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World’s most deluded new gTLD applicant makes coronavirus pitch

Kevin Murphy, June 29, 2020, Domain Policy

Indian new gTLD applicant Nameshop, which still refuses to accept defeat eight years after its application for .idn was rejected, has a new coronavirus-related pitch to try to persuade ICANN to please, please, give it a gTLD.

You may recall that this company applied for .idn in 2012, overlooking the fact that IDN was banned as the reserved three-letter country code for Indonesia.

Ever since the mistake was noticed, Nameshop has been trying to convince ICANN to let it change its string to .internet, which nobody else applied for, requests that have been repeatedly rejected.

The newest Nameshop plea to ICANN (pdf) pitches .internet as a space where IGOs, NGOs and others could build or host web sites dedicated to coronavirus-related activities.

The company says it wants to:

temporarily — for the length of the pandemic crisis — operate the TLD with a request for heightened involvement of ICANN and the ICANN Community in the interest of making use of the DNS technologies, to help Government Agencies and Communities involve, increase and optimize their efforts to manage the Crisis and the ensuing recovery and renewal.

It wants to offer:

a clean new space for IGOs and NGOs to come together in their efforts to communicate, collaborate, generate solutions and expeditiously resolve the health crisis while also enabling organizations to collaborate on reconstruction efforts

The company says it would not make any money on .internet until after coronavirus is solved.

It’s also offering to set aside a quarter of its profits for good causes.

I don’t know whether Nameshop is motivated by a genuine desire to do good — as so many are during the pandemic crisis — or a sneaky strategy to shame ICANN into giving it its string change. Either way, the plan is pure delusion.

The reason ICANN has continually rejected Nameshop’s request for a string change from .idn to .internet for the last eight years is that it would set a precedent allowing any applicant to apply for any nonsense string and later change it to a desirable, uncontested string.

That hasn’t changed.

But while Nameshop has been tilting at windmills, ICANN has been earning interest on its $185,000 application fee, which I’m sure could be put to a far better use if Nameshop simply requested the full refund ICANN has offered.

Does ICANN have a race problem?

Kevin Murphy, June 29, 2020, Domain Policy

In the wake of the killing of George Floyd, pretty much every corporation and institution in the US, and many elsewhere, have felt the need to make statements or enact changes in order to show how non-racist they are, and it seems ICANN is now no exception.

The org issued a statement from CEO Göran Marby late last week in which he denounced racism and said ICANN was committed to establishing a set of “guiding principles” to govern “diversity and inclusion”.

I found the statement rather odd. Does ICANN have a racism problem that needs addressing?

I don’t think it does. At least, I’ve never even heard so much as a rumor about such behavior, never mind a confirmed case.

I’ve been scratching my head to think of any examples of ICANN being accused of racism, and the only one I can come up with is a minor controversy 10 years ago when an early draft of the new gTLD Applicant Guidebook banned “terrorism”.

Some Muslim community members complained that the word could be perceived as “racist” and it was eventually removed.

Around the same time, a handful of community members (as well as yours truly) were accused by the head of unsuccessful .africa applicant DotConnectAfrica of being part of a racist conspiracy against the company, but to the best of my recollection we never invited ICANN staff to our meetings.

But that’s basically it.

ICANN already has diversity baked into its power hierarchies. Members of the board of directors and other committees have to be geographically diverse, which will usually lead to racial diversity, for example.

A great many of its senior leaders have been (at least under some definitions) “people of color”. There doesn’t appear to be a glass ceiling.

It’s also got its Expected Standards of Behavior, a system of codified politeness used in community interactions, which explicitly forbids racial discrimination.

The broader community is global, has no ethnic majority, and is self-selecting. Anyone with the means can show up to a public meeting, dial into a remote meeting, or join a working group, regardless of race or origin.

Statistics show that whenever an ICANN meeting is held in Africa or Asia, the largest groupings of participants are African or Asian.

Of course, maybe with such diversity comes problems. There are words that are considered offensive in some parts of the world that are perfectly acceptable in others, for example, but I’ve never heard of any instances of this kind of culture clash.

