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Leaked memo alleges lavish travel spending at auDA

Kevin Murphy, April 16, 2018, Domain Registries

A report into .au registry auDA’s historical travel expenses has leaked to the Australian media, the latest apparent salvo in the organization’s increasingly personal civil war.

The Sydney Morning Herald this evening reports on “allegations of lavish spending and misuse of expense accounts by some former directors and employees”.

The primary individual targeted (for want of a better word) by the story is Paul Szyndler, former head of public affairs at auDA and one of the three people behind the Grumpier.com.au campaign to ouster auDA’s current CEO and chair.

It seems the Herald has managed to scoop a leaked copy of an audit compiled by PPB Advisory, which has been looking into spending practices at auDA under its previous management.

The existence of this report has been known for some time, but little about its contents had made it into the public domain beyond a slide deck (pdf) alluding to slack controls on travel expenditure.

The newspaper reports that PPB claims Szyndler racked up several thousand dollars of expenses on a family trip to Disneyland to coincide with ICANN 51 in Los Angeles in 2014.

Shortly before the Herald published (overnight in Australia), Szyndler took to an Aussie domainer forum to admit the truth of the allegation, but explain that it was fully compliant with auDA’s expenses policy at the time.

“auDA had a very clear and well understood policy at the time, whereby staff — after receiving best-available business class airfare and accommodation quotes, could spend up to, but NOT MORE THAN that figure on personal arrangements,” Szyndler wrote.

“My family joined me on a number of international trips. None cost any more than it would have cost to send me alone,” he said.

In other words, if he’d left his family at home and skipped Disneyland, he would have spent the exact same amount on a business-class flight for himself.

The Herald also says that PPB identified thousands of dollars being spent on family member travel to exotic locations, credit card cash withdrawals, expensive restaurants and even a “butler service”.

It does not say which specific staffers or directors are alleged to have spent auDA money on those things.

Indeed, Szyndler is the only person connected to specific spending in the Herald’s report.

There’s no mention of any allegations against former CEO and current ICANN vice-chair Chris Disspain — under whose watch these expenses will have been incurred — though the piece does include his blanket denial of wrongdoing.

auDA’s new chair Chris Leptos — who also sits on the PPB board — revealed last week that “several” former directors have been referred to state police over “a number of practices” upon which he did not elaborate.

Szyndler and his other Grumpier auDA members have managed to rack up enough signatures on their petition to force auDA into a special members meeting, date to be determined, that will vote on whether to get rid of Leptos, CEO Cameron Boardman and two other independent directors.

The Australian government has also been probing the organization’s antics since October, and the Herald reports that its findings could be published as soon as tomorrow (today in Australia).

Could auDA be about to get Nominetted?

dotFM offers $1.1 million stash of emoji domains

Kevin Murphy, April 16, 2018, Domain Registries

BRS Media has started selling emoji domain names in its .fm ccTLD, and some of the more commonly used ones are quite pricey.

While a vanilla emoji will go for the standard .fm price of $95.95 a year when bought from dotFM’s web site, the company has set aside about 500 domains as “premiums”.

These reserved domains start at $995 for the first year, running to $4,995, according to a published price list.

In total, dotFM is sitting on a stash of premiums worth, it reckons, over $1.1 million in the first year.

The current Unicode standard supports 2,789 emojis, so if BRS manages to sell the lot it’s looking at a not-bad $267,000 a year in renewals.

Kicking off the registration process appears to be as simple as copy-pasting an emoji into the dotFM search box, but that may not work at its partner registrars.

It’s worth noting that emoji domains are what you might call an acquired taste, mainly attractive for their novelty value and not the kind of place you’d want to run your primary web site.

They’re also basically banned by ICANN policy in the gTLD space.

.fm is the ccTLD for Micronesia which BRS has been running as an open, if niche, TLD for the radio market for the last 20 years.

Bling-maker kills off fifth dot-brand gTLD

Kevin Murphy, April 16, 2018, Domain Registries

Richemont, the company behind brands such as Cartier jewelry and Mont Blanc pens, has terminated its fifth dot-brand gTLD.

It filed with ICANN to terminate its registry contract for .iwc earlier this month.

IWC is a Swiss brand of expensive watches, but its dot-brand has never been used to any notable extent.

