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Oh, the irony! Banned anti-Islam activist shows up on “Turkish” new gTLD domain

Kevin Murphy, April 23, 2019, Domain Policy

Tommy Robinson, who has been banned from most major social media platforms due to his anti-Islam “hate speech”, is now conducting business via a domain name that some believe rightfully belongs to the Muslim-majority nation of Turkey.

The registration could add fuel to the fight between ICANN and its governmental advisers over whether certain domains should be blocked or restricted.

Robinson, the nom de guerre of the man born Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, is the founder and former leader of the far-right English Defence League and known primarily for stirring up anti-Muslim sentiment in the UK for the last decade.

He’s currently, controversially, an adviser to the UK Independence Party. Former UKIP leader Nigel Farage, also a thoroughly unpleasant bloke, considers Robinson so far to the right he quit the party in response to the appointment.

Over the last year, Robinson has been banned from Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, and had his YouTube account placed under serious restrictions. This month, he was also banned from SnapChat, and the EDL he used to lead was among a handful of far-right groups banned from Facebook.

Since his personal Facebook page went dark in February, he’s been promoting his new web site as the primary destination for his supporters.

It features news about his activities — mainly his ongoing fights against social media platforms and an overturned contempt of court conviction in the UK — as well as summaries of basically any sufficiently divisive anti-Islam, anti-immigration, or pro-Brexit stories his writers come across.

The domain he’s using is tr.news, a new gTLD domain in a Donuts-owned registry. It was registered in December via GoDaddy.

Given it’s a two-character domain, it will have been registry-reserved and would have commanded a premium price. Other two-character .news domains are currently available on GoDaddy for between $200 and $10,000 for the first year.

It will come as no surprise at all for you to learn that the domain was transferred out of GoDaddy, which occasionally kicks out customers with distasteful views, to Epik, now de facto home of those with far-right views, a couple of weeks after the web site launched.

The irony of the choice of domain is that many governments would claim that tr.news — indeed any two-character domain, in any gTLD, which matches any country-code — rightfully belongs to Turkey, a nation of about 80 million nominal Muslims.

TR is the ISO 3166-1 two-character code for Turkey, and until a couple of years ago new gTLD registries were banned from selling any of these ccTLD-match two-letter domains, due to complaints from ICANN’s Governmental Advisory Committee.

Many governments, including the UK and US, couldn’t care less who registers their matching domain. Others, such as France, Italy and Israel, want bans on specific domains such as it.pizza and il.army. Other countries have asked for blanket bans on their ccTLD-match being used at all, in any gTLD.

When new gTLDs initially launched in 2012, all ccTLD matches were banned by ICANN contract. In 2014, ICANN introduced a cumbersome government-approval system under which governments had to be consulted before their matches were released for registration.

Since December 2016, the policy (pdf) has been that registries can release any two-letter domains, subject to a provision that they not be used by registrants to falsely imply an affiliation with the country or registry with the matching ccTLD.

Robinson is certainly not making such an implication. I imagine he’d be as surprised as his readers to learn that his new domain has a Turkish connection. It’s likely the only people who noticed are ICANN nerds and the Turkish themselves.

Would the Turkish people look at tr.news and assume, from the domain alone, that it had some connection to Turkey? I think many would, though I have no idea whether they would assume it was endorsed by the government or the ccTLD registry.

Would Turkey — a government whose censorship regime makes Robinson’s social media plight look like unbounded liberalism — be happy to learn the domain matching its country code is being used primarily to deliver divisive content about the coreligionists of the vast majority of its citizens? Probably not.

But under current ICANN policy it does not appear there’s much that can be done about it. If Robinson is not attempting to pass himself of as an affiliate of the Turkish government or ccTLD registry, there’s no avenue for complaint.

However, after taking the cuffs off registries with its December 2016 pronouncement, allowing them to sell two-letter domains with barely any restrictions, ICANN has faced continued complaints from the GAC — complaints that have yet to be resolved.

The GAC has been telling ICANN for the last two years that some of its members believe the decision to release two-character names went against previous GAC advice, and ICANN has been patiently explaining the process it went through to arrive at the current policy, which included taking GAC advice and government comments into account.

In what appears to be a kind of peace offering, ICANN recently told the GAC (pdf) that it is developing an online tool that “will provide awareness of the registration of two-character domains and allow for governments to report concerns”.

The GAC, in its most-recent communique, told ICANN its members would test the tool and report back at the public meeting in Montreal this November.