But is there actual racism going on at ICANN HQ? Marby’s post says:

We will open a facilitated dialogue to support our employees, to ensure that racial bias and discrimination, or bias of any kind, have no place in our workforce. We need to be comfortable having uncomfortable conversations so that we can address the unconscious and conscious ways in which systemic racism is perpetuated. We need to listen more to Black people and people of color to learn about how these issues impact them each and every day. And we need to continue to take meaningful actions to address inequality.

That suggests that either ICANN is aware of some sort of systemic racial bias among its staff, or that it wants to hunt it down and snuff it out before it becomes a bigger issue.

Or they could just be empty words designed to pay lip service to this stuff.

As the world burns, ICANN gives its richest execs huge pay rises

Kevin Murphy, June 24, 2020, Domain Policy

ICANN has just given some of its highest-ranking and richest execs pay rises of up to 15%, even as the world stands on the brink of a global recession and ICANN is predicting its own budget is on the verge of huge shrinkage.

Its board of directors has approved a set of pay deals that would see the CFO, Xavier Calvez — a man who has, year-after-year, consistently failed to predict fluctuations in the domain name industry with any degree of accuracy — a pay rise of 15%.

John Jeffrey, the general counsel, is getting 3.5%, despite his record of losing legal cases and covering up incidents of sexual harassment among ICANN staff.

Theresa Swinehart, newly-minted senior vice president of the Global Domains Division, is getting a 10% pay increase on top of her base salary, which was $459,123 in FY19.

Not only that, but CEO Göran Marby has been granted broad discretion to increase salaries in the same range for other, non-officer ICANN employees.

Marby himself has been granted his second-half bonus, which amounts to over $100,000.

Based on disclosed salaries for ICANN’s fiscal 2019, we can take a punt on how much money this will cost ICANN — and by “ICANN” I of course mean “you”, the domain-registering public, who pays for every cent of ICANN’s budget.

According to ICANN’s fiscal 2019 form 990, Calvez had “reportable compensation” of $445,964. That’s not including another $62,000 in additional compensation.

For him, a 15% pay raise on the base number is an extra almost $68,000 a year, making his salary (excluding extras) now comfortably over half a million dollars a year.

I’m sure there are many readers of this blog who would consider $68k a nice-enough base salary. But no, that’s his annual raise this year.

This is the guy who, for the better part of a decade, has had to wildly meddle with the revenue half of ICANN’s budget every six months because he couldn’t seem to get a grip on how the new gTLD market was playing out.

He’s also the guy predicting an 8% decline in revenue for ICANN’s next fiscal year due to coronavirus, even as he admits its current revenue has been so far unaffected and most of its biggest funders say everything is going really rather well.

Swinehart is going to get an extra $46,000 a year.

Jeffrey’s raise amounts to an extra $21,000 on top of his $604,648 FY19 base salary.

Remember, he’s the guy in charge of ICANN’s legal department, which is consistently beaten in Independent Review Panel cases, and who is ultimately responsible for the decision to not disclose the existence of the sexual harassment cases that have been filed against ICANN by its own employees in recent years.

The reason these three in particular have been given angry-laughable pay rises is the recently-announced executive reshuffle, which I blogged about earlier this month.

The three of them have had their jobs merged with those of two recent departures — COO Susanna Bennett, who’s leaving for undisclosed reasons shortly, and GDD president Cyrus Namazi, who quit following (but, you know, not necessarily because of) sexual harassment allegations earlier this year.

Combined, Namazi and Bennett were taking $860,000 a year out of the ICANN purse, so ICANN is still saving money by increasing the salaries of their replacements by about $134,000.

But the question has to be asked: how much extra work are these execs doing for this money? How many extra hours a day are they putting in to earn what to many people would be a whole year’s salary?

I expect the answer is: none.

I expect the answer is that ICANN didn’t need the number of six-figure execs it had previously, and now that’s it’s lost a couple of them it’s handing out your cash to those who chose to stick around mainly because it can and it hopes nobody will notice or care.

ICANN’s board resolution says that its decision to raise salaries is based on “independent market data provided by outside expert compensation consultants”.

ICANN has long had a “philosophy” of paying its top people in the “50th to 75th percentile for total cash compensation based on comparable market data for the respective positions”.

