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Is ICANN over-reacting to Whois privacy law?

Kevin Murphy, March 20, 2018, Domain Policy

Is ICANN pushing the domain industry to over-comply with the European Union’s incoming General Data Protection Regulation privacy law?

Governments and plenty of intellectual property and business lobbyists think so.

After days of criticism from unhappy IP lawyers, ICANN’s public meeting in Puerto Rico last week was capped with a withering critique of the organization’s proposed plan for the industry to become GDPR compliant as pertains Whois.

The Governmental Advisory Committee, in unusually granular terms, picked apart the plan in its usual formal, end-of-meeting advice bomb, which focused on making sure law enforcement and IP owners continue to get unfettered Whois access after GDPR kicks in in May.

Key among the GAC’s recommendations (pdf) is that the post-GDPR public Whois system should continue to publish the email address of each domain registrant.

Under ICANN’s plan — now known as the “Cookbook” — that field would be obscured and replaced with a contact form or anonymized email address.

The GAC advised ICANN to “reconsider the proposal to hide the registrant email address as this may not be proportionate in view of the significant negative impact on law enforcement, cybersecurity and rights protection;”.

But its rationale for the advice is a little wacky, suggesting that email addresses under some unspecified circumstances may not contain “personal data”:

publication of the registrant’s email address should be considered in light of the important role of this data element in the pursuit of a number of legitimate purposes and the possibility for registrants to provide an email address that does not contain personal data.

That’s kinda like saying your mailing address and phone number aren’t personal data, in my view. Makes no sense.

The GAC advice will have won the committee friends in the Intellectual Property Constituency and Business Constituency, which throughout ICANN 61 had been pressuring ICANN to check whether removing email addresses from public Whois was strictly necessary.

ICANN is currently acting as a non-exclusive middleman between community members and the 20-odd Data Protection Authorities — which will be largely responsible for enforcing GDPR — in the EU.

It’s running compliance proposals it compiles from community input past the DPAs in the hope of a firm nod, or just some crumbs of guidance.

But the BC and IPC have been critical that ICANN is only submitting a single, rather Draconian proposal — one which would eschew email addresses from the public Whois — to the DPAs.

In a March 13 session, BC member Steve DelBianco pressed ICANN CEO Goran Marby and other executives and directors repeatedly on this point.

“If they [the DPAs] respond ‘Yes, that’s sufficient,’ we won’t know whether it was necessary,” DelBianco said, worried that the Cookbook guts Whois more than is required.

ICANN general counsel John Jeffrey conceded that the Cookbook given to the DPAs only contains one proposal, but said that it also outlines the “competing views” in the ICANN community on publishing email addresses and asks for guidance.

But email addresses are not the only beef the GAC/IPC/BC have with the ICANN proposal.

On Thursday, the GAC also advised that legal entities that are not “natural persons” should continue to have their full information published in the public Whois, on the grounds that GDPR only applies to people, not organizations.

That’s contrary to ICANN’s proposal, which for pragmatic reasons makes no distinction between people and companies.

There’s also the question of whether the new regime of Whois privacy should apply to all registrants, or just those based in the European Economic Area.

ICANN plans to give contracted parties the option to make it apply in blanket fashion worldwide, but some say that’s overkill.

Downtime for Whois?

While there’s bickering about which fields should be made private under the new regime, there doesn’t seem to be any serious resistance to the notion that, after May, Whois will become a two-tier system with a severely depleted public service and a firewalled, full-fat version for law enforcement and whichever other “legitimate users” can get their feet in the door.

The problem here is that while ICANN envisions an accreditation program for these legitimate users — think trademark lawyers, security researchers, etc — it has made little progress towards actually creating one.

In other words, Whois could go dark for everyone just two months from now, at least until the accreditation program is put in place.

The GAC doesn’t like that prospect.

