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FTC chief says most new gTLD bids are “defensive”

Kevin Murphy, January 3, 2013, Domain Policy

The US Federal Trade Commission is still “looking at” ICANN’s new gTLD program amid concerns that most of the applicants applied defensively, it has emerged.

FTC chairman Jon Leibowitz also said today that he thinks new gTLDs will cause consumer confusion and lead to an increase in fraud.

“We have been very, very concerned about ICANN and their dramatic expansion of the domain names, which we think will cause consumer confusion and even worse lead to more areas where malefactors can hide from the law while defrauding consumers,” Leibowitz said.

“A lot of companies that have plunked down $185,000 per domain name — and there have been hundreds of companies that have done it — have mostly done it for defensive purposes,” he added.

Most new gTLDs are not dot-brands, so Leibowitz probably misspoke when he said that “most” applications are defensive. Within the subset of bids that are dot-brands, he may be on firmer ground.

His comments came during a press conference to discuss the FTC’s settlement of its competition probe of Google, which has itself applied for almost 100 new gTLDs.

The settlement agreement relates to Google’s search practices and not its gTLD applications.

Leibowitz said that the FTC is “not looking that issue [new gTLDs] with respect to Google, we’re looking at that issue with respect to ICANN”.

The FTC’s concerns about the program are not new, but it has not publicly expressed them recently.

In December 2011 the agency said the program could “magnify both the abuse of the domain name system and the corresponding challenges we encounter in tracking down Internet fraudsters.”

ICANN finally coming to London

Kevin Murphy, December 27, 2012, Domain Policy

ICANN is to visit the UK for the first time in its 15-year history, with one of its 2014 public meetings now confirmed for London.

The organization is also planning to host its third meeting in Singapore, the city where its first meeting was held, just three years after its last visit, according to recently passed board resolutions.

Buenes Aires, Argentina has been selected for the third meeting in 2013, following Beijing and Durban, ICANN’s second visit to Argentina after the 2005 Mar Del Plata event.

The final meeting in 2014 will be held somewhere in North America, but the city has yet to be decided.

Fingers crossed for Vegas.

gTLD Objector says .sex, .gay, .wtf are all okay

Kevin Murphy, December 26, 2012, Domain Policy

The Independent Objector for ICANN’s new gTLD program has given a preliminary nod to applications for .sex, .gay, .wtf and six other potentially “controversial” applied-for strings.

Alain Pellet this week told applicants for these gTLDs that he does not expect to file objections against their bids, despite an outpouring of public comments against them.

The strings given the okay are .adult, .gay, .hot, .lgbt, persiangulf, .porn .sex .sexy, and .wtf.

A total of 15 applications have been submitted for these strings. Some, such as .gay with four applicants, are contested. Others, such as .wtf and .porn, are not.

The IO is limited to filing objections on two rather tightly controlled grounds: Limited Public Interest (where the bid would violate international law) and Community (where a community would be disenfranchised).

For each of the nine strings, Pellet has decided that neither type of objection is warranted.

In his preliminary finding on .gay and .lgbt, he also noted that to file an objection “could be held incompatible with the obligation of States not to discriminate on grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity which is emerging as a norm”.

As part of a lengthy analysis of the international legal position on homosexuality, De Pellet wrote:

even though the IO acknowledges that homosexuality can be perceived as immoral in some States, there is no legal norm that would transcribe such a value judgment at the international level. Thus, the position of certain communities on the issue is not relevant in respect to the IO’s possibility to object to an application on the limited public interest ground.

For the porn-related applications, Pellet noted that any bid for a gTLD promoting child abuse material would certainly be objected to, but that ICANN has received no such application.

On .wtf, which received many public comments because it’s an acronym including profanity, Pellet observed that freedom of expression is sacred under international law.

He regarded the problem of excessive defensive registrations — as raised by the Australian government in the recent wave of Governmental Advisory Committee early warnings — is outside his remit.

Pellet’s findings, which I think will be welcomed by most parts of the ICANN community, are not unexpected.

Limited Public Interest Objection, originally known as the Morality and Public Order Objection, had been put forward in the wake of the approval of .xxx in 2010 as a way for governments to bring their national laws to bear on the DNS.

But it was painstakingly defanged by the Generic Names Supporting Organization in order to make it almost impossible for it to be used as a way to curb civil rights.

The GAC instead shifted its efforts to the GAC Advice on New gTLDs objection, which enables individual governments to submit objections vicariously based on their own national interest.