It’s never been entirely clear which entities ICANN compares itself to when making these judgements.

“Horrifying” Zoombombing attack on ICANN meeting, again

Kevin Murphy, June 22, 2020, Domain Policy

ICANN’s eleventh-hour decision to remove password requirements for ICANN 68 was proved wrong almost immediately after the meeting got underway on Zoom today.

According to participants and ICANN itself, several sessions were “zoombombed” this morning, with apparently pornographic content.

Zoombombing is where trolls disrupt public, open Zoom meetings with content designed to offend.

ICANN 68 is taking place on Zoom, but on Kuala Lumpur time. I was asleep during the attacks and ICANN has yet to post the recordings of any of today’s sessions, so I can’t give you any of the details first-hand.

But judging by a handful of social media posts that reference the attack, it seems to have been pornographic in nature. ICANN said it comprised “audio, images and video”.

One participant described it as “funny at first…until it was not”, while another said it was “horrifying” and left her feeling “completely vulnerable”.

ICANN said in a blog post that the trolls were swiftly removed from the sessions.

It added that it has changed the format of the remainder of ICANN 68, unplugging certain interactive components and requiring passwords to be entered before access is granted.

This means you’re going to have to register for each session and click emailed confirmation links, it appears.

Only the Governmental Advisory Committee is staying on the platform with its original vulnerable configuration.

ICANN had been planning to require passwords since a similar attack at an inter-sessional meeting in March, but changed its mind last week after security upgrades made by Zoom gave leaders a greater sense of confidence in the platform.

It appears that confidence was misplaced.

Coronavirus is saving ICANN millions of your money, but will it use the cash wisely?

Kevin Murphy, June 21, 2020, Domain Policy

ICANN is saving millions this year due to the coronavirus-related shift to online-only public meetings.

But it’s thinking about using some of the cash to do things like pay for broadband upgrades and hotel rooms for some of its community volunteers.

During a conference call on Thursday, CFO Xavier Calvez gave out figures suggesting that the switch from in-person to Zoom meetings could save as much as $8 million of your money in 2020.

Calvez said that ICANN meetings usually cost an average of $4 million, but that the virtual ICANN 67 in March only cost the org $1.5 million to $2 million.

Because the face-to-face component was canceled only at the last minute, ICANN had already incurred some costs associated with a physical meeting.

The ICANN 68 meeting, which begins tomorrow, is expected to cost $1 million to $1.5 million, Calvez said.

If we assume that October’s ICANN 69, recently moved from Hamburg to Zoom, will see similar savings, then the total 2020 meetings bill could be down by between $6 million and $8 million.

Calvez added that ICANN’s funding during the coronavirus crisis has so far been holding steady.

No sooner had Calvez finished speaking than a pre-submitted community member question was read out wondering whether some of this cash could be redistributed to participants who are usually travel-subsidized.

Intellectual property expert Jonathan Zuck said that money could be handed out to volunteers in order to pay for things such as broadband upgrades and “finding quiet places to participate in the middle of the night”.

Perhaps surprisingly, Calvez and senior VP of global stakeholder engagement Sally Costerton did not rule this out.

In fact, she said such ideas are currently under active discussion and may be floated for public comment after ICANN 68.

One idea, I suggest, might be to compensate the 200-odd people who tuned into Thursday’s “Q&A” session for their time.

The session was scheduled to be an hour long, but the first 45 minutes were devoted to the 12 members of the ICANN executive team introducing themselves and patting themselves on the back for all the awesome work they’ve been doing.

Half as many women apply for ICANN leadership jobs

Kevin Murphy, June 19, 2020, Domain Policy

This year’s ICANN Nominating Committee has released data showing a drop in the number of applicants for ICANN leadership positions, with a noticeable decline in the number of female applicants.

The NomCom is responsible for picking members of the ICANN board, GNSO Council, PTI board, ALAC and ccNSO Council.

There were 96 applicants this year, down from 127 in the 2019 round, including only 18 women, down from 42 a year ago.

I can think of two possible reasons for this apparent decline.

First, applicants this year got the option not to disclose their gender for the first time. The “did not disclose” box was checked by 13 people.