It said in its advice that ICANN should: “Ensure continued access to the WHOIS, including non-public data, for users with a legitimate purpose, until the time when the interim WHOIS model is fully operational, on a mandatory basis for all contracted parties”.

But ICANN executives said in a session on Thursday that the org plans to ask the DPAs for a deferral of enforcement of GDPR over Whois until the domain industry has had time to come into compliance while continuing to grant access to full Whois to police and special interests.

December appears to be the favored date for this proposed implementation deadline, but ICANN is looking for feedback on its timetable by this coming Friday, March 23.

But the IPC/BC faction are not stting on their hands.

Halfway through ICANN 61 they expressed support for a draft accreditation model penned by consultant Fred Felman, formerly of brand protection registrar MarkMonitor.

The model, nicknamed “Cannoli” (pdf) for some reason, unsurprisingly would give full Whois access to anyone with enough money to afford a trademark registration, and those acting on behalf of trademark owners.

Eligible accreditees would also include security researchers and internet safety organizations with the appropriate credentials.

Once approved, accredited Whois users would have unlimited access to Whois records for defined purposes such as trademark enforcement or domain transfers. All of their queries would be logged and randomly audited, and they could lose accreditation if found to be acting outside of their legitimate purpose.

But Cannoli felt some resistance from ICANN brass, some of whom pointed out that it had been drafted by just one part of the community

“If the community — the whole community — comes up with an accreditation model we would be proud to put that before the DPAs,” Marby said during Thursday’s public forum in Puerto Rico.

It’s a somewhat ironic position, given that ICANN was just a few weeks ago prepared to hand over responsibility for creating the first stage of the accreditation program — covering law enforcement — wholesale to the GAC.

The GAC’s response to that request?

It’s not interested. Its ICANN 61 communique said the GAC “does not envision an operational role in designing and implementing the proposed accreditation programs”.

A lazy blogger’s wish-list for ICANN remote participation

Kevin Murphy, March 19, 2018, Domain Policy

Remote participation at ICANN meetings is pretty damn good, but I’m an ungrateful asshole and I want more.

I’ve had a personal wish-list of remote participation features during and immediately after every ICANN meeting for a few years now, but when ICANN turned off Adobe Connect for the back half of ICANN 61 last week I was inspired to put pen to paper and rant about it in public.

Make no mistake, these are minor quibbles and no diss to the thoroughly lovely people on the ICANN meetings team.

In a community where are great many people are tasked with herding cats, the meetings guys are the only ones who have to physically herd the cats into their windowless pens through the sheer power of their organizational skills.

Not to mention they have to ensure all the cats are fed, watered, caffeinated, inebriated, and have trays of gravel into which to do their dirty business.

(Sorry, that metaphor got away from me a little there.)

My point is, the fact that anyone ever gets anything done at an ICANN meeting is due in no small part to the folk who actually organize the events, including the remote participation.

With all those disclaimers in mind, here are a few things I would like to see in future.

Archive the scribe feeds

The ICANN scribe feed, provided for as long as I can remember by Brewer & Darrenougue and StreamText is excellent.

It provides a live, scrolling, text transcription, in English, of whatever is being said in a session. It’s not 100% accurate all of the time, but it’s damn close.

Over the years, the scribes seem to have gained an ear for the regular speakers. It’s increasingly rare to see “[SAYING NAME]” in a feed, and we don’t often see pleas from the scribes for speakers to slow down any more.

This allows Anglo monoglot basement-dwellers such as myself to identify who’s talking and get a rough idea what they’re saying, even when they are Catalan registry operators speak quickly in heavily accented, non-native English.

The problem with the feed is that they disappear immediately after each session ends, usually at lunch time and again at the end of the day. Remote participants then have to wait anywhere from a day to several days for the full, edited transcript to be published.

I think the resource cost of immediately publishing the full, warts-and-all scribe transcript would be negligible.

