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Poblete to replace Disspain on ICANN board

Kevin Murphy, March 3, 2020, Domain Policy

Chilean registry manager Patricio Poblete will join ICANN’s board of directors this October, replacing longstanding member Chris Disspain.

PobleteThe Country Code Names Supporting Organization confirmed Poblete as its new nominee at the weekend following a lengthy election process also fought by Australian Nigel Phair and South African Calvin Browne.

Poblete is the director of NIC Chile, the ccTLD registry for some almost 600,000 .cl domains. He’s been involved in ICANN since its very beginning.

In the election, he received 57 votes compared to Browne’s 42 and Phair’s eight.

Disspain, a very influential member of the board who was vice-chair for years until he stepped aside last September, is being forced out due to term limits in ICANN’s bylaws. He’s almost done serving his third and final three-year term.

Poblete will become one of two ccNSO-selected directors. The other is Nigel Roberts, who runs the Channel Islands ccTLDs. Roberts’ term ends next year.

The nomination frees up a spot for a possible future director from Asia-Pacific, while reducing the available spots from Latin America.

Most languages won’t be available at ICANN 67

Kevin Murphy, March 3, 2020, Domain Policy

Translation services are the first component of ICANN 67 to fail victim to the org’s decision to hold the meeting entirely online.

ICANN announced last week that it has cancelled the in-person meeting, which had been due to kick off this coming Saturday in Cancun, due to fears about importing Covid-19 into Mexico and exacerbating its worldwide spread.

But it seems the lack of physical space is going to cause problems. It simply doesn’t have the room at its Los Angeles headquarters to accommodate all of its usual services.

There will be eight rooms operating simultaneously via Zoom during the meeting, ICANN said yesterday, and only two of those will have real-time interpretation.

Of the five non-English United Nations languages usually supported — Arabic, Chinese, French, Russian, and Spanish — only French and Spanish will be supported live. Portuguese, which is also usually available, will not be supported.

Sessions of the Governmental Advisory Committee and other high-interest meetings such as open board meetings and the Public Forums, will be given priority.

According to data released by ICANN in December, it appears very few remote participants people actually take advantage of live interpretation.

Of the 1,752 remote participants at ICANN 66, only 15 people tuned in non-English web audio streams and nine of those were listening to the Spanish, this report states. It appears the Arabic interpreter was broadcasting to an international audience of literally nobody.

This, of course, does not take into account how many people were physically in the room and using the live-interpretation headsets ICANN provides. These people will presumably have to switch to the web streams this time around.

Translated transcripts will be available after the meeting, faster than they are normally provided, ICANN said.

It seems that ICANN community members with limited English are going to be hardest hit by the switch to online-only.

Given that these people are most likely reading this article via Google Translate, I’d just like to add for clarity: my lonely moped speedily devours yawning leopards, while gorgeous shoelaces envelope my thorax.

Yup. ICANN cancelled Cancun

Kevin Murphy, February 20, 2020, Domain Policy

ICANN has cancelled its public meeting in Cancun, Mexico, due to fears over Covid-19, aka Coronavirus.

Late this evening, the organization said that the ICANN 67 meeting, scheduled for March 7 to March 12, will now take place purely online.

In a statement, the org said:

Each ICANN Public Meeting attracts thousands of attendees from more than 150 countries. With cases in at least 26 of those countries, there is the potential of bringing the virus to Cancún and into the ICANN meeting site. If this were to happen, there could be accidental exposure of the virus to attendees, staff, and others who come in contact with an infected individual.

ICANN had been putting in place measures to mitigate the risk of the disease arriving and spreading.

The decision to cancel the face-to-face meeting was made by the ICANN board of directors today.

It’s going to be the first ICANN meeting to take place fully online. It’s not clear at all that ICANN knows how to do this. ICANN is very good at enabling remote participation, but it’s never run a fully remote week-long meeting with a few thousand participants before.

It seems virtually certain that there will be problems and complaints.