The company had registered the domain watches.iwc, which it apparently planned to use for URL redirection via Rebrandly.

It’s the third gTLD Richemont has voluntarily terminated, after .montblanc and .chloe last year.

The company also withdrew its unopposed applications for .netaporter and .mrporter back in 2014, before it actually signed contracts with ICANN.

Richemont was one of the more prolific dot-brand applicants, applying for 14 gTLDs in total back in 2012.

It also applied for (defensively?) and won the generic .watches and some translations.

While the .watches gTLD has been live in the DNS for two and a half years, Richemont has not yet set a launch date and has not yet said who will even be eligible to buy domains there.

auDA refers former directors to police

Kevin Murphy, April 14, 2018, Domain Registries

Imploding Australian ccTLD registry auDA has ratted out “several” of its former directors to the local cops, it was revealed this week.

In a message to its community to mark Chris Leptos’ 150th day as chair of the organization, he wrote:

I am disappointed to advise you that in my first week as Independent Chair I was briefed on a number of practices of several former auDA directors. Your Board concluded that those practices warranted referral to the Victoria Police. As you would appreciate, it is not appropriate at this stage to provide further details regarding this matter.

I’m told there are 48 former auDA directors, and auDA has not said which of them have been referred to the police.

Josh Rowe, a former director who’s orchestrating a campaign to oust Leptos, auDA CEO Cameron Boardman, and two other directors, called the move a “heinous act of bullying against all 48 ex auDA directors”.

Another former director, the Aussie domain industry blogger David Goldstein, has suggested that the timing of the revelation was designed to “silence” critics including Rowe.

The Grumpier.com.au petition organized by Rowe and others has forced auDA to hold a members meeting at which the four directors’ future employment will be voted on.

auDA lawyers contacted Grumpier earlier this week to warn that any defamatory or confidential information posted on the site could lead to litigation.

But Leptos has now seemingly confirmed that the special members meeting will in fact go ahead.

Goldstein also suggested that the police referrals are related to insinuations contained within a pair of Freedom of Information Act requests filed late last year by domain consultant Ron Andruff.

In one of Andruff’s FOIA requests, he suggests that auDA may have paid legal fees of up to AUD 120,000 incurred by Rowe when he was sued almost a decade ago by a alleged domain slammer he had regularly criticized.

Rowe has called these inferences “grossly inaccurate” and “defamatory”.

In the other, which we have reported on previously, Andruff has asked for records of expenses incurred by former auDA CEO Chris Disspain, current vice-chair of ICANN.

Both FOIA requests have been denied by the Aussie government and subsequently appealed by Andruff.

Andruff is known to have beef with Disspain after he was passed over for a prominent ICANN volunteer role.

I should note for the record that, for all of the allegations swirling around, I have not seen any evidence directly connecting any individual to any wrongdoing.

CoCCA to charge trademark owners for Whois access

Kevin Murphy, April 14, 2018, Domain Registries

CoCCA has become the first domain registry to publicly announce that it will charge trademark owners for access to Whois records.

The company said it plans to release an updated version of its software and registry service, containing a range of features for ensuring General Data Protection Regulation compliance, on April 20.

The public Whois records of affected TLDs will have the name, email, phone and physical address of the registrant omitted, but only if the registrant is an EU resident or uses an EU-based registrar or reseller.

There will be ways to opt-out of this, for registrants who want their information public.

The changes will come into effect first at .af, .cx, .gs, .gy, .ht, .hn, .ki, .kn, .sb, .tl, .kn, .ms and .nf, CoCCA said.

But the registry runs almost 40 gTLDs on its shared infrastructure and has almost 20 more running its software. They’re all pretty small zones, mostly ccTLDs.

CoCCA said that it will give access to private data to law enforcement and members of the Secure Domain Foundation, a DNS reputation service provider.

But trademark owners will get hit in the wallet if they want the same privileges. CoCCA said:

intellectual property owners or other entities who have a legitimate interest in redacted data will be able to order historical abstracts online for a nominal fee (provided they sign an attestation).

While the affected TLDs are probably small enough that the IP lobby won’t be overly concerned today, if CoCCA’s policy becomes more widespread in the industry — which it well could — expect an outcry.