Even if StreamText doesn’t offer it as an automated feature, copy-pasting a session transcript from a browser window into a PDF and banging it on the ICANN web site shouldn’t take more than a few minutes. I know; for several meetings I did it myself on selected sessions as a public service.

Bring back the MP3s

Not too long ago, the audio-only streams were recorded into MP3 files and dumped on the meeting web site in short order, often the same day.

Now, instead, we get M3U files, which are basically just links to streams. And the streams are extremely temperamental, regularly skipping around, restarting or simply stopping for no readily apparent reason.

Today, attempting to re-listen to the M3U of last Thursday’s Public Forum, I had to restart the stream and go hunting for the position I’d been kicked out maybe a dozen times. It was very irritating.

MP3s have the added advantage that they can be listened to offline, allowing you to catch up on sessions you missed while, for example, loitering at an airport with crappy wifi.

I want the MP3s back, dammit!

Consider YouTube maybe?

Recent meetings have seen the introduction of Livestream.com as an alternative to Adobe Connect for viewing live video.

I assume ICANN is paying for this service, probably five figures per year, but I have no idea what benefit (if any) the service offers over YouTube live streaming.

It doesn’t even always work. Try getting Thursday’s Public Forum recording to play. I couldn’t.

Is there any particular reason YouTube is not a viable option? As far as I know it’s free and reliable. YouTubers with far greater audiences than ICANN seem to get away with using it on a daily basis.

It could even be monetized, turning an expense into a small source of additional revenue.

Bring back meaningful filenames

ICANN is pretty good about publishing transcripts, presentations and other documentation as PDFs on the pages for each session. But for some reason in Puerto Rico it started naming the files with apparently meaningless numerical strings.

In all the meetings I can recall before ICANN 61, a downloadable transcript might be named something like “transcript-public-forum-10mar16-en.pdf”. Now, you’ll get something like “1521076292.pdf” instead, which is a step backwards.

Sure, I could manually rename the file to something meaningful myself, but that would take me at least 30 seconds — 30 seconds I could better use listening to Marilyn Cade introduce herself, Goran Marby apologize for something, or literally anyone else in the community complain that nobody listens to them any more.

Keep the redundancy!

Finally, as ICANN discovered this week, redundancy is essential to maintaining uninterrupted remote participation.

Even with Adobe Connect offline across the board for half of the week, it was still possible for those of us in the cheap seats to see video, hear audio, read the scribes, and submit questions and comments.

It wasn’t perfect, but it did the job well enough (previous complaints notwithstanding).

Even when Adobe is turned on, the alternative methods of listening in are extremely useful for overcoming its occasional limitations.

Often, AC rooms are barely audible. This problem occurs on an almost daily basis during ICANN. It affects some rooms but not others and I’ve yet to spot a predictable pattern.

But when you can’t hear what’s going on in AC, it’s always possible to mute the room and launch the always-audible live M3U stream separately.

Similarly, on the rare occasions the audio or video is down, the scribes can often allow us to follow the gist of the discussion while the nerds work on a fix.

In short, redundancy is good.

UPDATE (MARCH 21): Josh Baulch from the ICANN meetings team has left a comment addressing some of these points. It turns out MP3s are actually available elsewhere on the ICANN web site and Livestream costs ICANN far, far less than I had estimated based on Livestream’s published price list.

Data leak security glitch screws up ICANN 61 for thousands

Kevin Murphy, March 15, 2018, Domain Policy

A security vulnerability forced ICANN to take down its Adobe Connect conferencing service halfway through its ICANN 61 meeting in Puerto Rico.

The “potentially serious security issue” could “could possibly lead to the disclosure of the information shared in an ICANN Adobe Connect room”, ICANN said in a pair of statements.

Taking down the service for the remainder of the meeting, which ends today, meant that potentially thousands of remote participants were left to cobble together a less streamlined replacement experience from a combination of live streams, transcription and email.

At the last ICANN meeting, over 4,000 unique participants logged into Adobe Connect. With only 1,900 or so people on-site, we’re probably looking at over 2,000 remote participants relying on AC to take part.

