China cracks down on new gTLD applicants

Kevin Murphy, March 2, 2012, Domain Policy

Chinese companies planning to apply to ICANN for a new generic top-level domain will have to get a permit from the government, it has been announced.

Applicants will have to reveal their services, their contingency plans, and their trademark protection and anti-abuse procedures, among other details, to China before applying.

The news, which could be troubling to some Chinese gTLD applicants, came in an official Ministry of Industry and Information Technology announcement yesterday.

A local source confirmed that the Ministry plans to issue permits to new gTLD applicants.

It seems to apply to any gTLD, but a second set of regulations to govern the obtaining of government non-objection letters in the case of geographic strings has also been introduced.

These rules seem to apply only to local companies. As far as I know China is not yet claiming exclusive ownership of the Chinese language and script as it has in the past.

I also hear on the grapevine that China thinks ICANN is subject to a business tax on its $185,000 application fees, and that applicants are being asked to pre-pay this tax on ICANN’s behalf.

The nation has form when it comes to heavy-handed domain name industry regulation.

Rules forcing registrants to submit ID when they register .cn domain names have caused the number of ccTLD registrations to plummet over the last couple of years.

The .cn space peaked at about 14 million domains under management in 2009 and stands at just 3.3 million today.

ICANN staffer linked to hacked intelligence firm

Kevin Murphy, March 1, 2012, Domain Policy

Former ICANN director Veni Markovski, who currently heads Eastern European relations at the organization, has been fingered by Wikileaks as a Stratfor source.

Stratfor is the “global intelligence” outfit, once described by Barron’s as “The Shadow CIA”, which had its email server pwned by the hacker group Anonymous last year.

Wikileaks was given over five million Stratfor emails by Anonymous, which it started to publish earlier this week.

According to several of these emails, Markovski reached out to Strafor, and was then cultivated as a “source”, after the company’s analysis was quoted in coverage of the 2008 South Ossetia war.

I think the emails say a lot more about Stratfor and its methods than they do about Markovski.

Shortly after making contact, Stratfor senior Eurasia analyst Lauren Goodrich asked a colleague to check out this “Shady Bulgarian”.

“Was wondering if he has OC [organized crime] or FSB [the Russian Federal Security Service] connections,” Goodrich wrote.

This background check seemed to extend to checking for media references and then reading the resume Markovski publishes openly on his web site.

The subsequent response from Stratfor analyst Fred Burton described Markovski as “hooked into the Bulgairan OC, but nothing too shady bout that since he is Bulgarian”.

Quite what “hooked into” was supposed to mean in this context is open to interpretation.

In September 2008 emails, Goodrich described him as a “Bulgarian billionaire telecommunications oligarch” and “kinda a strange guy, but very powerful in business circles.”

Markovski joined ICANN as manager of regional relations for Eastern Europe, Russia and the Commonwealth of Independent States in 2007.

A familiar face at ICANN, he also served on its board of directors between 2003 and 2006. He’s chair of the Internet Society of Bulgaria, and founded the Bulgarian ISP bol.bg.

The Wikileaks emails reveal that Goodrich and Markovski communicated about political and security developments in the region from 2008 until at least June of last year.

One of the questions Markovski was asked, ironically, was “What can a small company like Stratfor do to protect itself from cyber-attacks?”

But the relationship, frankly, doesn’t appear to be much different to that of a journalist and his source. I’ve seen no evidence in the leaks of nefarious activity or of money changing hands.

Despite all the “Shadow CIA” marketing nonsense, there’s a substantial school of thought that says Stratfor is not nearly as cloak-and-dagger as it likes to make out.

Headlines such as “Stratfor Is a Joke and So Is Wikileaks for Taking It Seriously“, published in The Atlantic this week, strike me as probably closer to the truth.

If you want to judge for yourself, you can read the emails here.

UPDATE: Markovski provided the following statement: “I have not been involved with Stratfor. I am not in the position to address other people’s private emails, which are being quoted in your article.”

ICA demands probe of “shoddy” UDRP decisions

Kevin Murphy, February 24, 2012, Domain Policy

The Internet Commerce Association has called for an ICANN investigation into the National Arbitration Forum’s “seriously flawed” record of UDRP decisions.

The demands follow two recent NAF cybersquatting cases thought to be particularly egregious.

In the first, Hardware Resources, Inc. v. Yaseen Rehman, the domain hardwareresources.org was transferred based on a trademark that explicitly denounced rights to the term “hardware resources”.

In the second, Auto-Owners Insurance Company v. Nokta Internet Technologies, NAF allegedly broke from standard UDRP procedure when it handed autoownersinsurance.com to the complainant.

Both were cases of potentially valuable generic domains being lost, and both were recently singled out by IP attorney Paul Keating as being particularly dubious decisions.

The ICA represents some big domainers and some of the big domaining registrars. Its counsel, Phil Corwin, wrote to ICANN yesterday to demand a review of NAF’s practices:

NAF’s administration of the UDRP in the cases cited above appears to be seriously flawed and creates the appearance of substantial bias and ineptitude. ICANN has a responsibility to make serious inquiry into this matter and to take remedial action based upon its findings.

