The Governmental Advisory Committee has slammed ICANN’s decisions to reject at least three non-Latin ccTLDs because they might pose security risks.
Remarkably, the GAC has also asked ICANN to “urgently reconsider” the rulings, which were made to mitigate the risk of phishing attacks and other types of domain name abuse.
In its official post-Prague communique, published over the weekend, the GAC tells ICANN that the way it decides whether to approve IDN ccTLDs has been “too conservative”.
While the letter does not single out any specific ccTLDs, I understand that the advice was formulated primarily at the behest of the European Union and Greece, which have both had IDN ccTLD applications rejected on the grounds of confusing similarity.
The Prague communique (pdf) states:
The GAC is of the view that decisions may have erred on the too-conservative side, in effect applying a more stringent test of confusability between Latin and non-Latin scripts than when undertaking a side by side comparison of Latin strings.
It goes on to ask ICANN to publish its criteria for evaluating the similarity of IDN ccTLDs, to create an appeals process, to publish its rationales for rejecting bids, and to revisit old decisions.
The communique states, as formal GAC Advice:
Recently refused IDNs, particularly those nominated by public or national authorities should be urgently re-considered in light of the above considerations.
This request instantly loses the GAC credibility points, in my view, casting it as little more than another special interest group focused on the goals of its members first and internet security second.
To be clear, the GAC is appealing ICANN decisions that were designed to prevent phishing.
Greece’s application for .ελ,was rejected by ICANN last year due to its visual similarity with .EA, a non-existent – but potential future – ccTLD.
While there’s not much on the public record about the European case, I understand Eurid’s bid for a Greek version of .eu was blocked because it looks too much like Estonia’s EE.
Bulgarian IDN supporters have also been very vocal the last couple of years in opposition to ICANN’s decision to forbid .бг due to its alleged resemblance to Brazil’s .br.
While decent arguments can and have been made that some of these rulings were a little on the silly side, it’s hard to argue that they were made without the best of intentions.
The GAC has promised to write to ICANN with “further reflections on the methodology that should be followed when evaluating two character IDNs”.
The GAC as a technical regulator? That letter should make for some interesting reading.
While ICANN staff acknowledged that digital archery was perceived as “silly”, it told the board of directors that it was “straightforward” and “unambiguous and easy to execute”.
That’s according to the latest delayed release of meeting minutes and briefing documents detailing board-level discussions between the Costa Rica and Prague meetings.
There was significant debate at the board level about digital archery prior to its approval in March, with directors generally favoring an auction model instead, these documents reveal.
Back in March, the board of directors’ new gTLD program committee was presented with a strong case in favor of archery by ICANN staff.
According to March 28 briefing document (pdf):
Implementation of the auction model at this late date presents significant risk of: program delay, legal action and significant reputational impact as described below. Board working group members tend to agree with this viewpoint but there is a split of opinion. The digital archery model presents minor risks; primarily a minor reputational risk from the perceived awkwardness of the model.
Analysis indicates that the legal risk raised by a random selection program will be satisfactorily addressed. This is true even though the results appear to have an element of randomness.
Implementation of the digital archery model is essentially completed. It presents no schedule risk. Its operation is straightforward.
Hindsight is a wonderful thing, and it reveals in this case that digital archery was far from straightforward in its operation, and did in fact present schedule risk.
The new gTLD program is currently in semi-limbo while ICANN tries to figure out a way to sequence the processing of applications in a fair and timely way.
Other documents published following Prague include the lengthy minutes of a May 29 committee meeting at which directors argued with staff about how to geographically weight batches.
Staff pushed for a proportional system – where if 10% of applications came from a specific region, 10% of the first batch would be drawn from that region – the minutes reveal.
But several directors argued and won the case for the “round robin” scenario, which would have given advantage to applicants from under-represented regions instead.
Newly published minutes from May 6 also reveal that ICANN considered offering 1% interest on refunds to applicants that withdrew their applications before Reveal Day.
