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China floats domain crackdown plans

Kevin Murphy, March 30, 2016, Domain Policy

The Chinese government is planning a crackdown on internet domains that could see mass censorship of non-Chinese names.

Draft rules floated for public comment this week are being widely reported as potentially blocking any domain that is not registered via a registry or registrar with a government license.

There are more than 50 provisions in the draft, but Article 37 is the one causing the most concern.

A translation published by Quartz yesterday has it reading like this:

Domain names engaging in network access within the borders shall have services provided by domestic domain name registration service bodies, and domestic domain name registration management bodies shall carry out operational management.

For domain names engaging in network access within the borders, but which are not managed by domestic domain name registration service bodies, Internet access service providers may not provide network access services.

At its worst, it suggests that every domain name not registered entirely through China-approved registries and registrars could be blocked from resolving in China.

You’d need a domain in .cn or a licensed gTLD, registered through a Chinese registrar, to access Chinese internet users, in other words.

But even Chinese locals who follow the issue closely are reportedly saying the regulations are vaguely worded, so it’s not clear exactly what would be blocked.

If you can read Chinese, the draft rules can be downloaded from this page. I’d be interested in hearing your take on them.

The rules also demand that domain name companies prevent domains carrying words deemed harmful from being registered.

There are additional controls on content — bans on porn, “rumor” and basically anything the Chinese government does not like — and registrant identity validation requirements.

The rules appear to be designed to replace the existing 2004 regulations that among other things force registrars and registries to obtain government licenses before the names they sell are allowed to resolve.

Those rules have led to several Western new gTLD registries, including Rightside, Famous Four Media and Minds + Machines, opening up corporate entities in China, in order to tap into the thriving market.

Local entities are of course subject to local laws — and ICANN contracts oblige them to abide by all applicable laws — which opens up the risk of Chinese regulations leaking out into the wider internet.

That almost happened with XYZ.com, which announced and then retracted (or clarified) an apparent plan to globally block domains deemed unsuitable by the Chinese censors.

It is inevitable that the proposals, which are open for public comment until April 25, will be used by US Congressional Republicans as a stick to beat ICANN and fight the imminent transition of IANA away from US government oversight.

High profile GOP politicians including presidential hopeful Ted Cruz have pointed to Chinese censorship as a risk of removing the USG from DNS root zone management.

But this isn’t really an ICANN problem as such. It’s a market forces problem.

Some new gTLD registries are seeing huge sales volume from Chinese registrants, who are trading many thousands of short, meaningless domains like baseball cards at the moment.

DI data shows that Chinese registrars accounted for 18.4 million gTLD domains in November 2015, up by 8.8 million domains in 12 months.

That number is likely to be several millions greater now, given the speculative activity of the last few months.

For registries, fully exploiting this market requires some sort of local presence, which in turn means exposing themselves to the already pretty bad Chinese censorship regime.

They’re going to have to be careful if they want to avoid China using the market to achieve the kind of back-door policy control it would never be able to obtain via ICANN.

Man in sexual harassment claim considers legal action

Kevin Murphy, March 24, 2016, Domain Policy

The man accused of sexual harassment at an ICANN meeting is considering legal action for defamation.

He’s also filed a counter-complaint with ICANN Ombudsman Chris LaHatte, after his accuser named him on a public mailing list.

That’s according to emails from LaHatte, screen-captured and posted to social media by the woman making the accusations.

LaHatte had previously told the woman that the man could not recall the alleged incident, said to have taken place during ICANN 55 in Marrakech a couple of weeks ago.

The woman says her name tag — at ICANN meetings a rectangle of plastic hanging loosely around the neck on a strap — was “pulled at” while the man made “inappropriate remarks”.

The content of the alleged remarks has not yet been disclosed.

She published her Ombudsman complaint — which names the man — to a public mailing list late last week.

In the new email, LaHatte tells her that naming the man publicly has complicated matters.

The investigation now becomes very difficult. Indeed, he has complained about the naming as being unfair and asked me to undertake a complaint investigation about your action.

The man was entitled to a “fair and impartial investigation”, he said, but “his privacy has been compromised”.

I have been waiting for a response from you about his reaction to the allegations. So he has now complained that he has been named before he had a chance for your response to be considered by me, and for any analysis and report. This is a matter of procedural fairness, and in my view he should have had the opportunity to have your reply. He is therefore considering his response which may include litigation unfortunately.

The complainant says she wants ICANN to create a sexual harassment policy for its participants — she was already talking to LaHatte about this before the alleged incident.

ICANN’s board of directors said in Marrakech it had instructed staff to look into the possibility of such a policy.

Debate as accuser names “sexual harasser”

Kevin Murphy, March 22, 2016, Domain Policy

The woman who says she was sexually harassed at the ICANN meeting in Marrakech earlier this month has controversially named the alleged perpetrator on a public mailing list.

She’s also publicly released documents exchanged between herself and the ICANN Ombudsman, with whom she has made a formal complaint.

According to her complaint the man, a longstanding and often vocal member of the ICANN community “approached me, pulled at my name tag, and passed inappropriate remarks.”

