Latest news of the domain name industry

Recent Posts

Delay .org deal because of… coronavirus? Gimme a break

Kevin Murphy, March 18, 2020, Domain Policy

Opponents of Public Interest Registry’s proposed acquisition by Ethos Capital are now claiming that ICANN should delay approval of the deal due to coronavirus.

A statement, released yesterday by digital rights group Access Now with the apparent approval of several other like-minded groups, outlines a few reasons why coronavirus means ICANN should reject, or at least delay its consideration of, the deal.

ICANN is currently working towards a March 20 deadline to deliver its verdict.

Peter Micek, general counsel for Access Now, said in the statement:

Far from routine, this transfer would further imperil crucial channels of trusted information in a precarious time. From Médecins Sans Frontières to Wikipedia to many of the world’s hospitals, organizations that disseminate accurate health information and connect affected communities with public resources depend on the .ORG domain. Now is not the time to shift the ground beneath their online activities.

Could a $0.97 increase in the cost of wikipedia.org this year see Wikipedia’s hive mind crumble and turn into the digital equivalent of Jenny McCarthy’s brain? Will it prompt MSF volunteers to retreat, screaming, from the front lines? I don’t think so.

The statement goes on to suggest that China would be able to use its substantial financial and political clout to lean on Ethos’ secretive backers to something something something coronavirus. Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch said:

The Chinese government routinely uses economic pressure to censor critics or inconvenient information, such as about its disastrous early cover-up of the coronavirus outbreak. Investors in the private equity firm that wants to buy the .ORG domain inevitably will have economic interests that Beijing could threaten.

While there may well be a nugget of truth in there, I fail to see how it applies to the current pandemic. Is the argument that China will pressure Ethos’ billionaire money men to close down domains belonging to organizations disseminating accurate Covid-19 information? It seems a stretch.

China already has substantial powers to shut down domains within its own borders, and requires registries operating in the country to comply with Draconian censorship rules. I’m not aware of any cases of these existing powers being exercised against domains globally.

A third argument is that ICANN is using coronavirus as a convenient smokescreen to quietly approve the acquisition while everyone else is busy ram-raiding corner stores for toilet paper.

Daniel Eriksson, head of technology at Transparency International, said in the statement:

If this transfer goes ahead during the current crisis as planned, we’ll look back on it as an example of vested interests taking advantage of the extraordinary situation created by the COVID-19 pandemic to further their own concerns at the expense of the broader good of society. We need to be vigilant against any such actions, and this is precisely the role of many civil society organizations that have a watchdog function. We need maximum transparency and integrity around the sale of .ORG, and that is simply not possible if the sale is rushed through at a moment when peoples’ attention is elsewhere.

Again, this seems like a stretch. The announcement of the acquisition predates the discovery of Covid-19 by weeks, and it has been subject to intense scrutiny, engagement, comment and unprecedented — albeit imperfect — levels of transparency ever since. This is an acquisition being negotiated to a large extent in the public square.

I’ll be generous and suggest a fourth explanation: this is probably just a poor-taste (but, let’s face it, successful) attempt to grab headlines by linking the #SaveDotOrg campaign, however thinly, to the pandemic currently occupying the world’s collective conscious.

There are plenty of good arguments that could be — and are being — made in favor of further delay and scrutiny of the deal, but I don’t think coronavirus is one of them.

WE’RE ALL GONNA DIE! In other news, ICANN 67 was… “muted”

Kevin Murphy, March 13, 2020, Domain Policy

Without wishing to scaremonger about Covid-19, I don’t mind admitting that I’ve never been so terrified of anything as much in my adult life.

I have relatives in their nineties or with existing lung conditions, and I’m generally a pretty unhealthy middle-aged bloke myself. In the last few days, I’ve become increasingly concerned that not every member of the clan is going to make it out of 2020 alive.

I’m sure many readers are feeling the same way right now.

The UK government’s response may or may not be scientifically sound, but it seems to me the underlying strategy is not to prevent people from getting the disease, which may well no longer be possible, but rather to spread out infections over as long a period as possible, so as to reduce the peak strain on the National Health Service.

My feeling, which I don’t think is particularly paranoid, is that Boris Johnson, in apparent contrast to other world leaders, has made the call to throw a generation of British grannies under the bus in the name of herd immunity.

We’re living in dark times, and it’s going to get worse before it gets better.

I hope all my readers stay safe. And, in all seriousness, keep washing those hands and stay at home if you start coughing!

Awkward segue incoming.