The tool was not available in December, when tr.news was registered, so it’s not clear whether Turkey will have received a formal notification that its ccTLD-match domain is now registered, live, and being used to whip up mistrust of Muslims.

Update April 30: ICANN informs me that the tool has been available since February, but that it does not push notifications to governments. Rather, governments can search to see if their two-letter codes have been registered in which gTLDs.

auDA rejects domaining ban but approves second-level domains

Kevin Murphy, April 16, 2019, Domain Policy

Australian ccTLD registry auDA has rejected a proposal that would have essentially banned domainers from the .au space.

In response to recommendations of its Policy Review Panel, auDA management said that the PRP “has not provided any evidentiary material” that so-called “warehousing” is harmful.

It further concluded that the policies proposed for monitoring and rooting out suspected domainers would disproportionately increase compliance costs for both registrants and auDA itself.

In management’s response (pdf) to the PRP, auDA wrote that the ban would make investors second-class citizens when compared to powerful trademark owners:

The warehousing prohibition appears to disproportionately target domain investors as the licence portfolios or holdings of trademark and brand owners will be excluded under the PRP proposal. This proposal elevates the rights of trademark and other intellectual property owners over other licence holders in the .au domain, which may give rise to issues of market power and anti-competitive practices. Management believes that further information is required to assess whether the net benefit to the community of prohibiting warehousing in respect of a class of registrants outweighs the competition issues. For these reasons Management believes that there should be no change to the existing policy position.

It added:

Management does not support the PRP recommendation for a resale and warehousing prohibition for the reasons set out earlier. The proposed test for determining whether a registrant has contravened the resale and warehousing prohibition will increase compliance costs for registrants and administration, monitoring and enforcement costs for auDA. These costs may be disproportionate to the risk or severity of the harm to the community from warehousing and the cost of a licence in the .au domain.

Not only did it decide not to crack down on domainers, but auDA also plans to make their lives a little easier by updating current eligibility policy to explicitly state that parking, or “monetization”, is permitted.

To ensure there is no ambiguity or reliance on interpreting ‘content’, auDA management has recommended an additional allocation criteria can be applied to com.au and net.au which would include that a domain name could be used for the purpose of pay-per-click or affiliate web advertising/ lead generation, or electronic information services including email, file transfer protocol, cloud storage or managing Internet of Things (IoT) devices.

It’s a comprehensive win for domainers, such as those represented by the Internet Commerce Association, which had been outraged by the PRP’s findings.

It’s less good news when it comes to the perhaps more controversial plans to allow direct, second-level registrations under .au.

auDA has decided to go ahead with these longstanding plans, which domainers worry will promote confusion and dilute the value of their third-level .com.au portfolios.

The new draft plans (pdf) for the launch of 2LDs would see existing 3LD registrants given “priority status” to register the exact-match 2LD.

There would be a six-month application window for registrants to lodge their claims, beginning October 1 this year.

If the .com.au version and .org.au version, for example, were owned by different parties, the registrant with the earliest registration date would have priority.

After the application window closed, any unclaimed domains would be made available on a first-come, first-served basis.

These rules, and all the results of auDA’s response to the PRP, are open for public comment until May 10.

ICANN takes the reins again as .amazon talks fail

Kevin Murphy, April 10, 2019, Domain Policy

ICANN has re-involved itself in the fight over the .amazon gTLD, after Amazon and eight South American governments failed to reach agreement over the name.

ICANN chair Cherine Chalaby wrote this week to the Amazon Cooperation Treaty Organization to inform the group that it is now ICANN that will decide whether the proposed dot-brand domain is approved or not.

ICANN’s board had given Amazon and ACTO until April 7 to come to a mutual agreement that addressed ACTO’s sovereignty concerns, but they missed that deadline.

According to the BBC World Service, citing unnamed diplomats, ACTO wanted Amazon to create a kind of policy committee, with seats at the table for governments to veto second-level domains Amazon decides it wants to register in .amazon in future.

Amazon declined this demand, instead offering each of the eight ACTO countries its two-letter country-code under .amazon — br.amazon for Brazil, for example — the Beeb reported at the weekend.

Now that ICANN’s deadline has passed, ACTO appears to have lost its chance to negotiate with Amazon.

ICANN has now asked the company to submit a plan to address ACTO’s concerns directly to ICANN by April 21.

From that point, it could go either way. ICANN might approve the .amazon application, reject it, or push it back to Amazon for further work.

But .amazon may not necessarily be on the home straight yet. A straightforward approval or rejection will very likely provoke howls of anguish, and further appeals action, from the losing side.

