to have your indiscretions expunged from the public record may not paint you in the best light.

Thanks to George Kirikos, who did most of the legwork for this story.

ICANN given 27 New Year’s resolutions

Kevin Murphy, January 3, 2011, Domain Policy

There’s a pretty big shake-up coming to ICANN in 2011, following the publication late last week of a report outlining 27 ways it should reform its power structures.

The final recommendations of its Accountability and Transparency Review Team (pdf) notably direct the organization to figure out its “dysfunctional” relationship with governments once and for all.

ICANN will also have to revamp how it decides who sits on its board of directors, when its staff can make unilateral decisions, how the voices of stakeholders are heard, and how its decisions can be appealed.

The ATRT report was developed, independently, as one of ICANN’s obligations under its Affirmation of Commitments with the US government’s Department of Commerce.

As such, ICANN is pretty much bound to adopt its findings. But many are written in such a way to enable some flexibility in their implementation.

The report covers four broad areas of reform, arguably the most important of which is ICANN’s relationship with its Governmental Advisory Committee.

As I’ve previously noted, ICANN and the GAC have a major stumbling block when it comes to effective communication due mainly to the fact that they can’t agree on what GAC “advice” is.

This has led, most recently, to delays with the TLD program, and with ICM Registry’s application for .xxx.

The ATRT report tells ICANN and the GAC to define “advice” before March this year.

It also recommends the opening of more formalized communications channels, so ICANN can tell the GAC when it needs advice, and on what topics, and the GAC can respond accordingly.

The report stops short of telling ICANN to follow GAC advice on a “mandatory” basis, as had been suggested by at least one GAC member (France).

The ICANN will still be able to overrule the GAC, but it will do so in a more formalized way.

ICANN’s public comment forums also look set for a rethink.

The ATRT report recommends, among other things, separating comment periods into at least two flavors and two phases, giving different priorities to different stages of policy development.

It could also could break out comment periods into two segments, to give commentators the chance to, in a second phase, rebut the earlier comments of others.

The three ICANN appeals processes (its Ombudsman, the Reconsideration Request process and the Independent Review Process) are also set for review.

The ATRT group wants ICANN to, before June, hire “a committee of independent experts” to figure out whether these procedures can be make cheaper, quicker and more useful.

The IRP, for example, is pretty much a rich man’s appeals process. The Ombudsman is seen as too cozy with ICANN to be an effective avenue for complaints. And the Reconsideration Request process has too many strict prerequisites to make it a useful tool.

The report includes a recommendation that ICANN should, in the next six months, clarify under what circumstances its is able to make decisions without listening to bottom-up consensus first:

The Board should clarify, as soon as possible but no later than June 2011 the distinction between issues that are properly subject to ICANN’s policy development processes and those matters that are properly within the executive functions performed by the ICANN staff and Board

ICANN has also been told to address how it selects its directors, with emphasis on:

identifying the collective skill-set required by the ICANN Board including such skills as public policy, finance, strategic planning, corporate governance, negotiation, and dispute resolution.

Other the recommendations themselves, the ATRT spends part of its 200-page report moaning about how little time (about nine months) it had to carry out its work, and how little importance some ICANN senior staff seemed to give to the process.

All of the 27 recommendations are expected to be implemented over the next six months. The report is currently open for public comment here.

Another top staffer quits ICANN

Kevin Murphy, January 2, 2011, Domain Policy

Tina Dam, senior director of internationalized domain names at ICANN, has quit.

The news appears to have been broken on Twitter by Adrian Kinderis, CEO of AusRegistry, which does quite a bit of work with IDNs in the middle-east.

It’s my understanding that Dam may have actually resigned almost a month ago, during ICANN’s meeting in Cartagena.

Her move comes at an awkward time for ICANN, which is in the middle of revamping its IDN ccTLD Fast Track program, which Dam headed.

Dam has been with ICANN for many years, and is widely well-regarded by the community.

Overseeing the IDN program is a highly specialized and, one imagines, quite stressful position. Finding a qualified replacement will not be trivial.

Her name is added to the list of senior ICANN staffers to either quit or get fired over the last year, which currently numbers at least half a dozen.

Cops seize 1,800 domains in 2010

Kevin Murphy, December 27, 2010, Domain Policy

Nominet helped the UK’s Metropolitan Police seize 1,800 .uk domains during 2010, many of them just prior to Christmas, according to the Met.

The domains all allegedly hosted “bogus” sites that were “either fraudulent or advertising counterfeit goods which failed to materialise”, the Met said.

While a statement from the Police Central e-Crime Unit said it had worked with “registrars” to shut down the domains, it also credited Nominet a role:

The sites are run by organised criminal networks and thought to generate millions of pounds which can then be used to fund further illicit activity.

The preventative action was carried out in partnership with Nominet – the public body for UK domain name registrations – and involved a concentrated effort around the festive period; a time when we traditionally see an upsurge in this type of crime as fraudsters take advantage of the increased number of online consumers.

It’s not the first time the UK police, with Nominet’s aid, have swooped to shut down such domains.

