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ICANN cancels Panama due to Zika virus

Kevin Murphy, February 5, 2016, Domain Policy

ICANN has cancelled its upcoming meeting in Panama City, Panama, due to the Zika virus.

ICANN hasn’t officially announced the move yet, but ICANN insiders and several community members are saying that the meeting venue is being changed to a currently undecided country.

Zika is that virus you’ve probably been hearing about on the news that reportedly makes babies’ brains not develop properly. Thousands of kids are believed to have been affected by it in South and Central America

It’s spread by mosquitoes, but this week there were reports of it being also passed between human sexual partners.

Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff has declared a “war” on the responsible mosquitoes, and the World Health Organization has declared it a “global public emergency.”

It’s not yet obvious whether ICANN has cancelled the meeting due to the risk of mosquito bites or the risk of Zika being spread by shagging.

ICANN was due to meet in Panama City, Panama for ICANN 56 between June 27 and June 30.

Ted Cruz slams Chehade over Chinese “conflict”

Kevin Murphy, February 5, 2016, Domain Policy

US presidential hopeful Ted Cruz has taken time out of his busy primaries schedule to lay into ICANN CEO Fadi Chehade over his new job on a Chinese policy panel.

Cruz said in a letter to Chehade that China is known for its terrible track record on freedom of speech, and wondered aloud whether Chehade’s involvement in the panel constituted a conflict of interest.

Chehade said in December that he’d joined, as co-chair, an advisory committee of the World Internet Conference.

Also known as the Wuzhen Summit, the WIC is an annual conference organized by the Chinese government in order to push its agenda of national sovereignty over the internet.

The conference, apparently regarded as a bit of a joke even in China, actually has little international participation from government leaders.

It’s also been criticized by Reporters Without Borders, which called for a boycott of the 2015 conference after some Western news outlets were barred from attending.

While Chehade stressed that his involvement is in a personal capacity, that his panel is not due to meet until mid-2016 (after he will have left ICANN), and that he remains committed to ICANN’s “one internet” mantra, Cruz doesn’t believe him.

Cruz said in his letter (pdf) that he was “surprised and dismayed” to learn of Chehade’s involvement in Wuzhen, writing:

your participation as a co-chair of the committee raised concerns about a personal conflict of interest while you serve as the Chief Executive Officer of ICANN under contract with the United States Government.

Cruz poses nine key questions that appear to be designed to get Chehade to admit that his conduct in some way represents a conflict of interest, or that he’s a loose cannon operating without the approval of his board of directors.

He wants to know whether, for example, Wuzhen has already discussed the IANA transition, which will see the US government sever formal oversight of the DNS root zone later this year.

It’s a view common to US Republican politicians, of which Cruz is one, that the transition will open the door to China, Russia and other boogeymen to initiate a crackdown on free speech, which has always seemed a little far-fetched.

Cruz is currently considered one of the front-runners for the Republican nomination in the presidential race, following his victory over Donald Trump in Iowa this week.

His letter, which demands answers before February 19, was also signed by fellow Republican senators James Lankford and Michael Lee.

Chehade is due to leave ICANN at the end of March.

“We’re not homophobic!” ICANN pleads as it throws out .gay appeal

Kevin Murphy, February 3, 2016, Domain Policy

ICANN has refused dotgay LLC’s latest appeal against adverse .gay decisions, and has taken the unusual step of preemptively defending itself against probably inevitable accusations from gay rights groups.

On Monday, the Board Governance Committee threw out dotgay’s Request for Reconsideration, in which the company had asked for a third crack at the Community Priority Evaluation process that could have seen it win .gay without paying at auction.

Today, BGC chair Chris Disspain published a blog post that’s basically a defense against accusations that ICANN is somehow intolerant or ignorant of gay issues.

The post explains the RfR process, explains that the latest decision doesn’t mean there won’t be a .gay or that dotgay won’t win the contention set, winding up:

I want to make clear that the denial of the Request for Reconsideration is not a statement about the validity of dotgay LLC’s application or dotgay LLC’s supporters. The decision means that the BGC did not find that the CPE process for dotgay, LLC’s .GAY application violated any ICANN policies or procedures.

It is ICANN’s responsibility to support the community-developed process and provide equitable treatment to all impacted parties. We understand that this outcome will be disappointing to supporters of the dotgay LLC application. We appreciate the amount of interest that this topic has generated within the ICANN community, and we encourage all interested parties to participate in the multistakeholder process to help shape how future application rounds are defined.

dotgay’s two CPEs, which were evaluated by the Economist Intelligence Unit, failed because the company defined its “community” too broadly, to include people who aren’t gay.

The company says that it’s “common sense” that “gay” is an umbrella term not only for lesbian and bisexual people, but also for people with non-standard gender identities and straight people who support equal rights.

(As an aside, I recently learned that former boxing promoter Kellie Maloney, the UK’s poster girl for transgender issues, disagrees with same-sex couples raising kids and once called for gay pride marches to be banned. I wonder how she fits under this umbrella.)

But the second EIU panel “determined that the applied-for string does not sufficiently identify some members of the applicant’s defined community, in particular transgender, intersex, and ally individuals”.

The CPE application fell apart on that basis. It scored 10 of the available 16 points, four points shy of a winner.

Due to the sensitive nature of this kind of thing, and the fact that dotgay does have a truckload of genuine support from prominent campaigning members of its community, ICANN and the EIU have come in for criticism.

Some of that criticism has implied that ICANN, the EIU, the process or all three are in some way homophobic or at least ignorant.

An article on gay news website The Gayly this week said: “The EIU’s actions contradict all common sense and are being interpreted as the outcome of a hostile environment.”

dotgay encouraged supporters to tweet: “Say NO to unfair & unequal treatment of the gay community at the hands of @TheEIU #Yes2dotgay”.