There was little doubt in my mind that ICANN made the correct decision three weeks ago when it cancelled the in-person Cancun public meeting and quickly organized a much-truncated online-only ICANN 67 instead. There seemed a possibility that it was acting through an over-abundance of caution.

But, given the developments in the coronavirus pandemic since ICANN pulled the plug on Cancun, all such doubt has surely been eliminated. ICANN made entirely the right call.

That’s not to say that 67 was a roaring success. It suffered from the entirely predictable and unavoidable limitations of online conferencing.

When I say it was “muted”, I mean that in two senses of the word.

Watching the American late-night talk show hosts last night performing to empty audiences this morning was a surreal experience. Like watching survivors of the zombie apocalypse broadcasting a plaintive SOS into an eerily silent ether.

I kinda felt the same listening to ICANN 67.

While I’m no stranger to remote participation — that’s how I experience most ICANN meetings — there’s usually a detectable sense of place, of a jostling community on the other side of the Zoom room. I hesitate to use a word as strong as “vibrancy”, but you probably know what I’m getting at.

There was none of that at 67, which largely played out in much the same way as a regular policy working group call.

And that’s when we get to the other sense of the word “muted” — I lost count of the amount of time squandered to technical issues such as dropped or laggy connections, background noise, and, most commonly, people not realizing that they have to unmute their lines before speaking.

I don’t think a single session I attended was not plagued by periods of uncomfortable silence.

As I said, this was entirely predictable and largely unavoidable. I don’t think the fact that each session’s Zoom room appeared to be configured differently helped, but it’s probably a problem that will be mitigated as people become more accustomed to the Zoom platform.

The next ICANN meeting, numbered 68, is currently still scheduled to take place in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, from June 22, but I think that it’s almost inevitable that we’ll be looking at another online-only session.

Malaysia currently has 158 confirmed cases of coronavirus, suggesting that it’s still in the relatively early stages of the pandemic compared to, say, Europe.

With UK experts predicting peak infections here around late May, it’s entirely possible ICANN 68 would take place while Malaysia’s problem is significantly worse than it is today.

ICANN chair: “all options open” on .org deal

Kevin Murphy, March 10, 2020, Domain Policy

ICANN has not yet decided to approve the acquisition of Public Interest Registry by Ethos Capital, but has not ruled out rejecting the deal either.

That’s according to chair Maarten Botterman, speaking to his Governmental Advisory Committee this evening.

At the online-only ICANN 67 meeting, he was asked by GAC chair Manal Ismail whether ICANN is considering withholding its consent for the $1.13 billion deal, which would see the .org registry return to for-profit hands for the first time in 18 years.

“At this moment all options remain open. We are open-minded to taking all input into account before it is time for us to decide,” Botterman replied.

“ICANN will consider the request based upon the totality of the information received,” he also said.

ICANN has the ability, under its registry agreement with PIR, to reject a change of control such as an acquisition, if it believes it’s not in the public interest.

Critics of the deal believe it would allow private equity firm Ethos and its anonymous backers to price-gouge non-profits such as charities, which need the money more.

But Ethos has offered to cap price increases at 10% per year on average for the next seven years, reimposing a price cap that PIR negotiated its way out of last year.

Could .org debate bring back the glory days of ICANN public forums?

Kevin Murphy, March 5, 2020, Domain Policy

ICANN is going to devote 90 minutes to discussing the controversial acquisition of Public Interest Registry by Ethos Capital on Monday, and the sparks could fly.

It’s actually going to be the first formal session of the abridged, online-only ICANN 67 meeting, which had been due to take place in Cancun but will now be carried out fully online. The customary opening ceremony has been scrapped.

Seventy minutes will be devoted to taking questions and comments from the “room”. ICANN 67 is sticking to Cancun’s time zone and the .org session starts at 1400 UTC, which would have been 0900 at the venue.

ICANN warned that the sessions is devoted to the process ICANN is using to approve, or not, the acquisition, and that it “cannot address questions and comments that relate to the ISOC, PIR, Ethos Capital, or other parties involved in the proposed transfer”.

The deal is controversial largely because critics believe Ethos, as a private equity company, is much more likely to start to rip off .org registrars with price hikes than not-for-profit ISOC. But Ethos has offered to bake conditions into its contract that limit it to 10% increases per year on average.

Given the vast amount of interest in the .org deal from outside the usual ICANN community, we could see the kind of robust debate that was common in the ICANN public forum sessions during the birth throes of the new gTLD program, but which has been sadly lacking in recent years.