In December 2009, a similar announcement from the PCeU, which said that 1,219 domains had been turned off, was greeted less than warmly by some.

Web hosting companies reportedly often ask for a court order before shutting down sites. When VeriSign helped US law enforcement seize 80+ domains in November, it did so subject to a court order.

It seems domains in the UK may not be subject to such judicial oversight.

Nominet chief executive Lesley Cowley, discussing the December 2009 seizures in a recent interview, would only tell me that the police had “instructed” Nominet to shut down the domains.

According to The Register’s coverage, Nominet used the lack of authentic Whois data as legal cover for those seizures.

But there is a new Nominet policy development process under way, initiated by the UK Serious and Organised Crime Agency, which seeks to amend the standard .uk registrant agreement to give a stronger contractual basis for seizing domains when they appear to break UK law.

Go Daddy-Google group targets bogus pill merchants

Kevin Murphy, December 15, 2010, Domain Policy

The newly forming industry body tasked with taking down web sites selling fake pharmaceuticals plans to meet next month to develop its mission statement and charter, according to Go Daddy general counsel Christine Jones.

Jones said in an interview tonight that the group, which Go Daddy is jointly “spearheading” with Google, is likely to meet in Phoenix, Arizona in the third week of January.

As I blogged earlier today, the organization was formed following a series of meetings at the White House, which has a policy of reducing counterfeit drugs sales online.

Domain name companies including Go Daddy, eNom, Neustar and Network Solutions are joined in the currently nameless non-profit by the three major search engines and all the major payment processors.

Jones confirmed that redirecting a domain name is an action a participating registrar could take if it finds an infringing site. Go Daddy and others already do this in cases of child porn, for example.

But the group will also share information about fake pharma sites so Google, for example, would also be able to block them from search and Visa could stop payments being processed, Jones told me.

The White House meetings were organized by Victoria Espinel, the administration’s Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator (IPEC).

So, while the group has yet to formalize its policies, I wanted to know what the prevailing opinion is on how “illegal” a site will have to be before the group will try to take it down.

Taking down a site selling sugar pills or industrial acid as HIV treatments is one thing, killing a site selling genuine medications to people without prescriptions is another, and blocking a legit pharmacy that sells drugs to Americans with prescriptions more cheaply from across the Canadian border is yet another.

Jones said: “If a pharmacy is a licensed pharmacy and is abiding by whatever the state rules are wherever they’re located, that’s not our target.”

Apparently the new organization, which will be formed as a non-profit entity, may help the companies to avoid running afoul of ECPA, the US Electronic Communications Privacy Act.

Jones said that other companies participating in the White House meetings still have not decided whether to join the new group or not. End-of-year budgetary issues may be a factor here.

Domain registrars have come in for considerable flak over 2010 for allegedly not doing enough to counter fake pharma sites.

A Knujon report published in May, and others, eventually led to eNom in particular promising to crack down harder on rogue pharmacies.

Go Daddy proposes fake pharma site shutdown body

Kevin Murphy, December 15, 2010, Domain Policy

A cross-industry body that will make it easier for web sites selling fake drugs to be shut down is forming in the US, led by Google and Go Daddy.

The idea for the currently nameless organization was announced yesterday following a series of meetings between the internet industry and White House officials.

The group will “start taking voluntary action against illegal Internet pharmacies” which will include stopping payment processing and shutting down web sites.

The domain name business is represented by the three biggest US registrars – Go Daddy, eNom and Network Solutions – as well as Neustar (.biz, .us, etc) on the registry side.

Surprisingly, VeriSign (.com) does not appear to be involved currently.

Other members include the major credit card companies – American Express, Visa and Mastercard – as well as PayPal and search engines Google, Microsoft and Yahoo.

According to a statement provided by Neustar:

GoDaddy and Google took the lead on proposing the formation of a private sector 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that would be dedicated to promoting information sharing, education, and more efficient law enforcement of rogue internet pharmacies.

It’s early days, so there are no specifics as yet as to how the organization will function, such as under what circumstances it will take down sites.

There’s no specific mention of domain names being turned off or seized, although reading between the lines that may be part of the plan.

There’s substantial debate in the US as to what kinds of pharmaceuticals sites constitute a risk to health and consumer protection.

While many sites do sell worthless or potentially harmful medications, others are overseas companies selling genuine pharma cheaply to Americans, who often pay a stiff premium for their drugs.

The organization will do more than just shut down sites, however.

It also proposes an expansion to white lists of genuine pharmacies such as the National Association of Boards of Pharmacies’ Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Sites (VIPPS).

And it will promote consumer education about the “dangers” of shopping for drugs online, as well as sharing information to stop the genuine bad guys “forum shopping” for places to host their sites.

This is what the statement says about enforcement:

The organization’s members agree to share information with law enforcement about unlawful Internet pharmacies where appropriate, accept information about Internet pharmacies operating illegally, and take voluntary enforcement action (stop payment, shut down the site, etc.) where appropriate.

While taking down sites that are selling genuinely harmful pills is undoubtedly a Good Thing, I suspect it is unlikely to go down well in that sector of the internet community concerned with the US government’s increasing role in removing content from the internet.