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ICANN shifts dates on five public meetings to avoid holidays

Kevin Murphy, October 25, 2017, Domain Policy

ICANN has changed the proposed dates of five out of nine forthcoming public meetings in order to avoid clashes with religious festivals and national holidays.

The meetings affected — ICANNs 70 through 78 — are all scheduled for 2021, 2022 and 2023 and naturally don’t have any venue selected yet, so nobody is going to have to change any travel plans.

The biggest shift will see the usual October meeting in 2022 moved a full month earlier to September due to a clash with the Jewish holiday Sukkot and its subsequent holy days.

Ramadan in 2023 will see the March meeting moved a week earlier.

Midsummer, something celebrated mainly in Sweden and neighboring countries, will see the June meetings in all three years moved back a week.

Interestingly, a clash with Midsummer was highlighted as a selling point of the Helsinki meeting a couple of years ago. ICANN’s latest CEO, a Swede, is no doubt more sensitive to the cultural significance of the holiday.

The changes were all made in response to comments from the At-Large Advisory Committee and the Non-Commercial Stakeholders Group.

The list of changes and rationale can be found here (pdf).

ICANN’s latest meeting, ICANN 60, kicks off in Abu Dhabi this weekend.

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Amsterdam refuses to publish Whois records as GDPR row escalates

Kevin Murphy, October 23, 2017, Domain Policy

Two Dutch geo-gTLDs are refusing to provide public access to Whois records in what could be a sign of things to come for the whole industry under new European privacy law.

Both .amsterdam and .frl appear to be automatically applying privacy to registrant data and say they will only provide full Whois access to vetted individuals such as law enforcement officials.

ICANN has evidently slapped a breach notice on both registries, which are now complaining that the Whois provisions in their Registry Agreements are “null and void” under Dutch and European Union law.

FRLregistry and dotAmsterdam, based in the Netherlands, are the registries concerned. They’re basically under the same management and affiliated with the local registrar Mijndomein.

dotAmsterdam operates under the authority of the city government. .frl is an abbreviation of Friesland, a Dutch province.

Both companies’ official registry sites, which are virtually identical, do not offer links to Whois search. Instead, they offer a statement about their Whois privacy policy.

That policy states that Dutch and EU law “forbids that names, addresses, telephone numbers or e-mail addresses of Dutch private persons can be accessed and used freely over the internet by any person or organization”.

It goes on to state that any “private person” that registers a domain will have their private contact information replaced with a “privacy protected” message in Whois.

Legal entities such as companies do not count as “private persons”.

Under the standard ICANN Registry Agreement, all new gTLDs are obliged to provide public Whois access under section 2.5. According to correspondence from the lawyer for both .frl and .amsterdam, published by ICANN, the two registries have been told they are in breach.

It seems the breach notices have not yet escalated to the point at which ICANN publishes them on its web site. At least, they have not been published yet for some reason.

But the registries have lawyered up already, regardless.

A letter from Jetse Sprey of Versteeg Wigman Sprey to ICANN says that the registries are free to ignore section 2.5 of their RAs because it’s not compliant with the Dutch Data Protection Act and, perhaps more significantly, the EU General Data Protection Regulation.

The GDPR is perhaps the most pressing issue for ICANN at the moment.

It’s an EU law due to come into effect in May next year. It has the potential to completely rewrite the rules of Whois access for the entire industry, sidestepping the almost two decades of largely fruitless ICANN community discussions on the topic.

It covers any company that processes private data on EU citizens; breaching it can incur fines of up to €20 million or 4% of revenue, whichever is higher.

One of its key controversies is the idea that citizens should have the right to “consent” to their personal data being processed and that this consent cannot be “bundled” with access to the product or service on offer.

According to Sprey, because the Registry Agreement does not give registrants a way to register a domain without giving their consent to their Whois details being published, it violates the GDPR. Therefore, his clients are allowed to ignore that part of the RA.

These two gTLDs are the first I’m aware of to openly challenge ICANN so directly, but GDPR is a fiercely hot topic in the industry right now.

During a recent webinar, ICANN CEO Goran Marby expressed frustration that GDPR seems to have come about — under the watch of previous CEOs — without any input from the ICANN community, consideration in the EU legislative process of how it would affect Whois, or even any discussion within ICANN’s own Governmental Advisory Committee.

“We are seeing an increasing potential risk that the incoming GDPR regulation will mean a limited WHOIS system,” he said October 4. “We appreciate that for registers and registers, this regulation would impact how you will do your business going forward.”

ICANN has engaged EU legal experts and has reached out to data commissioners in the 28 EU member states for guidance, but Marby pointed out that full clarity on how GDPR affects the domain industry could be years away.

It seems possible there would have to be test cases, which could take five years or more, in affected EU states, he suggested.

ICANN is also engaging with the community in its attempt to figure out what to do about GDPR. One project has seen it attempt to gather Whois use cases from interested parties. Long-running community working groups are also looking at the issue.