The Queen has beef with Prince Harry’s domain name

Kevin Murphy, February 19, 2020, Domain Policy

Queen Elizabeth II reportedly wants her grandson Prince Harry to stop using the domain name sussexroyal.com.

Harry and his wife, Meghan, recently announced that they’re going to quit their royal duties and spend part of the year in Canada. They will no longer get taxpayer handouts, and will probably (speculating here) make money launching a line of fragrances or something.

The Queen’s beef is that by opting out of the royal family, by convention Harry should no longer get to call himself “royal”. It’s like when his parents divorced, Diana no longer got to use the “Her Royal Highness” title.

They will continue to be known as the Duke and Duchess of Sussex.

But it seems Harry and Meghan are going to have to pick a new brand to put on the tacky mugs and dish rags they will inevitably end up flogging to gullible Americans. They’ve been using Sussex Royal as their social media handle too, and have filed for trademarks on the term.

It’s a strange edge case of domain ownership law, where royal edict and constitutional convention is seemingly going to trump trademark law.

I look forward to the ICANN working group.

ICANN wants to take your temperature before letting you into ICANN 67

Kevin Murphy, February 18, 2020, Domain Policy

Face masks, hand-sanitizer stations, and nurses taking your temperature on the doors… these are some of the measures ICANN plans to deploy at its upcoming public meeting in Cancun next month, in an effort to mitigate the risk of a Covid-19 outbreak.

That’s assuming the meeting goes ahead at all, which is still undecided.

Speaking to community leaders in a teleconference this evening, ICANN staffers outlined the following precautionary measures they expect to put in place:

  • A doctor from International SOS will be on site, alongside the usual two medics.
  • A team of nurses will be deployed at the venue’s two entrances to check attendees’ temperatures (via the forehead, you’ll be pleased to hear) as they enter the building.
  • “Anyone registering a fever will be escorted to the doctor for assessment.”
  • ICANN is “stockpiling” face masks and is already shipping some to the venue. This is complicated by the global supply shortage. Attendees will be encouraged to source their own before leaving home.
  • Hand sanitizer facilities will be dotted around, particularly at large meeting rooms and outside bathrooms.
  • A Mexican familiar with the local public health service will be available.
  • It will be up to the local Mexican authorities to determine how to respond to a confirmed case. It’s not particularly clear what the policy would be on quarantine and the dreaded “cruise ship scenario”. There have been no cases in Mexico yet.

The temperature checks will be daily. One would assume that people leaving the venue for lunch, or a cigarette or something will be checked more frequently.

ICANN has yet to decide whether the meeting is going to go ahead. Its board of directors will meet on Wednesday to make a call, but CEO Göran Marby noted that should the situation with Covid-19 change there’s always the possibility it could be cancelled at a later date.

The meeting could also be cancelled if a large enough number of ICANN support staff refuse to go.

Some companies have already informed ICANN that they won’t be sending employees to the meeting. Marby said that if it looks like only 600 or 700 people are going to show up, the meeting probably won’t go ahead.

Governmental Advisory Committee chair Manal Ismail said on the call that only 30 GAC members have so far indicated that they’re going to attend. That’s about half of the usual level, she said.

If it were to be cancelled, the meeting would go ahead online. All ICANN meetings allow remote participation anyway, but ICANN has been prepping for the possibility that its online tools will need much greater capacity this time.

The audio recording of the call can be found here. Thanks to Rubens Kuhl for the link.

Are you going to go to Cancun, or will you cancel due to Covid? Let me know in the comments.

ICANN might cancel Spring Break over Covid-19 fears

Kevin Murphy, February 18, 2020, Domain Policy

ICANN’s next public meeting, which is due to kick off in Cancun, Mexico less than three weeks from now, is in peril of being canceled due to fears about Covid-19, aka Coronavirus.

CEO Göran Marby is to host a call with community leaders in a few hours to discuss the issue. ICANN has assembled a “crisis management team” to monitor the spread of the disease.

The fear isn’t that attendees could pick up the virus from Mexican locals — there’s not a single confirmed case in Mexico yet — but rather that an already-infected person might show up and transmit the disease to others, who might then take it back home with them.

