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ICANN boss warns against “content policing” calls

Kevin Murphy, October 20, 2015, Domain Policy

ICANN should resist attempts to turn the organization into a content regulator responsible for fighting piracy, counterfeiting and terrorism.

That’s according to CEO Fadi Chehade, speaking in Dublin yesterday at the opening ceremony of ICANN’s 54th public meeting.

His remarks have already solicited grumbles from members of the intellectual property community, which are eager for ICANN to take a more assertive role against registries and registrars.

Speaking to a packed auditorium, Chehade devoted a surprisingly large chunk of his opening address to the matter of content policing, which he said was firmly outside of ICANN’s remit.

He presented this diagram, breaking up the internet into three layers. ICANN plays in the central “logical” section but has no place in the top “societal” segment, he said.

ICANNs remit

“Where does ICANN’s role start and where does ICANN’s role stop?” Chehade posed. “It’s very clear Our remit starts and stops in this logical yellow layer. We do not have any responsibility in the upper layer.”

“The community has spoken, and it is important to underline that in every possible way, ICANN’s remit is not in the blue layer, it is not in the economic/societal layer,” he said. This is a technical organization.”

That basically means that ICANN has no responsibility to determine which web sites are good and which are bad. That’s best left to others such as the courts and governments.

Chehade recounted an anecdote about a meeting with a national president who demanded that ICANN shut down a list of terrorism-supporting web sites.

“We have no responsibility to render judgement about which sites are terrorists,” he said, “which sites are the good pharmacies, which sites are the bad pharmacies, which sites are comitting crimes, which sites are infringing copyrights…”

“When people ask us to render judgement on matters in the upper layer, we can’t.”

With that all said, Chehade added that ICANN should not shirk its duties as part of the ecosystem, whether through voluntary measures at registries and registrars or via contractual enforcement.

“Once determinations are made, how do we respond the these?” he said. “I hope, voluntarily.”

He gave the example of credit card companies that voluntarily stop doing business with web sites that have been reported to be involved in crime or spam.

The notion of registrars adhering to a set of voluntary principles was first floated by ICANN’s chief compliance officer, Allen Grogan, in a blog post earlier this month.

It was the one bone he threw to IP interests in a determination that otherwise came down firmly on the side of registrars.

Grogan had laid out a minimum set of actions registrars must carry out when they receive abuse reports, none of which contained a requirement to suspend or delete domain names.

The Intellectual Property Constituency appeared to greet Chehade’s speech with cautious optimism, but members are still pushing for ICANN to take a stricter approach to contract compliance.

In a session between the IPC and the ICANN board in Dublin this morning, ICANN was asked to make these hypothetical voluntary measures enforceable.

Marc Trachtenberg disagreed with Chehade’s credit card company example.

“The have an incentive to take action, which is the avoidance of future potential costs,” he said. “That similar incentive does not exist with respect to registries and registrars.”

“In order for any sort of voluntary standards to be successful or useful, there have to be incentives for the parties to actually comply with those voluntary standards,” he said.

“One possibility among many is a situation where those registries and registrars that don’t comply with the voluntary standards are potentially subject to an ICANN compliance action,” he said.

It’s pretty clear that this issue is an ongoing one.

Chehade warned in his address yesterday that calls for ICANN to increase its policing powers will only increase when and if its IANA contract is finally divorced from US government oversight.

Grogan will host a roundtable tomorrow at 10am Dublin time to discuss possible voluntary mechanisms that could be created to govern abuse.

ALAC throws spanner in ICANN accountability discussions

Kevin Murphy, October 18, 2015, Domain Policy

The At-Large Advisory Committee has yanked backing for a key ICANN accountability proposal.

The ALAC, on of ICANN’s policy advisory groups, this afternoon voted unanimously “to withdraw support for the Membership model” at ICANN 54 in Dublin.

The Membership model is a proposal out of the Cross Community Working Group on Accountability (CCWG) that would change ICANN’s legal structure to one of formal membership, where a Sole Member gets legal rights to enforce accountability over the ICANN board of directors.

The model has some fierce support in the CCWG, but over the last few days in Dublin the group has started to explore the possibility of a “Designator” model instead.

That would be a weaker accountability model than one based on membership, but stronger than the “Multistakeholder Enforcement Mechanism” proposed by the ICANN board.

ALAC chair Alan Greenberg said in a statement to the CCWG mailing list:

In its formal response to the CCWG-Accountability proposal issued in August 2015, the ALAC said that it could support the model being proposed, but preferred something far less complex and lighter-weight, and that we saw no need for the level of enforceability that the proposal provided. Moreover, the ALAC had specific concerns with the budget veto and the apparent lack of participation of perhaps a majority of AC/SOs.

In light of the reconsideration of a designator model by the CCWG, along with the recommendations of the Saturday morning break-out sessions, the ALAC felt that a revised statement was in order. Accordingly we decided, by a unanimous vote of the 14 ALAC members present (with 1 not present), to withdraw support for the Membership model.

I want to make it clear that this is not a “red line” decision. Should a Membership model become one that is generally advocated by the CCWG, and supported by a supermajority of Board directors (who ultimately MUST support any changes that they will be called upon to approve, else they would be in violation of their fiduciary duty), then the ALAC reserves its right to support such a model.

The move revises the battle lines in the ongoing accountability debate. It’s no longer a simple case of CCWG versus ICANN board.

Dublin is a crunch time for the accountability proposals.

The clock is ticking — if the ICANN community cannot agree on a consensus proposal soon it risks delaying the transition of the IANA functions from US government oversight and possibly killing off the transition altogether.

Yet, while the CCWG is making steady progress cleaning up remaining areas of disagreement, the differences between itself and the board are still as sharp as ever.