According to Corwin, there’s circumstantial evidence that NAF encourages “forum shopping” due to its habit of appointing a small number of adjudicators known to be friendly to complainants.

Regular readers of DomainIncite and other domain industry news blogs may have noticed that when we report incredulously about UDRP decisions, it’s usually with reference to NAF cases.

Corwin’s letter comes as part of a larger ongoing campaign by the ICA to get ICANN to sign formal contracts with its approved UDRP resolution providers, which it lacks today.

How many defensive registrations is too many?

Kevin Murphy, February 24, 2012, Domain Policy

How will ICANN measure the success of its new top-level domains program, and how many defensive registrations is too many?

These questions are now firmly on the ICANN agenda, following the publication of 37 draft recommendations for how to measure the success or otherwise of new gTLDs.

The advice of the Consumer Trust Working Group, published last night and now open for public comment, is a must-read for anyone interested in the emerging new gTLD market.

The recommendations describe myriad ways ICANN could benchmark the performance of new gTLDs three years from now, to fulfill its promise to the US Department of Commerce to study the effect of the program on consumer choice and competition.

While it’s a broad document covering a lot of bases, I’m going to be disappointingly predictable here and immediately zero in on the headline wedge issue that I think will get most tongues wagging over the coming weeks and months:

Defensive registrations.

The working group decided to recommend that, as a measure of success, domain name registrations in new gTLDs should be no more than 15% defensive* three years after launch.

Defensive in this case would mean they were registered during the mandatory Sunrise period.

The idea is that consumer choice can be demonstrated by lots of registrations in new gTLDs, but that defensive registrations should not count toward that goal.

The 15%-Sunrise baseline number was chosen fairly arbitrarily – other suggestions were 20% and 12% – and is designed to spur community discussion. It’s not final.

Still it’s interesting.

It implies that if a registry has 15,000 Sunrise registrations, it needs to sell another 85,000 domains in three years to be seen as having made a successful contribution to consumer choice.

By way of an example, if it were to be retroactively applied to .xxx, the most recent gTLD to launch, ICM Registry would have to get its total registrations up to 533,000 by the end of 2014.

Is 15% too low? Too high? Is it even a useful metric? ICANN wants to know.

Whatever the ultimate number turns out to be, it’s going to be handy for plugging into spreadsheets – something opponents of new gTLDs will find very useful when they try to make the case that ICANN endorses a certain dollar value of trademark extortion.

Because many registries will also accept defensive registrations after Sunrise, two more metrics are proposed.

The group recommends that domains in new gTLDs that redirect to identical domains in legacy TLDs – strongly implying a defensive registration – should be no more than 15% after three years.

It also recommends that ICANN should carry out a survey to see how many registrants own matching second-level domains in legacy TLDs, and that this should also be lower than 15%.

I’ve only outlined three of the working group’s recommendations here. Many of the other 34 are also interesting and will be much-debated as the new gTLD program continues.

This is vitally important stuff for the future of new gTLDs, and applicants would be well advised to have a good read — to see what might be expected of them in future — before finalizing their applications.

* It should be noted that the recommendation as published confusingly reads “Post-Sunrise registrations > 15% of total registrations”, which I think is a typo. The > operator implies that non-defensive registrations only need to be over 15% of total registrations, which I’m certain is not what the working group intended to say.

(UPDATE: this typo has now been corrected).

Europe to warn consumers about .bank “risks”

Kevin Murphy, February 23, 2012, Domain Policy

The European Banking Authority has told ICANN it believes that proposed financially-oriented gTLDs such as .bank are dangerous and should be banned.

The EBA, the European Union’s central banking regulator, said it plans to issue consumer alerts, warning people about “the risks of these new naming conventions”.

In a letter to ICANN published today, EBA chair Andrea Enria said that a global gTLD such as “.bank” would not give consumers a good guide as to whether the bank was regulated in their own country.

Financial gTLDs have a “not-yet-identified benefit” and could create a “moral hazard”, Enria wrote. The EBA is also worried about the cost of trademark enforcement, he said.

the EBA believes that it is not feasible to address most of the supervisory concerns of its members on the risks of misuse of the proposed gTLDs and calls the ICANN to reconsider its plans for allowing the such of the above mentioned gTLDs and ban the establishment of such gTLDs altogether.

The EBA was formed just over a year ago as the successor to the Committee of European Banking Supervisors. Its members are the heads of the financial regulators of the EU member states.

The letter could come as a blow to the American-led .bank application proposed by the American Bankers Association and the Financial Services Roundtable’s BITS division.

The BITS project envisages a tightly controlled namespace for banks, governed by a fairly strenuous set of security measures.

But the establishment of a .bank gTLD is one area where we are almost guaranteed to see ICANN’s Governmental Advisory Committee exercising its new-found objection powers.

If the Europeans and the Americans do not see eye to eye, .bank will not see the light of day.