ICA opposes Aussie domaining ban

Kevin Murphy, April 10, 2019, Domain Policy

The Internet Commerce Association has weighed in to the debate about whether domain investing should be effectively banned in Australia’s .au ccTLD.

Naturally enough, the domainer trade group opposes the ban, saying that investment is a natural part of any market, and very probably supplying the registry with millions of dollars of revenue.

The comments came in a letter to auDA (pdf) from ICA general counsel Zak Muscovitch in response to auDA’s latest policy review proposals, which I reported on two weeks ago, that propose to further crack down on “warehousing”.

auDA wants to ban the practice of registering domains “primarily” for resale or warehousing, clarifying the current rule that prohibits registering “solely” for resale (which is easily evaded by, for example, parking).

A set of indicators would be used to zero in on offenders, such as observing the registrant’s history of selling or offering to sell domains, the existence of an auction listing for the domain, or the fact that the registrant owns more than 100 .au names.

But ICA reckons the effort is misguided and could even be damaging to auDA’s finances, pointing out that it and its registrars likely receive millions of dollars from the registration and renewal of speculative domain names.

Muscovitch’s letter goes on to question whether the policy review panel that came up with the proposals did any research into the potential economic impact of banning domain investment, pointing out that in some cases to seize domainers’ portfolios could wipe out a family’s life savings.

ICA also questions whether the panel has sufficiently thought through how enforceable its proposed rules would be, given the additional complexity introduced into the system.

The policy review paper is still open for comments, but if you want to chip in you’d better be quick. The comment period ends at 1700 AEST Friday, which is 0700 UTC.

“Just give up!” ICANN tells its most stubborn new gTLD applicant

Kevin Murphy, April 8, 2019, Domain Policy

ICANN has urged the company that wants to run .internet as new gTLD to just give up and go away.

The India-based company, Nameshop, actually applied for .idn — to stand for “internationalized domain name” — back in the 2012 application round.

It failed the Geographic Names Review portion of the application process because IDN is the International Standards Organization’s 3166-1 three-letter code for Indonesia, and those were all banned.

While one might question the logic of applying for a Latin-script string to represent IDNs, overlooking the ISO banned list was not an incredibly stupid move.

Even a company with Google’s brainpower resources overlooked this paragraph of the Applicant Guidebook and applied for three 3166-1 restricted strings: .and, .are and .est.

But rather than withdraw its .idn bid, like Google did with its failed applications, Nameshop decided to ask ICANN to change its applied-for string to .internet.

There was a small amount of precedent for this. ICANN had permitted a few applicants to correct typos in their applied-for strings, enabling DotConnectAfrica for example to correct its nutty application for “.dotafrica” to its intended “.africa”.

But swapping out .idn for .internet was obviously not a simple correction but rather looked a complete upgrade of its addressable market. Nobody else had applied for .internet, and Nameshop was well aware of this, so Nameshop’s bid would have been a shoo-in.

To allow the change would have opened the floodgates for every applicant that found itself in a tricky contention set to completely change their desired strings to something cheaper or more achievable.

But Nameshop principal Sivasubramanian Muthusamy did not take no for an answer. He’s been nagging ICANN to change its mind ever since.

There’s a lengthy, rather slick timeline of his lobbying efforts published on the Nameshop web site.

He filed a Request for Reconsideration back in 2013, which was swiftly rejected by the ICANN board of directors.

In July 2017, he wrote to ICANN to complain that Nameshop’s string change request should be treated the same as any other:

It seems that if ICANN can allow string changes from a relatively undesirable name to a more desireable name based on misspelling, then ICANN should allow a change from a desireable name in three characters(IDN) to longer name in eight characters (Internet) based on confusion with geographical names

Meetings with ICANN staff, the Ombudsman, the Governmental Advisory Committee and others to discuss his predicament several times over the last several years have proved fruitless.

Finally, today ICANN has published a letter (pdf) it sent to Muthusamy on Friday, urging him to ditch his Quixotic quest and get his money back. Christine Willett, VP of gTLD operations, wrote:

Given we are unable to take further action on Nameshop’s application, we encourage you to withdraw the application for a full refund of Nameshop’s application fee.

I doubt this is the first time ICANN has urged Nameshop to take its money and run, but it seems ICANN is now finally sick of talking about the issue.

Willett added that ICANN staff and directors “politely decline” his request for further in-person meetings to discuss the application, and encouraged him to apply for his desired string in the next application round, whenever that may be.