At this point, it’s not clear whether ICANN has discovered a previously undisclosed vulnerability in the Adobe service, or whether it simply buggered up its implementation with sloppy configuration settings.

It’s also not clear whether the glitch has been actively exploited to expose private data, though ICANN said it was first reported by a member of the Security and Stability Advisory Committee.

ICANN said in the second of two statements issued yesterday:

The issue is one that could possibly lead to the disclosure of the information shared in an ICANN Adobe Connect room. We are still investigating the root cause of the issue. We have formulated different scenarios based on authentication, encryption, and software versions, which we are testing in a controlled fashion in attempt to replicate and understand the root cause of the issue.

We are working directly with Adobe and with our cloud service provider to learn more.

Adobe Connect is a web conferencing tool that, at least when ICANN uses it for public meetings, combines live video and transcription, PowerPoint presentation sharing, and public and private chat rooms.

I also understand that there’s also a whiteboarding feature that allows participants to collaboratively work on documents in closed sessions.

Given that everything shared in the public sessions (outside of the private chat function) is by definition public, it might be reasonable to assume that ICANN’s primary concern here is how the software is used in closed sessions.

I hear ICANN uses Adobe Connect internally among its own staff and board, where one might imagine private data is sometimes shared. Other relatively secretive groups, such as the Governmental Advisory Committee and Nominating Committee, are also believed to sometimes use it behind closed doors.

While Adobe is infamous for producing buggy, insecure software, and ICANN uses a version of it hosted by a third-party cloud services provider, that doesn’t necessarily mean this wasn’t another ICANN screw-up.

In a similar incident uncovered in 2015, it was discovered that new gTLD applicants could read attachments on the confidential portions of their competitors’ applications, after ICANN accidentally had a single privacy configuration toggle set to “On” instead of “Off” in the hosted Salesforce.com software it was using to manage the program.

Ashwin Rangan, ICANN’s CIO and the guy also tasked with investigating the Salesforce issue, has now started a probe into the Adobe issue.

Next new gTLD round unlikely before 2022

Kevin Murphy, March 13, 2018, Domain Policy

ICANN is unlikely to accept any more new gTLD applications until a full decade has passed since the last round was open.

That’s the conclusion of some ICANN community members working on rules for the next round.

Speaking at ICANN 61 in Puerto Rico this weekend, Jeff Neuman, co-chair of the New gTLD Subsequent Procedures Working group, presented a “best case” timetable for the next round.

The timetable would see the next new gTLD application window opening in the first quarter of 2021, nine years after the 2012 round.

But Neuman acknowledged that the timeline would require all parts of the ICANN community — working groups, GNSO Council, board of directors, staff — to work at their most efficient.

With that in mind, 2021 seems optimistic.

“Even if we hit the 2021 date, that’s still a decade after the launch of the last round, which is crazy,” Neuman said.

Slide

The timetable assumes the GNSO wraps up its policy development a year from now, with the ICANN board approving the policy mid-2019.

It then gives the ICANN staff about six months to publish an updated Applicant Guidebook, and assumes whatever is produced is approved within about six months, after the first pass of public comments.

It’s worth noting that the 2012 round’s AGB hit its first draft in 2008 and went through half a dozen revisions over three years before it was finalized, though one imagines there would be less wheel-reinventing required next time around.

After the board gives the AGB the final nod, the timeline assumes ICANN staff about six months to “operationalize” the program.

But one unidentified ICANN staffer, who said she was “the person that will be ultimately responsible for the implementation” of whatever the GNSO comes up with, said during this weekend’s session that she doubted this was realistic.

She said ICANN the organization would need “at least 12 months” between the ICANN board approving the AGB and the application window opening. That would push the window to late 2021.

The Subsequent Procedures policy work is of course not the only gating factor to the next round.