Second, both of the director positions opening up this October are currently occupied by women who are not term-limited — Avri Doria and Sarah Deutsch.

There’s a reasonable chance both of them could be reappointed.

ICANN’s board has told NomCom that it can use gender as a criterion when appointing directors, saying last December:

Without compromising the fundamental requirement to have Board members with the necessary integrity, skills, experience, the Board would find it helpful to have greater gender diversity on the Board.

It appears that’s not going to happen this year.

The other three ICANN directors whose current terms end in October are Chris Disspain, Matthew Shears and León Sánchez. Disspain is being replaced by the ccNSO with a man and Sánchez and Shears have been confirmed for second terms by ALAC and GNSO respectively.

ICANN decision to cancel Hamburg was NOT unanimous

Kevin Murphy, June 19, 2020, Domain Policy

Surprisingly, ICANN’s decision last week to cancel its Hamburg annual general meeting in favor of Zoom did not receive the unanimous support of its board of directors.

Two directors — Ihab Osman and Ron da Silva — voted against the majority in the June 11 resolution, minutes published last night show.

The resolution noted that the global path of the coronavirus pandemic is currently too unpredictable to ensure that an in-person ICANN 69 could go ahead safely or legally in October.

But the two directors dissented, pushing instead for a “hybrid” model meeting, with a greatly reduced in-person attendance propped up with online participation.

According to the minutes:

Ron expressed concerns that the decision to conduct ICANN69 as a purely virtual meeting is premature and indicated a preference for the President and CEO to explore with the SO and AC leadership the implications, costs and logistics around a hybrid approach for ICANN69. Ihab expressed concerns that the proposed resolution does not allow for the possibility of some sort of physical hybrid model for ICANN69.

Osman went further, arguing that ICANN should set an example by going ahead with Hamburg:

Ihab Osman pointed out that large parts of the world are moving towards opening up, and that ICANN, as global community and global player, has a responsibility to do its part to bring the world back to some level of normalcy.

While CEO Göran Marby came back with a bunch of reasons a physical meeting would be impractical and potentially unsafe, both directors were unconvinced and voted against the 13-person majority anyway.

Notes released alongside the minutes reveal that ICANN stands to save a lot of money by remaining online-only.

Not only will it not have to pay for hundreds of flights and hotel rooms for staff and subsidized community members, but it had not yet signed contracts with the venue or local hotels, so it won’t be losing any deposits either.

Virtual cocktails coming to ICANN meetings. Really.

Kevin Murphy, June 18, 2020, Domain Policy

Fancy a virtual coffee? How about a virtual cocktail? These are both real events coming to ICANN’s public meetings, which for the rest of the year are online-only due to coronavirus restrictions.

It’s part of an effort to better capture the sense of socializing and community-building found at normal, in-person ICANN meetings.

The schedule for ICANN 68, which kicks off on Monday, has just been updated to include several 30-minute “virtual coffee” sessions, which of course will be conducted over Zoom.

ICANN’s calling these “Fika” sessions.

It’s not an acronym, but rather a reference to the Swedish workplace tradition of taking a break to drink coffee, eat cake, and chat with colleagues. I’m guessing Swedish CEO Göran Marby had a hand in the naming.

Each Fika session comes with a number of sub-rooms, in which participants can discuss issues such as “Bingeworthy: My Favorite Shows and Movies During Quarantine” or “I’ve Got the Time Now: Quarantine DIY Projects”.

It’s all very sweet and cuddly.

There’s no confirmed “virtual cocktail” sessions (which strike me as an exceptional excuse for day-drinking, depending on your time zone) on the ICANN 68 schedule yet, but the idea has been floated as part of ICANN org’s plan for enhancing its virtual meetings.

This plan is part of a draft four-phase plan to eventually re-open physical meetings when it becomes safe and permitted.

In the current Phase 0, ICANN’s going to encourage greater use of remote video — by all participants, not just the ICANN hosts — and sponsorship opportunities in a virtual “exhibition hall”.

ICANN’s even thinking about arranging for the shipping of schwag bags filled with sponsor loot.