Newcomers wishing to get involved might like to first familiarize themselves with ICANN’s Expected Standards of Behavior. Anyone dropping the F-bomb or calling the deal “gay”, as happened during the recent .com comment period, will very likely be kicked and banned. Just imagine you’re talking to Titania McGrath and you should be okay.

Poblete to replace Disspain on ICANN board

Kevin Murphy, March 3, 2020, Domain Policy

Chilean registry manager Patricio Poblete will join ICANN’s board of directors this October, replacing longstanding member Chris Disspain.

PobleteThe Country Code Names Supporting Organization confirmed Poblete as its new nominee at the weekend following a lengthy election process also fought by Australian Nigel Phair and South African Calvin Browne.

Poblete is the director of NIC Chile, the ccTLD registry for some almost 600,000 .cl domains. He’s been involved in ICANN since its very beginning.

In the election, he received 57 votes compared to Browne’s 42 and Phair’s eight.

Disspain, a very influential member of the board who was vice-chair for years until he stepped aside last September, is being forced out due to term limits in ICANN’s bylaws. He’s almost done serving his third and final three-year term.

Poblete will become one of two ccNSO-selected directors. The other is Nigel Roberts, who runs the Channel Islands ccTLDs. Roberts’ term ends next year.

The nomination frees up a spot for a possible future director from Asia-Pacific, while reducing the available spots from Latin America.

Most languages won’t be available at ICANN 67

Kevin Murphy, March 3, 2020, Domain Policy

Translation services are the first component of ICANN 67 to fail victim to the org’s decision to hold the meeting entirely online.

ICANN announced last week that it has cancelled the in-person meeting, which had been due to kick off this coming Saturday in Cancun, due to fears about importing Covid-19 into Mexico and exacerbating its worldwide spread.

But it seems the lack of physical space is going to cause problems. It simply doesn’t have the room at its Los Angeles headquarters to accommodate all of its usual services.

There will be eight rooms operating simultaneously via Zoom during the meeting, ICANN said yesterday, and only two of those will have real-time interpretation.

Of the five non-English United Nations languages usually supported — Arabic, Chinese, French, Russian, and Spanish — only French and Spanish will be supported live. Portuguese, which is also usually available, will not be supported.

Sessions of the Governmental Advisory Committee and other high-interest meetings such as open board meetings and the Public Forums, will be given priority.

According to data released by ICANN in December, it appears very few remote participants people actually take advantage of live interpretation.

Of the 1,752 remote participants at ICANN 66, only 15 people tuned in non-English web audio streams and nine of those were listening to the Spanish, this report states. It appears the Arabic interpreter was broadcasting to an international audience of literally nobody.

This, of course, does not take into account how many people were physically in the room and using the live-interpretation headsets ICANN provides. These people will presumably have to switch to the web streams this time around.

Translated transcripts will be available after the meeting, faster than they are normally provided, ICANN said.

It seems that ICANN community members with limited English are going to be hardest hit by the switch to online-only.

Given that these people are most likely reading this article via Google Translate, I’d just like to add for clarity: my lonely moped speedily devours yawning leopards, while gorgeous shoelaces envelope my thorax.

Yup. ICANN cancelled Cancun

Kevin Murphy, February 20, 2020, Domain Policy

ICANN has cancelled its public meeting in Cancun, Mexico, due to fears over Covid-19, aka Coronavirus.

Late this evening, the organization said that the ICANN 67 meeting, scheduled for March 7 to March 12, will now take place purely online.

In a statement, the org said:

Each ICANN Public Meeting attracts thousands of attendees from more than 150 countries. With cases in at least 26 of those countries, there is the potential of bringing the virus to Cancún and into the ICANN meeting site. If this were to happen, there could be accidental exposure of the virus to attendees, staff, and others who come in contact with an infected individual.

ICANN had been putting in place measures to mitigate the risk of the disease arriving and spreading.

The decision to cancel the face-to-face meeting was made by the ICANN board of directors today.

It’s going to be the first ICANN meeting to take place fully online. It’s not clear at all that ICANN knows how to do this. ICANN is very good at enabling remote participation, but it’s never run a fully remote week-long meeting with a few thousand participants before.

It seems virtually certain that there will be problems and complaints.

The Queen has beef with Prince Harry’s domain name

Kevin Murphy, February 19, 2020, Domain Policy

Queen Elizabeth II reportedly wants her grandson Prince Harry to stop using the domain name sussexroyal.com.

Harry and his wife, Meghan, recently announced that they’re going to quit their royal duties and spend part of the year in Canada. They will no longer get taxpayer handouts, and will probably (speculating here) make money launching a line of fragrances or something.