Or — even worse — ICANN is considering the possibility of “a ‘cruise ship’ scenario in which a suspected or confirmed case is identified during the meeting, necessitating the mass-quarantine of all attendees and locals”.

That’s a reference to the cruise ship currently anchored off Japan, where 3,400 people have been quarantined for the last couple of weeks.

Imagine that. Trapped at an ICANN meeting for weeks. The boredom might kill more people than the virus.

Given that the vast majority of Covid-19 cases so far — over 70,000 — have been in China, ICANN is also worried about Chinese attendees getting racially profiled and hassled by others.

ICANN notes that the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona has been cancelled, and Cisco has cancelled a conference that had been slated to go ahead in Australia around the same time.

Could ICANN follow suit? It wouldn’t be the first time ICANN has changed is meeting plans due to a virus outbreak. Could ICANN 67 be the first remote-only ICANN meeting? It certainly seems like a possibility.

Hacking claims resurface as .hotel losers force ICANN to lawyer up again

Kevin Murphy, February 7, 2020, Domain Policy

The fight over .hotel has been escalated, with four unsuccessful applicants for the gTLD whacking ICANN with a second Independent Review Process appeal.

The complaint resurrects old claims that a former lead on the successful application, now belonging to Afilias, stole trade secrets from competing applicants via a glitched ICANN web site.

It also revives allegations that ICANN improperly colluded with the consultant hired to carry out reviews of “community” applications and then whitewashed an “independent” investigation into the same.

The four companies filing the complaint are new gTLD portfolio applicants MMX (Minds + Machines), Radix, Fegistry, and Domain Venture Partners (what we used to call Famous Four).

The IRP was filed November 18 and published by ICANN December 16, but I did not spot it until more recently. Sorry.

There’s a lot of back-story to the complaint, and it’s been a few years since I got into any depth on this topic, so I’m going to get into a loooong, repetitive, soporific, borderline unreadable recap here.

This post could quite easily be subtitled “How ICANN takes a decade to decide a gTLD’s fate”.

There were seven applicants for .hotel back in 2012, but only one of them purported to represent the “hotel community”. That applicant, HOTEL Top Level Domain, was mostly owned by Afilias.

HTLD had managed to get letters of support from a large number of hotel chains and trade groups, to create a semblance of a community that could help it win a Community Priority Evaluation, enabling it to skip to the finish line and avoid a potentially costly auction against its rival applicants.

CPEs were carried out by the Economist Intelligence Unit, an independent ICANN contractor.

Surprisingly to some (including yours truly), back in 2014 it actually managed to win its CPE, scoring 15 out of the 16 available points, surpassing the 14-point winning threshold and consigning its competing bidders’ applications to the scrap heap.

There would be no auction, and no redistribution of wealth between applicants that customarily follows a new gTLD auction.

Naturally, the remaining applicants were not happy about this, and started to fight back.

The first port of call was a Request for Reconsideration, which all six losers filed jointly in June 2014. It accused the EIU of failing to follow proper procedure when it evaluated the HTLD community application.

That RfR was rejected by ICANN, so a request for information under ICANN’s Documentary Information Disclosure Policy followed. The losing applicants reckoned the EIU evaluator had screwed up, perhaps due to poor training, and they wanted to see all the communications between ICANN and the EIU panel.

The DIDP was also rejected by ICANN on commercial confidentiality grounds, so the group of six filed another RfR, asking for the DIDP to be reconsidered.

Guess what? That got rejected too.

So the applicants then filed an IRP case, known as Despegar v ICANN, in March 2015. Despegar is one of the .hotel applicants, and the only one that directly plays in the hotel reservation space already.

The IRP claimed that ICANN shirked its duties by failing to properly oversee and verify the work of the EIU, failing to ensure the CPE criteria were being consistently applied between contention sets, and failing in its transparency obligations by failing to hand over information related to the CPE process.