ICANN has killed off its unpopular “digital archery” scheme, which it had planned to use to rank and batch new top-level domain applications for evaluation.
But the organization has not yet replaced it with anything, leaving gTLD applicants without their much-sought-after certainty for at least the next three weeks.
In a resolution yesterday, ICANN’s New gTLD Program Committee approved the following resolution:
Resolved (2012.06.27.NG06), the New gTLD Program Committee directs the President and CEO to terminate the Digital Archery process as approved in Resolutions 2011.12.08.04-2011.12.08.07.
Given the discussions between the ICANN board and the rest of the community here at ICANN 44 in Prague this week, it would have been more surprising if archery had survived.
Not everyone is happy to see it go, of course.
Richard Schreier, CEO of erstwhile digital archery service provider Pool.com, took to the mic at the ICANN public forum this afternoon to ask that ICANN sticks to its decisions in future.
He further noted that the decision to scrap archery had been made without the input of applicants who are not in attendance at the meeting.
Now that archery has gone, the ICANN board has left a vacuum – nobody knows how applications will be prioritized for processing and evaluation.
Committee chair Cherine Chalaby said that ICANN will now open a comment period for all applicants, in order to help build a “roadmap” to “detail the next steps and timelines”.
This roadmap is due, it seems before the new gTLD committee’s next meeting, which is due to take place approximately three weeks from now.
This does not necessarily mean the program has been delayed, however. ICANN senior vice president Kurt Pritz said a few times this week that evaluators will start looking at apps July 12.
The European Broadcasting Union, which is one of four applicants for the .radio top-level domain, has asked to join ICANN’s Governmental Advisory Committee as an observer.
It is believed that its request is likely to be accepted.
The move, which comes just a couple of weeks after ICANN revealed its list of new gTLD applications, could raise conflict of interest questions.
While several GAC governments and observers are backing new gTLD bids – the UK supports .london, for example – they’re generally geographic in nature and generally not contested.
But .radio has been applied for by Afilias, BRS Media and Donuts in addition to the EBU.
While any organization can file objections against applications, under the rules of the new gTLD program the GAC has the additional right to issue special “GAC Advice on New gTLDs”.
Consensus GAC advice is expected to be enough to kill an application.
Since it’s not entirely clear how the GAC will create its formal Advice, it’s not yet clear whether the EBU will have any input into the process.
According to the GAC’s governing principles, observers do not have voting rights, but they can “participate fully in the GAC and its Committees and Working Groups”.
The EBU’s .radio gTLD would be open to all potential registrants, but it would be subject to post-registration content restrictions: web sites would have to be radio-oriented, according to the application.
It’s also the only Community-designated bid in the contention set, meaning it could attempt a Community Priority Evaluation to resolve the dispute.
The EBU has also applied for .eurovision, the name of its annual singing competition, as an uncontested dot-brand.
One of ICANN’s Governmental Advisory Committee’s ongoing inexplicable obsessions is that the introduction of new top-level domains risks toppling the internet.
One or more GAC members have raised the topic of DNS root zone scalability at pretty much every meeting the GAC has had with ICANN’s board of directors for the last couple of years.
It’s the reason why ICANN has committed to delegate no more than 1,000 new gTLDs – a fairly arbitrarily chosen number – to the root per year.
I’m not entirely sure where the GAC’s concerns originated, but they’ve been dismissed as red herrings on multiple occasions by ICANN and third-party technical experts.
And now ICANN has published yet another report – this one written by its own IANA staff – making the point that the risk to root stability is query volume, not database size.
Here’s the gist:
Having twice as many TLDs does not mean that the average Internet user visits twice as many web pages, or writes twice as many emails. Rather, Internet usage is driven by growth in overall Internet adoption. Having more TLDs available does not directly incur increased usage of the DNS; rather it will exchange a subset of their query load from existing TLDs to new TLDs.
You can download the full report here.