I’ve seen some tweets from supporters that use stronger language, which I’m guessing is what the BGC is trying to preempt today.

Now that it has exhausted the RfR process without success, expect dotgay to file an Independent Review Process appeal with ICANN, delaying the .gay contention set resolution for a year or more.

DCA sues ICANN for fraud, demands cash

Kevin Murphy, February 3, 2016, Domain Policy

New gTLD applicants may have signed away all their rights to sue ICANN, but that doesn’t seem to be a concern for loose-cannon .dotafrica .africa applicant DotConnectAfrica.

The company has filed suit in California, trying to kill off rival ZACR’s application as “fraudulent” and demanding a load of cash from ICANN.

The suit was filed January 20, and DCA’s request for an emergency restraining order has already been thrown out by the judge.

DCA is basically attempting to re-litigate the Independent Review Process case it won against ICANN last year.

The company claims that ICANN, ZACR, independent evaluator InterConnect Communications, and the Governmental Advisory Committee improperly ganged up on it, in breach of contract.

It also claims fraud, negligence, and a few other alleged violations of the law on the same grounds.

It’s looking for three flavors of monetary damages and “rescission of ICANN’s registry agreement with ZACR as a null and void contract predicated on fraud.”

The IRP panel ruled last year that ICANN breached its bylaws by kicking out DCA’s application based on GAC advice that had not been properly and transparently explained.

The case revealed that ICANN had drafted a letter of support for the African Union Commission to submit in order to show its support for ZACR.

ICANN claims there was nothing improper about that — and the IRP panel did not express an opinion — but it looked pretty dodgy.

The organization says it has not yet been formally served with DCA’s complaint, but told the court that there’s no need for an emergency TRO against .africa being delegated because it’s not an imminent possibility.

Indeed, there’s no danger of ZACR getting .africa live while DCA’s application is undergoing a second round of InterConnect scrutiny for evidence of governmental support (which it does not have).

ICANN added in its filing, almost as an aside, that DCA has signed away its right to sue.

DCA’s new choice of law firm, post-IRP, may be an indication of either the fragile nature of its standing or dwindling cash reserves.

Pricey ICANN-killer Arif Ali is out. Replacing him, a dude who runs a website-free, six-month-old, one-man show from his home in a California cul-de-sac.

Disclosure: DCA thinks I’m a racist, and I think it’s mad. The long, sordid history of the company’s shenanigans can be perused at your leisure with this search.

Terror fears prompt security crackdown for ICANN 55

Kevin Murphy, January 28, 2016, Domain Policy

ICANN is bringing in metal detectors, bag searches and ID checks at its forthcoming public meeting in Marrakech, Morocco.

The measures are being introduced despite ICANN’s assurances that it considers the chance of terrorism at ICANN 55 to be “LOW”.

In a statement today, ICANN meetings boss Nick Tomasso said:

we are in constant and on-going communication with our hosts and the Moroccan government, to assess any security concerns surrounding the upcoming meeting. In addition, we are working with a highly respected global security-consulting firm, which gives us on-going updates of potential risks. This firm has also assigned a senior level analyst to work with ICANN.

As of this date, the assessments of these various security experts is that there is only a LOW risk of any type of terrorist activity in Morocco.

The statement comes as some members of the ICANN community have been expressing concerns about visiting Morocco, in the light of recent ISIS/Daesh-linked terrorist attacks in North Africa.

Morocco itself has not been the target of any successful Daesh attacks, though members of the cell behind the November attacks in Paris are reported to have Moroccan links.

Marrakech was bombed by an Al Qaeda-linked group in 2011.

Several Western governments urge visitors to the country to exercise caution, saying there’s a high risk of terrorist attacks.

The UK government says, for example:

There is a high threat from terrorism in Morocco. Attacks could be indiscriminate, including in places visited by foreigners.

The US government is less alarmist:

The potential for terrorist violence against U.S. interests and citizens exists in Morocco. Moroccan authorities continue to disrupt groups seeking to attack U.S. or Western-affiliated and Moroccan government targets, arresting numerous individuals associated with international terrorist groups. With indications that such groups still seek to carry out attacks in Morocco, it is important for U.S. citizens to be keenly aware of their surroundings and adhere to prudent security practices such as avoiding predictable travel patterns and maintaining a low profile.

I’ve heard community members speculate that an ICANN meeting, with its broad international mix of delegates, some governmental, might be an attractive target.

Personally, I’m not convinced the risk is much greater than it would be in any Western capital. My mother is vacationing unaccompanied in Egypt around the same time, and I’m fine with that.

However, ICANN seems to be taking the concerns seriously.

Tomasso added the following, non-exhaustive list of new security measures for ICANN 55:

  • Every delegate will now need a government-issued ID to pick up a badge at the registration desk.
  • There will be increased security screening for those entering our meeting venue, which may include metal detectors, magnetic wands and bag checks.
  • There will be advanced verification of delegate registration information by Moroccan authorities.
  • Security will be increased at the hotels where delegates are staying.
  • We are establishing a 24/7 operations center at the venue.

It’s not exactly TSA-levels of privacy invasion, but I can see some would-be delegates being put off by the extra hassle.

If ICANN were to cancel the Marrakech meeting, it would risk seriously pissing off African community members.

The Marrakech meeting was originally scheduled for 2015, but it was postponed due to fears about the Ebola virus, which at the time was running rampant in African countries thousands of miles away.

In 2010, ICANN was criticized for its handling of security concerns around a meeting in Kenya, where at least 74 delegates cancelled their registrations over terror fears.

ICANN also cancelled a planned 2011 meeting in Jordan due to Middle East security concerns.

ICANN 55 is scheduled for March 5 to 10.