While this IRP was in its very early stages, it emerged that one of HTLD’s principals and owners, Dirk Krischenowski, had accessed confidential information about the other applicants via an ICANN web site.

ICANN had misconfigured its applicant portal in such a way that any user could very access any attachment on any application belonging to any applicant. This meant sensitive corporate information, such as worst-case-scenario financial planning, was easily viewable via a simple search for over a year.

Krischenowski appears to have been the only person to have noticed this glitch and used it in earnest. ICANN told applicants in May 2015 that he had carried out 60 searches and accessed 200 records using the glitch.

Krischenowski has always denied any wrongdoing and told DI in 2016 that he had always “relied on the proper functioning of ICANN’s technical infrastructure while working with ICANN’s CSC portal.”

The applicants filed another DIDP, but no additional information about the data glitch was forthcoming.

When the first IRP concluded, in February 2016, ICANN prevailed, but the three-person IRP panel expressed concern that neither the EIU nor ICANN had any process in place to ensure that community evaluations carried out by different evaluators were consistently applying the CPE rules.

The IRP panel also expressed concern about the “very serious issues” raised by the ICANN portal glitch and Krischenowski’s data access.

But the loss of the IRP did not stop the six losing applicants from ploughing on. Their lawyer wrote to ICANN in March 2016 to denounce Krischenowski’s actions as “criminal acts” amounting to “HTLD stealing trade secrets of competing applicants”, and as such HTLD’s application for .hotel should be thrown out.

Again, to the best of my knowledge, Krischenowski has never been charged with, let alone convicted of, any criminal act.

Afilias wrote to ICANN not many weeks later, April 2016, to say that it had bought out Krischenowski’s 48.8% stake in HTLD and that he was no longer involved in the company or its .hotel application.

And ICANN’s board of directors decided in August 2016 that Krischenowski may well have accessed documents he was not supposed to, but that it would have happened after the .hotel CPE had been concluded, so there was no real advantage to HTLD.

A second, parallel battle against ICANN by an unrelated new gTLD applicant had been unfolding over the same period.

A company called Dot Registry had failed in its CPE efforts for the strings .llc, .llp and .inc, and in 2014 had filed its own IRP against ICANN, claiming that the EIU had “bungled” the community evaluations, applying “inconsistent” scoring criteria and “harassing” its supporters.

In July 2016, almost two years later, the IRP panel in that case ruled that Dot Registry had prevailed, and launched a withering attack on the transparency and fairness of the ICANN process.

The panel found that, far from being independent, the EIU had actually incorporated notes from ICANN staff into its CPE evaluations during drafting.

It was as a result of this IRP decision, and the ICANN board’s decision that Krischenowski’s actions could not have benefited HTLD, that the losing .hotel applicants filed yet another RfR.

This one lasted two and a half years before being resolved, because in the meantime ICANN launched a review of the CPE process.

It hired a company called FTI Consulting to dig through EIU and ICANN documentation, including thousands of emails that passed between the two, to see if there was any evidence of impropriety. It covered .hotel, .music, .gay and other gTLD contention sets, all of which were put on hold while FTI did its work.

FTI eventually concluded, at the end of 2017, that there was “no evidence that ICANN organization had any undue influence on the CPE reports or engaged in any impropriety in the CPE process”, which affected applicants promptly dismissed as a “whitewash”.

They began lobbying for more information, unsuccessfully, and hit ICANN with yet another RfR in April 2018. Guess what? That one was rejected too.

The .hotel applicants then entered into a Cooperative Engagement Process — basically pre-IRP talks — from October 2018 to November 2019, before this latest IRP was filed.

It’s tempting to characterize it as a bit of a fishing expedition, albeit not a baseless one — any allegations of ICANN’s wrongdoing pertaining the .hotel CPE are dwarfed by the applicants’ outraged claims that ICANN appears to be covering up both its interactions with the EIU and its probe of the Krischenowski incident, partly out of embarrassment.