There’s also a potential bottleneck in work being carried out to review rights protection mechanisms, where fears of filibustering have emerged in an already fractious working group.

All things considered, I wouldn’t place any bets on an application window opening as early as 2021.

ICANNWiki fans protest funding cut

Kevin Murphy, March 11, 2018, Domain Policy

ICANN should continue to fund the independent ICANNWiki project, according to high-profile industry supporters.

As I first reported back in December, ICANN plans to stop giving a $100,000 annual grant to ICANNWiki, a repository of about 6,000 community-sourced articles on the people and organizations involved in the ICANN community.

While ICANNWiki does not merit an explicit mention in ICANN’s latest proposed budget, both organizations have confirmed to DI that the funding is for the chop, as ICANN attempts to rein in spending in the face of depressed revenue.

About a quarter of the 41 comments filed on the budget express support for the wiki.

Consultant Kurt Pritz, a 10-year veteran of ICANN and one of the key architects of its new gTLD program, wrote that the wiki “has been an essential part of the ICANN culture for many years… often saving ICANN meetings from terminal ennui.”

Roland LaPlante, chief marketing officer of Afilias (one of about 15 sponsors listed on ICANNWiki’s front page), wrote:

The complete withdrawal of funding from ICANN so abruptly not only threatens the viability of the project, but rather disrespectfully junks the valuable time and resources that the community has invested over the years. Ultimately the loss of ICANNWiki would be a loss to our overall sense of community.

ICANN should continue to support ICANNWiki at a reasonable level in the next fiscal year. At a minimum, please consider giving the team time to find other sources of funding.

Sandeep Ramchandani, CEO of Radix, concurred, writing:

ICANNNWiki benefits the entire ICANN community. Cutting the funding entirely would effectively halt its operations and be a disservice to the community it serves. It is in ICANN and the community’s best interest to continue funding it in an amount that works for ICANN long-term, and provide ICANNWiki sufficient time to develop a more sustainable business plan.

Simon Cousins, CEO of Chinese market localization specialist Allegravita, said:

Before ICANNWiki, there was precious little information on industry fundamentals in China, and since Allegravita has supported the pro-bono translation of ICANNWiki content into Chinese, the vital platform that is ICANNWiki has been acknowledged hundreds of times.

We do not support the immediate and full withdrawal of funding for ICANNWiki. We guardedly support incremental, annual decreases to give ICANNWiki the time necessary to generate new sponsorship income to cover their costs.

Pablo Rodriguez of .pr ccTLD operator PRTLD, host of ICANN 61 and an ICANNWiki sponsor, wrote:

We believe that they should not be cut out from the ICANN’s Budget, instead, they should be supported and embraced to continue their engaging approach and work with ICANN’s Community and as well newcomers, veterans, special programming for beginners and others in order to deliver what is ICANN and what does the organization do and so forth.

Several other commentators on ICANN’s budget asked ICANN to maintain the funding and I was unable to find any comments supporting its withdrawal.

It’s worth noting that ICANN’s $100,000 is not ICANNWiki’s only financial support. It says it receives an additional $61,000 a year from corporate sponsorship, and as a wiki much of its output is produced by volunteers.

It has been in existence for a decade, but ICANN has only been giving it money for three years.

The costs associated with running it appear to be mostly centered not on maintaining the web site but on its outreach and promotional activities, such as attending meetings and the popular caricatures and card decks it distributes.

It could be argued that ICANNWiki is pretty good value for money when compared to cost of a dedicated outreach professional (the average cost of an ICANN staffer has been estimated at $175,000+ in the latest budget).

ICANNWiki will host an “Edit-A-Thon” during the current ICANN 61 public meeting in San Juan, Puerto Rico on Tuesday at 0900 local time.

Is ICANN still over-estimating revenue from “stagnating” gTLD industry?

Kevin Murphy, March 11, 2018, Domain Policy

ICANN may have slashed millions from its revenue estimate for next year, but it has not slashed deeply enough, according to registrars and others.