The Queen’s beef is that by opting out of the royal family, by convention Harry should no longer get to call himself “royal”. It’s like when his parents divorced, Diana no longer got to use the “Her Royal Highness” title.

They will continue to be known as the Duke and Duchess of Sussex.

But it seems Harry and Meghan are going to have to pick a new brand to put on the tacky mugs and dish rags they will inevitably end up flogging to gullible Americans. They’ve been using Sussex Royal as their social media handle too, and have filed for trademarks on the term.

It’s a strange edge case of domain ownership law, where royal edict and constitutional convention is seemingly going to trump trademark law.

I look forward to the ICANN working group.

ICANN wants to take your temperature before letting you into ICANN 67

Kevin Murphy, February 18, 2020, Domain Policy

Face masks, hand-sanitizer stations, and nurses taking your temperature on the doors… these are some of the measures ICANN plans to deploy at its upcoming public meeting in Cancun next month, in an effort to mitigate the risk of a Covid-19 outbreak.

That’s assuming the meeting goes ahead at all, which is still undecided.

Speaking to community leaders in a teleconference this evening, ICANN staffers outlined the following precautionary measures they expect to put in place:

  • A doctor from International SOS will be on site, alongside the usual two medics.
  • A team of nurses will be deployed at the venue’s two entrances to check attendees’ temperatures (via the forehead, you’ll be pleased to hear) as they enter the building.
  • “Anyone registering a fever will be escorted to the doctor for assessment.”
  • ICANN is “stockpiling” face masks and is already shipping some to the venue. This is complicated by the global supply shortage. Attendees will be encouraged to source their own before leaving home.
  • Hand sanitizer facilities will be dotted around, particularly at large meeting rooms and outside bathrooms.
  • A Mexican familiar with the local public health service will be available.
  • It will be up to the local Mexican authorities to determine how to respond to a confirmed case. It’s not particularly clear what the policy would be on quarantine and the dreaded “cruise ship scenario”. There have been no cases in Mexico yet.

The temperature checks will be daily. One would assume that people leaving the venue for lunch, or a cigarette or something will be checked more frequently.

ICANN has yet to decide whether the meeting is going to go ahead. Its board of directors will meet on Wednesday to make a call, but CEO Göran Marby noted that should the situation with Covid-19 change there’s always the possibility it could be cancelled at a later date.

The meeting could also be cancelled if a large enough number of ICANN support staff refuse to go.

Some companies have already informed ICANN that they won’t be sending employees to the meeting. Marby said that if it looks like only 600 or 700 people are going to show up, the meeting probably won’t go ahead.

Governmental Advisory Committee chair Manal Ismail said on the call that only 30 GAC members have so far indicated that they’re going to attend. That’s about half of the usual level, she said.

If it were to be cancelled, the meeting would go ahead online. All ICANN meetings allow remote participation anyway, but ICANN has been prepping for the possibility that its online tools will need much greater capacity this time.

The audio recording of the call can be found here. Thanks to Rubens Kuhl for the link.

Are you going to go to Cancun, or will you cancel due to Covid? Let me know in the comments.

ICANN might cancel Spring Break over Covid-19 fears

Kevin Murphy, February 18, 2020, Domain Policy

ICANN’s next public meeting, which is due to kick off in Cancun, Mexico less than three weeks from now, is in peril of being canceled due to fears about Covid-19, aka Coronavirus.

CEO Göran Marby is to host a call with community leaders in a few hours to discuss the issue. ICANN has assembled a “crisis management team” to monitor the spread of the disease.

The fear isn’t that attendees could pick up the virus from Mexican locals — there’s not a single confirmed case in Mexico yet — but rather that an already-infected person might show up and transmit the disease to others, who might then take it back home with them.

Or — even worse — ICANN is considering the possibility of “a ‘cruise ship’ scenario in which a suspected or confirmed case is identified during the meeting, necessitating the mass-quarantine of all attendees and locals”.

That’s a reference to the cruise ship currently anchored off Japan, where 3,400 people have been quarantined for the last couple of weeks.

Imagine that. Trapped at an ICANN meeting for weeks. The boredom might kill more people than the virus.

Given that the vast majority of Covid-19 cases so far — over 70,000 — have been in China, ICANN is also worried about Chinese attendees getting racially profiled and hassled by others.

ICANN notes that the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona has been cancelled, and Cisco has cancelled a conference that had been slated to go ahead in Australia around the same time.

Could ICANN follow suit? It wouldn’t be the first time ICANN has changed is meeting plans due to a virus outbreak. Could ICANN 67 be the first remote-only ICANN meeting? It certainly seems like a possibility.