The claimants want ICANN to be forced to hand over documentation refused them on previous occasions, relating to: “ICANN subversion of the .HOTEL CPE and first IRP (Despegar), ICANN subversion of FTI’s CPE Process Review, ICANN subversion of investigation into HTLD theft of trade secrets, and ICANN allowing a domain registry conglomerate to takeover the ‘community-based’ applicant HTLD.”

“The falsely ‘independent’ CPE processes were in fact subverted by ICANN in violation of Bylaws, HTLD stole trade secrets from at least one competing applicant, and Afilias is not a representative of the purported community,” the IRP states.

“HTLD’s application should be denied, or at least its purported Community Priority relinquished, as a consequence not only for HTLD’s spying on its competitors’ secret information, but also because HTLD is no longer the same company that applied for the .HOTEL TLD. It is now just a registry conglomerate with no ties to the purported, contrived ‘Community’ that it claims entitled to serve,” it goes on.

ICANN is yet to file its response to the complaint.

Whether the IRP will be successful is anyone’s guess, but what’s beyond doubt is that if it runs its course it’s going to add at least a year, probably closer to two, to the delay that .hotel has been languishing under since the applications were filed in 2012.

Potentially lengthening the duration of the case is the claimants’ demand that ICANN “appoint and train” a “Standing Panel” of at least seven IRP panelists from which each three-person IRP panel would be selected.

The standing panel is something that’s been talked about in ICANN’s bylaws for at least six or seven years, but ICANN has never quite got around to creating it.

ICANN pinged the community for comments on how it should go about creating this panel last year, but doesn’t seemed to have provided a progress report for the last nine months.

The .hotel applicants do not appear to be in any hurry to get this issue resolved. The goal is clearly to force the contention set to auction, which presumably could happen at Afilias’ unilateral whim. Time-to-market is only a relevant consideration for the winner.

With .hotel, and Afilias’ lawsuit attempting to block the .web sale to Verisign, the last round of new gTLD program, it seems, is going to take at least a decade from beginning to end.

ICANN refuses to release more info on .org deal

Kevin Murphy, February 7, 2020, Domain Policy

ICANN has denied a request from one of its overseers to release more information about the acquisition of .org manager Public Interest Registry.

General counsel John Jeffrey has written to the Address Supporting Organization to say that its request for records is over-broad and exceeds the ASO’s authority.

The ASO had asked for:

any ICANN records which pertain to or provide relevant insight to the process by which ICANN will consider (and potentially approve) the assignment of the .org Registry Agreement, including the process by which input from the affected community will be obtained prior to ICANN’s consideration and potential approval of the assignment.

The ASO is one of the five Decisional Participants that make up the Empowered Community — the body that has technically overseen ICANN since formal ties with the US government were severed a few years ago.

If these terms are unfamiliar, I did a deep-dive on its request a month ago.

One of its powers is to make an Inspection Request, demanding ICANN hand over documentation, but Jeffrey states that such requests are limited to ICANN’s financials and the minutes of its board of directors’ meetings.

There’s no information related to the .org acquisition in its books or minutes, so there’s nothing to hand over, Jeffrey says. Anything else the ASO wants, it’s not allowed to have under the bylaws, the letter (pdf) says.

Despite the ASO’s role in the Empowered Community, it appears that its powers to request information are in many ways inferior to the standard Documentary Information Disclosure Policy, which is open to all.

Jeffrey invited the ASO to narrow its request and re-file it.

California .org probe — existential crisis or blessed relief for ICANN?

Kevin Murphy, February 5, 2020, Domain Policy

Does the California attorney general’s probe into ICANN’s relationship with the .org registry represent an existential crisis for ICANN, or could it be better seen as a great opportunity to palm off responsibility to a higher power?

It was recently revealed that AG Xavier Becerra is looking into ICANN’s actions related to not only the proposed acquisition of Public Interest Registry by Ethos Capital, but also the removal of price caps from the .org registry contract.

The AG’s office says it wants to “to analyze the impact to the nonprofit community, including to ICANN, of this proposed transfer”.

Because ICANN is a California-based non-profit, the AG says he has the power to levy penalties or revoke ICANN’s corporate registration.