Industry growth is flat, and below even ICANN’s “worst case” expectations for the fiscal year starting July 1, registrars told the organization in comments filed on its FY19 budget last week.

The Registrars Stakeholder Group said that “the FY 2019 budget fails to recognize that overall industry growth is flat.”

ICANN’s budget foresees FY19 revenue of $138 million, up $3.5 million on the projected result for FY18.

“These revenue projections presume growth in the domain market that is not aligned with industry expectations,” the RrSG said, pointing to sources such as Verisign’s Domain Name Industry Brief, which calculated 1% industry growth last year.

ICANN’s predictions are based on previous performance and fail to take into account historical “one-time events”, such as the Chinese domain speculation boom of a couple years ago, that probably won’t be repeated, RrSG said.

RrSG also expects the number of accredited registrars to decrease due to industry consolidation and drop-catching registrars reducing their stables of shell accreditations.

(I’ll note here that Web.com has added half a dozen drop-catchers to its portfolio in just the last few weeks, but this goes against the grain of recent trends and may be an aberration.)

RrSG said ICANN’s budget should account for reduced or flat accreditation fee revenue (which as far as I can tell it already does).

The comment, which can be read in full here, concludes:

Taken together, these concerns represent a disconnect between ICANN funding projections, and the revenue expectations of Registrars (and presumably, gTLD Registries) from which these funds are derived. In our view, ICANN’s assessment of budgetary “risks” are too optimistic , and actual performance for FY19 will be significant lower.

For what it’s worth, the Registries Stakeholder Group had this to say about ICANN’s revenue estimates:

Reliable forecasts, characterised by their scrutiny and realism, are fundamental to put together a realistic budget and to avoid unpleasant surprises, such as the shortage ICANN is experiencing in the current fiscal year. The RySG advises ICANN to continue to conduct checks on its forecasts and to re-evaluate the methodology used to predict its income in order to prevent another funding shortfall such as that which the organization experienced in FY18.

Community calls on ICANN to cut staff spending

Kevin Murphy, March 11, 2018, Domain Policy

ICANN should look internally to cut costs before swinging the scythe at the volunteer community.

That’s a key theme to emerge from many comments filed by the community last week on ICANN’s fiscal 2019 budget, which sees spending on staff increase even as revenue stagnates and cuts are made in other key areas.

ICANN said in January that it would have to cut $5 million from its budget for the year beginning July 1, 2018, largely due to a massive downwards revision in how many new gTLD domains it expects the industry to process.

At the same time, the organization said it will increase its payroll by $7.3 million, up to $76.8 million, with headcount swelling to 425 by the end of the fiscal year and staff receiving on average a 2% pay rise.

In comments filed on the budget, many community members questioned whether this growth can be justified.

Among the most diplomatic objections came from the GNSO Council, which said:

In principle, the GNSO Council believes that growth of staff numbers should only occur under explicit justification and replacements due to staff attrition should always occur with tight scrutiny; especially in times of stagnate funding levels.

The Council added that it is not convinced that the proposed budget funds the policy work it needs to do over the coming year.

The Registrars Stakeholder Group noted the increased headcount with concern and said:

Given the overall industry environment where organizations are being asked to do more with less, we are not convinced these additional positions are needed… The RrSG is not yet calling for cuts to ICANN Staff, we believe the organization should strive to maintain headcount at FY17 Actual year-end levels.

The RrSG shared the GNSO Council’s concern that policy work, ICANN’s raison d’etre, may suffer under the proposed budget.

The At-Large Advisory Committee said it “does not support the direction taken in this budget”, adding:

Specifically we see an increase in staff headcount and personnel costs while services to the community have been brutally cut. ICANN’s credibility rests upon the multistakeholder model, and cuts that jeopardize that model should not be made unless there are no alternatives and without due recognition of the impact.