Phase 1 would see the return of in-person meetings, but only at the local or regional level, Phase 2 would see a return to in-person ICANN public meetings, but with a “hybrid” approach that would retain the current online components.

Phase 3 would be essentially a return to business as usual.

The decision to enter a new phase would be guided by issues such as pandemic status, government guidelines, venue safety, and so on.

There’s no chance of up-phasing public meetings this year. ICANN has already confirmed that ICANN 69, originally set for Hamburg, will also be online-only.

But it does seem that this year’s meetings will be slightly friendlier affairs.

Fortunately for female participants, haptic technology has not sufficiently advanced to accurately replicate the experience of being sexually harassed in a hotel bar by a bearded middle-aged man who stinks of virtual vodka.

GoDaddy, PorkBun and Endurance win domain “blocking” court fight

Kevin Murphy, June 17, 2020, Domain Policy

Three large registrar groups last week emerged mostly victorious from a court battle in which a $5.4 billion-a-year consumer goods giant sought to get domains being used in huge scam operations permanently blocked.

Hindustan Unilever, known as HUL, named Endurance, GoDaddy and PorkBun in a lawsuit against unknown scammers who were using cybersquatted domains to rip off Indians who thought they were signing up to become official distributors.

The .in ccTLD registry, NIXI, was also named in the suit. All of the domains in question were .in names.

Among other things, HUL wanted the registrars to “suspend and ensure the continued suspension of and block access to” the fraudulent domains in question, but the judge had a problem with this.

He’d had the domain name lifecycle explained to him and he decided in a June 12 order (pdf) that it was not technically possible for a registrar to permanently suspend a domain, taking into account that the registration will one day expire.

He also defined “block access to” rather narrowly to mean the way ISPs block access to sites at the network level, once again letting the registrar off the hook.

Judge GS Patel of the Bombay High Court wrote:

Any domain name Registrar can always suspend a domain that is registered. But the entire process of registration itself is entirely automated and machine-driven. No domain name registrar can put any domain names on a black list or a block list.

Where he seems to have messed up is by ignoring the role of the registry, where it’s perfectly possible for a domain name to be permanently blocked.

NIXI may not have its hands directly on the technology, but .in’s EPP registry is run by back-end Neustar (now owned by GoDaddy but not directly named in the suit), which like all gTLD registries already has many thousands of names permanently reserved under ICANN’s direction.

Patel also seems to assume that NIXI doesn’t get paid for the domain names its registrar sells. He wrote:

The relief against Defendants Nos. 14 and 15, the dot-IN registry and NIEI [NIXI] at least to the extent of asking that they be ordered to de-register or block access is misdirected. Neither of these is a registrar. Neither of these receives registration consideration. Neither of these registers any domain name. The reliefs against them cannot therefore be granted.

NIXI actually charges INR 350 ($4.60) per second-level .in name per year, of which a reported $0.70 goes to Neustar.

The judge also ruled that the registrars have to hand over contact information for each of the cybersquatters.

He also ordered several banks, apparently used by the scammers, to hand over information in the hope of bringing the culprits to justice.

You won’t need a password for ICANN 68 after all

Kevin Murphy, June 17, 2020, Domain Policy

ICANN has ditched plans to require all ICANN 68 participants to enter a password whenever they enter one of the Zoom sessions at the meeting next week.

The org said today that it will use URLs with embedded passwords, removing the need for user input, after reviewing changes Zoom made last month.

These included features such as a waiting room that enables meeting hosts to vet participants manually before allowing them to enter the meeting proper.

ICANN said: “Please use these links cautiously, only share them on secure channels such as encrypted chat or encrypted e-mail, and never post them publicly.”

ICANN had said last month, before the Zoom changes, that it would require passwords in order to limit the risk of Zoombombing — where trolls show up and spam the meeting with offensive content. One ICANN Zoom session had been trolled in this way in March.

The org also said today that participants will be asked to give their consent to be recorded upon entry to a session.

“It is our hope that this small change empowers attendees by providing quick access and more control over the acceptance of our policies as it relates to attending virtual meetings,” ICANN lied, to cover for the obvious piece of legal ass-covering.

Refuse consent and see how far you get.