Becerra’s office sent ICANN a list of 35 searching questions (pdf) related to both deals on January 23, demanding a response by February 7.

While many of the questions demand documentation already in the public domain, published on ICANN’s web site, Becerra also wants to get his hands on redacted portions of PIR’s communications with ICANN, as well as all emails between ICANN, Ethos, PIR and the Internet Society, which currently owns PIR.

At the very least, the investigation complicates ICANN’s own probe of the acquisition. ICANN has to approve transfers of control of gTLD registries, and it’s currently poring over documentation provided by PIR detailing the structure of the deal.

It’s already delayed approval once, saying last month (pdf) that it expected to give a yay or nay to PIR by February 17.

Following the AG’s letter, ICANN asked PIR (pdf) to extend that deadline to April 20, to allow it time to deal with the new concerns.

It emerged yesterday that PIR has told ICANN to get (partially) stuffed (pdf), allowing an extension only to February 29, saying further delay “is neither necessary nor warranted at this time”.

But PIR did give its reluctant consent to ICANN disclosing previously confidential information to the AG, despite taking issue with ICANN’s opinion that AG letters are arguably equivalent to subpoenas, so it was under a legal obligation to do so.

It’s not entirely clear what could come of this predicament.

PIR says that while ICANN is able to approve or decline changes of control, it has no authority under the .org Registry Agreement to deny PIR changing its legal status from non-profit to for-profit entity.

And while California no doubt has jurisdiction over ICANN, PIR is based in Pennsylvania, so it would be up to Becerra’s counterpart in that state (a fellow Democrat, as it happens) to attempt to obstruct PIR’s planned conversion.

If that were to happen, it would interfere with Ethos’ somewhat convoluted acquisition plan.

Some of the AG’s 35 questions are pretty basic, stuff like “describe in detail the authority ICANN has to regulate, license, and/or oversee the domain name system” and “provide an explanation of ICANN’s authority to regulate the registration fees charged for .org domains”.

That’s either coming from a place of ignorance, or from somebody who’s deliberately questioning ICANN’s very existence as the central coordinating body of the DNS.

That would be frightening indeed.

But at the same time, this intervention from a governmental body may come as a relief to ICANN.

ICANN doesn’t like making difficult decisions when it comes to the big legal questions, or indeed anything with the potential to be controversial and ergo litigation bait.

Take, for example, its ongoing pleas to European data protection authorities to fix its GDPR problem, or its longstanding deferment to US competition authorities when it comes to issues such as the price of a .com domain and the introduction of new registry services, or its outsourcing to expert third parties of almost every potential wedge issue to be found the new gTLD program.

An opinion on .org one way or the other from the California AG could provide a lovely smokescreen for ICANN to approve or reject the .org deal without actually taking responsibility for the decision, a prospect I suspect would we well-received by the Org.

Whether it will actually receive this blessing is an open question.

As Cancun looms, ICANN bans China travel because of Coronavirus

Kevin Murphy, February 5, 2020, Domain Policy

ICANN has banned its staff from travelling to China because of Coronavirus.

The organization said at the weekend that it has implemented the ban, which includes connecting flights of “an abundance of caution”. The ban includes the mainland as well as Hong Kong and Macau.

The move matches travel bans imposed on staff by other multi-national technology outfits, and comes as countries including the US place precautionary restrictions on flights from China.

ICANN has in the recent past changed the venues of public meetings twice due to worries about the unrelated Zika virus, but it has no meetings lined up in China any time soon.

Next month, the community will meet in Cancun, Mexico. According to the European Centre for Disease Control, there are currently no reported cases of the disease in that country.

There are usually plenty of Chinese nationals at ICANN meetings, of course, which could put ICANN in a tricky ethical/practical position as 67 draws closer, depending on how the global spread of the disease progresses.

ICANN said: “As of now, we fully intend to move forward with ICANN67 in Cancún, Mexico.”

The ECDC says there have been 20,626 confirmed cases of the virus since it was identified in December, almost all in China, and 427 deaths, all Chinese.