Staff increases may well be justified, but we must do so we a real regard to costs and benefits, and these must be effectively communicated to the community

ALAC is concerned that the budget appears to cut funding to many projects that see ICANN reach out to, and fund participation by, non-industry potential community members.

Calling for “fiscal prudence”, the Intellectual Property Constituency said it “encourages ICANN to take a hard look at personnel costs and the use of outside professional services consultants.”

The IPC is also worried that ICANN may have underestimated the costs of its contractual compliance programs.

The Non-Commercial Stakeholders Group had some strong words:

The organisation’s headcount, and personnel costs, cannot continue to grow. We feel strongly that the proposal to grow headcount by 25 [Full-Time Employees] to 425 FTE in a year where revenue has stagnated cannot be justified.

With 73% of the overall budget now being spent on staff and professional services, there is an urgent need to see this spend decrease over time… there is a need to stop the growth in the size of the staff, and to review staff salaries, bonuses, and fringe benefits.

NCSG added that ICANN could perhaps reduce costs by relocating some positions from its high-cost Los Angeles headquarters to the “global south”, where the cost of living is more modest.

The ccNSO Strategic and Operational Planning Standing Committee was the only commentator, that I could find, to straight-up call for a freeze in staff pay rises. While also suggesting moving staff to less costly parts of the globe, it said:

The SOPC – as well as many other community stakeholders – seem to agree that ICANN staff are paid well enough, and sometimes even above market average. Considering the current DNS industry trends and forecasts, tougher action to further limit or even abolish the annual rise in compensation would send a strong positive signal to the community.

It’s been suggested that, when asked to find areas to cut, ICANN department heads prioritized retaining their own staff, which is why we’re seeing mainly cuts to community funding.

I’ve only summarized the comments filed by formal ICANN structures here. Other individuals and organizations filing comments in their own capacity expressed similar views.

I was unable to find a comment explicitly supporting increased staffing costs. Some groups, such as the Registries Stakeholder Group, did not address the issue directly.

While each commentator has their own reasons for wanting to protect the corner of the budget they tap into most often, it’s a rare moment when every segment of the community (commercial and non-commercial, domain industry and IP interests) seem to be on pretty much the same page on an issue.

Amazon’s .amazon gTLD may not be dead just yet

Kevin Murphy, March 11, 2018, Domain Policy

South American governments are discussing whether to reverse their collective objection to Amazon’s .amazon gTLD bid.

A meeting of the Governmental Advisory Committee at ICANN 61 in Puerto Rico yesterday heard that an analysis of Amazon’s proposal to protect sensitive names if it gets .amazon will be passed to governments for approval no later than mid-April.

Brazil’s GAC rep said that a working group of the Amazon Cooperation Treaty Organization is currently carrying out this analysis.

Amazon has offered the eight ACTO countries commitments including the protection of such as “rainforest.amazon” and actively supporting any future government-endorsed bids for .amazonas.

Its offer was apparently sweetened in some unspecified way recently, judging by Brazil’s comments.

ACTO countries, largely Brazil and Peru, currently object to .amazon on the grounds that it’s a clash with the English version of the name for the massive South American rain forest, river and basin region, known locally as Amazonas.

There’s no way to read the tea leaves on which way the governments will lean on Amazon’s latest proposal, and Peru’s GAC rep warned against reading too much into the fact that it’s being considered by the ACTO countries.

“I would like to stress the fact that we are not negotiating right now,” she told the GAC meeting. “We are simply analyzing a proposal… The word ‘progress’ by no means should be interpreted as favorable opinion towards the proposal, or a negative opinion. We are simply analyzing the proposal.”

ICANN’s board of directors has formally asked the GAC to give it more information about its original objection to .amazon, which basically killed off the application a few years ago, by the end of ICANN 61.

Currently, the GAC seems to be planning to say it has nothing to offer, though it may possibly highlight the existence of the ACTO talks, in its formal advice later this week.