ICANN 54 – Sunday live-blog

Kevin Murphy, October 18, 2015, Domain Policy

Testing, testing… one, two, one, two…

This is a live blog covering developments from ICANN 54 in near real-time.

If you’re looking at this page, the post will refresh automatically whenever there’s new content to see. If you’re reading it elsewhere it will, presumably, not.

Today I’ll be mainly sticking with the Generic Names Supporting Organization session, where they’re shortly due to meet with ICANN CEO Fadi Chehade.

DI will be live-blogging ICANN 54

Kevin Murphy, October 16, 2015, Domain Policy

I’m going to be doing something a little different for ICANN’s latest public meeting.

For various tedious reasons I was unable to attend in person ICANN 54, which started in Dublin this morning, so I thought I’d try to make the best of the advantages of remote participation and a friendly time zone to try something new.

Namely, live-blogging.

For those unfamiliar with the concept, a live-blog is essentially a single blog post that is updated and amended in real-time as a quickly developing news story continues to roll.

You can think of it a little like a Twitter feed, but without the restrictions.

If you have your browser open to the live-blog post, the updates should be automatically pushed to you in near real-tie without the need to manually refresh the page.

I say “should” because I’ve never done this before and, despite a bit of testing, the back-end software may not function precisely as I expect.

The auto-refresh function only seems to work, by design, in single-post view. If you’re looking at the DI front page you probably won’t get the auto-updates unless you manually refresh.

It’s all very experimental and I may quickly abandon the idea if it doesn’t seem to be working. Feedback is welcome.

The intention in some cases is to live-blog individual sessions, when they’re important enough to warrant my undivided attention — such as the opening ceremony or the meeting between the ICANN board and the Governmental Advisory Committee.

In other cases, the blog may dip in and out of conflicting sessions depending on what seems most interesting at the time.

While ICANN 54 doesn’t officially start until Monday, long-time ICANN watchers know that the real discussions begin much earlier.

In fact, in Dublin, they’ve already started.

A three-hour session of the community working group tasked with improving ICANN’s accountability, known as the CCWG, showed strong indications this morning that it may be ready to be the first blink in its ongoing confrontation with the ICANN board.

You can expect a lot of coverage of the accountability discussions, which have multiple sessions devoted to them, over the coming seven days.

Andruff fuming after ICANN leadership snub

Kevin Murphy, October 14, 2015, Domain Policy

Long-time ICANN volunteer Ron Andruff has complained to the ICANN board of directors after he was passed over for a key leadership position.

Andruff this week filed a Request for Reconsideration after the board appointed Stephane van Gelder chair of the ICANN Nominating Committee for a second year, despite Andruff serving as “chair-elect” in the 2015 NomCom.

According to ICANN bylaws, it is “anticipated” that NomCom chairs-elect take over from their chairs each year, but the board has the “discretion” to pick somebody entirely different.

That’s discretion the board exercised last week when it picked Van Gelder, executive VP at new gTLD registry Starting Dot, to continue on as chair.

Andruff was replaced as chair-elect by Hans Petter Holen, who comes from the IP address side of the community.

NomCom is tasked with the selection of three ICANN board members each year. The chair and chair-elect positions are picked by the ICANN board, but are non-voting.

Now Andruff’s mad that “a subset of mean-spirited and targeted attacks on my reputation by a few individuals” have cost him the chair’s gig. He said the board:

is meddling in the affairs of the supposedly independent Nominating Committee. Interfering with successful and efficient processes within the body that selects 2-3 Board members each year is not only wholly unnecessary, it triggers suspicion about the very independence of the Nom Com. It is also likely to deter others from volunteering their time and energy within the NomCom and other ICANN bodies as they become aware of how review processes that are supposed to foster self-improvement can instead be used to unfairly tarnish reputations.

The ICANN board seems to have come to its decision based at least in part on the results of a “360-degree” evaluation of Andruff by his NomCom peers.

These reviews invite committee members to score each other based on criteria such as leadership skills, honesty and good judgment.

The anonymous comments attached to the scores can be both fawning and really rather scathing.

A perfect score would be 55. Andruff scored 42.3.

Van Gelder scored 50.1 this year and 49.7 when he was in Andruff’s position last year.

Andruff’s report card also seems to contain more negative, and more negative, written comments than Van Gelder’s.

A minority of respondents questioned his neutrality, leadership skills and tone. A sample:

Ron constantly provided negative, arbitrary comments which carried underlying messages that he is the hardest worker in the group – more so than anyone else. He appeared to be a bully toward other members on many occasions – very opinionated and controlling, particularly about process. Ron does not use his influence appropriately regarding candidates. There is concern about his ability next year to separate his constituencies’ interests from the supposed independent role of the NomCom Chair. His style of using influence is often neither appropriate nor effective.

Andruff takes issue with the fact that the board chose to use his 360 review at all. In his RfR, he writes:

the reviews were intended to be a tool for improvement, rather than a basis for disqualification. That is especially true in regard to a review such as my own, which was strong overall while revealing a few areas that could be a focus for further improvement.

He also says he was told by an ICANN director that he “lacks cultural sensitivity”, a claim that he says came without any evidence.

He wrote:

I have absolutely no doubt, based on my personal interactions as well as the result of the 360 review, that if my ascension to Chair was put to a vote of the Nom Com members with whom I have served over the past year I would win by a substantial margin.

Andruff is CEO of his own firm, ONR Consulting, which also goes by the name ICANN Sherpa, and he’s worried that the board’s snub will cost him business.

The ICANN Board Governance Committee, which made the original recommendation to reappoint Van Gelder and remove Andruff, intends to discuss Andruff’s complaint on Sunday.

Documentation on NomCom 2015, including the 360 reviews, can be found here.