“I felt like my space and safety as a young woman in the ICANN community was at stake,” the complaint says.

No allegations of physical contact have been made, and the content of the “inappropriate remarks” has not been disclosed.

I’m not going to name either party here. They’re “the man” and “the woman” for now.

The woman has said on the mailing list in question that she’s waived her right to confidentiality.

I contacted the man for comment at the weekend and have not yet received a reply.

An email from Ombudsman Chris LaHatte, released by the woman, shows that he has spoken to the man.

The man said he could not recall the incident and LaHatte declined to tell him who his accuser was, for confidentiality reasons, the email says.

The release of the documents has sparked discussion on the mailing list and social media about whether publicly naming the man was the most appropriate course of action.

Inevitably, there’s also been some discussion about what constitutes sexual harassment.

The woman said she had already been engaged with LaHatte about the possibility of ICANN creating a sexual harassment policy, and that “this incident pushed me to take forward what had hitherto been a mere academic interest with increased vigour”.

She said in a released email predating Marrakech that during ICANN 54 last year, her first ICANN meeting, “I personally felt as though a few inappropriate remarks were made by certain male co attendees”.

When the woman initially made her allegations at the ICANN public forum, ICANN director Markus Kummer said the board had asked ICANN staff to look at possibly adjusting the longstanding Expected Standards Of Behavior to more specifically address sexual harassment.

“We clearly do not condone improper conduct of any kind such as harassment or otherwise and there should be zero tolerance for it within the community,” he said during the public forum.

Anger as ICANN splashes out $160,000 on travel

Kevin Murphy, March 15, 2016, Domain Policy

Should representatives of Facebook, Orange, Thomson Reuters, BT and the movie industry have thousands of ICANN dollars spent on their travel to policy meetings?

Angry registrars are saying “no”, after it emerged that ICANN last month spent $80,000 flying 38 community members to LA for a three-day intersessional meeting of the Non-Contracted Parties House.

It spent roughly the same on the 2015 meeting, newly released data shows.

ICANN paid for fewer than 10 registries and registrars — possibly as few as two — to attend the equivalent Global Domains Division Summit last year, a few registrars told DI.

The numbers were released after a Documentary Information Disclosure Policy request by the Registrars Stakeholder Group a month ago, and published on Friday (pdf).

It appears from the DIDP release that every one of the 38 people who showed up in person was reimbursed for their expenses to the tune of, on average, $2,051 each.

The price tag covers flights, hotels, visa costs and a cash per diem allowance that worked out to an average of $265 per person.

ICANN also recorded travel expenses for another two people who ultimately couldn’t make it to the event.

The NCPH is made up of both commercial and non-commercial participants. Many are academics or work for non-profits.

However, representatives of huge corporations such as Facebook and BT also work in the NCPH and let ICANN pick up their expenses for the February meeting.

Lawyers from influential IP-focused trade groups such as the Motion Picture Association of America and International Trademark Association were also happy for ICANN to pay.

One oddity on the list is the CEO of .sucks registry Vox Populi, who is still inexplicably a member of the Business Constituency.

MarkMonitor, a corporate registrar and Thomson Reuters subsidiary that attends the Intellectual Property Constituency, also appears.

Despite $80,000 being a relatively piddling amount in terms of ICANN’s overall budget, members of the Contracted Parties House — registries and registrars — are not happy about this state of affairs as a matter of principle.

ICANN’s budget is, after all, primarily funded by the ICANN fees registries and registrars — ultimately registrants — must pay.

“CPH pays the bills and the non-CPH travels on our dime,” one registrar told DI today.

One RrSG member said only two registrars were reimbursed for their GDD Summit travel last year. Another put the number at five. Another said it was fewer than 10.

In any event, it seems to be far fewer than those in the NCPH letting ICANN pick up the tab.

It’s not entirely clear why the discrepancy exists — it might be just because fewer contracted parties apply for a free ride, rather than evidence of a defect in ICANN expenses policy.

The NCPH intersessional series was designed to give stakeholders “the opportunity, outside of the pressures and schedule strains of an ICANN Public Meeting to discuss longer-range substantial community issues and to collaborate with Senior ICANN Staff on strategic and operational issues that impact the community”, according to ICANN.

Helsinki tipped as next ICANN venue

Kevin Murphy, March 9, 2016, Domain Policy

ICANN is expected to be heading to Helsinki, Finland, for its next meeting.

Director Chris Disspain dropped the name of the host city during a session at the ICANN 55 meeting in Marrakech, Morocco, today.

Apparently it’s common knowledge among attendees that the Finnish capital is being lined up as a replacement for the original ICANN 56 venue, Panama City.

Panama was cancelled due to fears about the baby-deforming Zika virus, which is running rampant in South and Central America right now.

There’s no word yet on whether ICANN 57, currently planned for San Juan, Puerto Rico in October, is going ahead.

Puerto Rico is reportedly having its own Zika problems right now.

ICANN 56 is scheduled to kick off June 27 this year. Helsinki is expected to be confirmed by the ICANN board in a resolution tomorrow.