ICANN mulls $68 million raid on auction war chest

Kevin Murphy, March 9, 2018, Domain Policy

ICANN wants to put away another $68 million for a rainy day and it’s considering raiding its new gTLD auction war chest in order to do so.

It’s also thinking about dipping into the pool of cash still left over from new gTLD application fees in order to bolster is “reserve fund” from its current level of $70 million to its target of $138 million.

But, as a relief to registrants, it appears to have ruled out steep fee increases, which had been floated as an option.

The reserve fund is basically a safety net that ICANN could use to keep the lights on in the event that revenue should suddenly plummet dramatically and unexpectedly.

If, for example, Verisign returned to its old antagonistic ways and refused to pay its .com fees for some reason, ICANN would lose about a third of its annual revenue but would be able to tap its reserve until the legal fisticuffs were resolved.

ICANN said in a discussion document (pdf) this week that it took $36 million from the reserve since 2014 in order to complete the IANA transition. Over the same period, its annual budget has swelled from about $85 million to $138 million and contributions back into the reserve have been minimal.

That’s left it with a meager $70 million squirreled away, $68 million shy of its longstanding target level of one year’s budget.

ICANN is now saying that it wants to replenish the fund in less than five years.

About $15 million of its target would come from cost-cutting its operations budget over the period.

It also wants to take at least $36 million from the new gTLD auction proceeds fund, which currently stands at $104 million (with another $132 million incoming should Verisign successfully obtain .web over the objections of rival bidders).

The remaining $17 million could come from “leftover” new gTLD application fees — that fund is currently about $80 million — or from more cost-cutting or more auction proceeds, or from a combination of the three.

A fourth option — increasing the per-transaction fees registrants are charged via their registries and registrars — appears to have been ruled out.

My back-of-the-envelope maths suggests that an annual per-transaction increase of about $0.07 would have been needed to raise $68 million over five years.

The proposal is open for public comment until April 25.

ICANN strikes back at “offensive” .gay bidder

Kevin Murphy, March 7, 2018, Domain Policy

ICANN has responded harshly to claims that a probe of its handling of applications for the .gay gTLD was fixed from the outset.

Writing to dotgay LLC lawyer Arif Ali this week, ICANN lawyer Kate Wallace said claims that the investigation “had a pre-determined outcome in mind” were “as offensive as they are baseless”.

FTI Consulting gave ICANN the all-clear in January, dismissing allegations that ICANN staff had interfered with Community Priority Evaluations of .gay and other gTLDs conducted by the Economist Intelligence Unit.

But dotgay quickly responded by calling the FTI report a “whitewash”, saying “a strong case could be made that the purported investigation was undertaken with a pre-determined outcome in mind.”

Now, in an unusually pointed letter (pdf) Wallace calls dotgay out for its “insulting” implications.

While dotgay LLC may have preferred a different evaluation process and may have desired a different outcome, that is not evidence that FTI undertook its investigation “with a pre-determined outcome in mind.”

Your accusations in this regard are as offensive as they are baseless. The Board initiated the CPE Process Review in its oversight role of the New gTLD Program to provide greater transparency into the CPE process. There was no pre-determined outcome in mind and FTI was never given any instruction that it was expected to come to one conclusion over another.

Your assertions that FTI would blatantly violate best investigative practices and compromise its integrity is insulting and without any support, and ICANN rejects them unequivocally.

Wallace works for ICANN outside counsel Jones Day — which contracted with FTI for the investigation — but states that she is writing at the behest of the ICANN board of directors.

The board “is in the process of considering the issues” raised by Ali and gay rights expert lawyer William Eskridge, she wrote.

The board’s agendas for next week’s ICANN 61 public meeting in Puerto Rico have not yet been published.

dotgay wants to avoid a costly (or lucrative) auction against other .gay applicants by gaining “community” status, but it failed its CPE in 2014, largely because its definition of “gay” over-stretches, and has been appealing the decision ever since.