Pellet’s findings — which are preliminary but seem very unlikely to be reversed — can be read in full on his web site.

Iran warns on 29 new gTLD bids

Kevin Murphy, December 21, 2012, Domain Policy

The Iranian government has filed late Early Warnings against 29 new gTLD applications, mostly on the basis that the applied-for strings are un-Islamic and “unethical”.

Bids for .gay, .sex, .wine, .bet, .poker and others relating to sexuality, alcohol and gambling are “in conflict with ethical standards” in Iran, according to the submissions.

We hear that the 29 warnings were filed with ICANN’s Governmental Advisory Committee December 10, well after the November 20 deadline that most other governments on the GAC stuck to.

We understand that problems obtaining visas for ICANN’s meeting in Toronto this October may have been blamed for the delay.

The initial batch of Early Warnings for the most part overlooked “moral” problems with gTLD strings, focusing far more on consumer protection, defensive registration costs and geographic sensitivities.

Not so with the Islamic Republic of Iran, which is much more concerned about words it believes promote anti-Islamic behavior or represent Islamic concepts without the required community support.

The government says in its opposition to .gay, for example, that the gTLD would be responsible for:

Agitation and irritation of the humanity and faith; and spread of hatred and hostility in the society.

Encourage people to perform non-religious, Unethical and Non-rational actions in the society.

Encourage people on doing unlawful actions according to Islam religion in the society.

Getting away society from healthy environment for doing daily activities.

Several other Early Warnings use the same or similar language. Iran suggests that the applicants could remedy the problem by banning registration in Islamic nations.

Not all of its warnings are related to sex, drink and gambling, however.

It’s also objected to .krd, which has been applied for to represent the Kurdish community in the region, saying it could “raise serious political conflicts” and lacks support.

The .eco applicants have also been hit with warnings on the grounds that ECO is an acronym for the Economic Cooperation Organization, a regional intergovernmental organization focused on trade.

ECO meets the criteria for IGOs to register .int domains, according to Iran, which is the GAC’s current proposed method of creating a list of protected second-level domain names for IGOs.

The full list of Iran’s objections is published here.

Chehade kicks off massive Whois review

Kevin Murphy, December 14, 2012, Domain Policy

ICANN has started the ball rolling on its potentially radical rethink of how Whois works with formation of a new “Expert Working Group” tasked with examining the issue.

As ICANN chair Steve Crocker told DI last month, this is the first stage of a root-and-branch reexamination of Whois databases, what they’re for, and how they’re accessed.

According to ICANN, which is referring to Whois as “gTLD registration data” presumably to avoid confusion with the Whois technical standard, the group will:

1) define the purpose of collecting and maintaining gTLD registration data, and consider how to safeguard the data, and

2) provide a proposed model for managing gTLD directory services that addresses related data accuracy and access issues, while taking into account safeguards for protecting data.

Whatever the new Expert Working Group on gTLD Directory Services comes up with between January and April next year will be punted to the Generic Names Supporting Organization for an ICANN board-mandated Policy Development Process.

The PDP could create policies binding on gTLD registries and registrars.

Jean-Francois Baril has been hand-picked to chair the group. He has no connection to the domain name industry but appears to have worked with ICANN CEO Fadi Chehade on the RosettaNet standards-setting project.

Crocker and fellow ICANN director Chris Disspain will also join the group.

ICANN wants volunteers to fill the other positions and it seems to be eager to find outsiders who do not already represent entrenched ICANN constituency positions, saying:

Volunteer working group members should: have significant operational knowledge and experience with WHOIS, registrant data, or directory services; be open to new ideas and willing to forge consensus; be able to think strategically and navigate conflicting views; have a record of fostering improvements and delivering results; have a desire to create a new model for gTLD directory services; and be able to volunteer approximately 12-20 hours a month during January – April 2013 to the working group.

Individuals who have worked extensively in the areas of registration data collection, access, accuracy, use, privacy, security, law enforcement, and standards and protocols are also encouraged to consider working group membership. As the working group will be a collection of experts, it is not expected to be comprised solely of representatives of current ICANN community interests. Although members may not come directly from ICANN structures, the working group will have a deep understanding of, and concern for, the ICANN communities’ interests.

Obviously law enforcement and intellectual property interests will be keen to make sure they’re amply represented in the group, as will registries/registrars and privacy advocates.