But the domain industry has accused ICANN the organization of not doing enough fast enough.

Paul Diaz and Graeme Bunton, chairs of the Registries Stakeholder Group and Registrars Stakeholder Group respectively, have recently escalated the complaints over ICANN’s perceived inaction.

They told Marby in a letter that they need to have a solution in place in the next 60 days in order to give them time to implement it before the May 2018 GDPR deadline.

Complaining that ICANN is moving too slowly, the October 13 letter states:

The simple fact is that the requirements under GDPR and the requirements in our contracts with ICANN to collect, retain, display, and transfer personal data stand in conflict with each other.

GDPR presents a clear and present contractual compliance problem that must be resolved, regardless of whether new policy should be developed or existing policy adjusted. We simply cannot afford to wait any longer to start tackling this problem head-on.

For registries and registrars, the lack of clarity and the risk of breach notices are not the only problem. Many registrars make a bunch of cash out of privacy services; that may no longer be as viable a business if privacy for individuals is baked into the rules.

Other interests, such as the Intellectual Property Constituency (in favor of its own members’ continued access to Whois) and non-commercial users (in favor of a fundamental right to privacy) are also complaining that their voices are not being heard clearly enough.

The GDPR issue is likely to be one of the liveliest sources of discussion at ICANN 60, the public meeting that kicks off in Abu Dhabi this weekend.

UPDATE: This post was updated October 25 to add a sentence clarifying that companies are not “private persons”.

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This is who won the .inc, .llc and .llp gTLD auctions

Kevin Murphy, October 19, 2017, Domain Registries

The winners of the auctions to run the gTLD registries for company identifiers .inc, .llc and .llp have emerged due to ICANN application withdrawals.

All three contested gTLDs had been held up for years by appeals to ICANN by Dot Registry — an applicant with the support of US states attorneys general — but went to private auction in September after the company gave up its protests for reasons its CEO doesn’t so far want to talk about.

The only auction won by Dot Registry was .llp. That stands for Limited Liability Partnership, a legal construct most often used by law firms in the US and probably the least frequently used company identifier of the three.

Google was the applicant with the most cash in all three auctions, but it declined to win any of them.

.inc seems to have been won by a Hong Kong company called GTLD Limited, run by DotAsia CEO Edmon Chong. DotAsia runs .asia, the gTLD granted by ICANN in the 2003 application round.

My understanding is that the winning bid for .inc was over $15 million.

If that’s correct, my guess is that the quickest, easiest way to make that kind of money back would be to build a business model around defensive registrations at high prices, along the lines of .sucks or .feedback.

My feedback would be that that business model would suck, so I hope I’m wrong.

There were 11 original applicants for .inc, but two companies withdrew their applications years ago.

Dot Registry, Uniregisty, Afilias, GMO, MMX, Nu Dot Co, Google and Donuts stuck around for the auction but have all now withdrawn their applications, meaning they all likely shared in the lovely big prize fund.

MMX gained $2.4 million by losing the .inc and .llc auctions, according to a recent disclosure.

.llc, a US company nomenclature with more potential customers of lower net worth, went to Afilias.

Dot Registry, MMX, Donuts, LLC Registry, Top Level Design, myLLC and Google were also in the .llc auction and have since withdrawn their applications.

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Eight more gTLDs get Chinese licenses

Kevin Murphy, October 12, 2017, Domain Registries

Radix and MMX have had four new gTLDs each approved for use in China.

MMX has had .work, .law, .beer and .购物 (Chinese for “shopping”) approved by the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology.

Radix gained approval for .fun, .online, .store and .tech.

The approvals mean that Chinese customers of Chinese registrars will be able to actually use domains in these TLDs rather than just registering them and leaving them barren.

It also means the respective registries have to apply more stringent controls on Chinese registrants.

They’re the first new gTLDs to get the nod from MIIT since April.

Only a couple dozen Latin-script new gTLDs have been given regulatory approval to operate fully in China.

MMX’s biggest success story to date, .vip, is almost entirely beholden to the Chinese market. Before today, it was also the only gTLD in its portfolio to pass the MIIT test.

The company said in a statement it has another four strings going through the approval process.

Radix already had .site on sale in China with government approval.

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One in three women say they have seen sexism at ICANN

Kevin Murphy, October 12, 2017, Domain Policy

Almost a third of female members of the ICANN community say they have witnessed sexism in the community, according to the results of a recent survey.

Asked “Have you ever experienced or witnessed what you perceive to be sexism or gender bias within the ICANN community?”, 30% of women respondents said “Yes”.

Only 17% of men answered in the affirmative. Overall, 75% of respondents said they had not seen such biases in action.

The broad survey into gender balance at ICANN was carried out over a month in June and July with a web-based tool and got 584 responses.

Participants were self-selecting, and there were slightly more female respondents than male (going against the grain of usual participation data), so the results should probably not be considered completely scientific.

The survey did not offer its own definition of sexism, so respondents were able to use their own judgement.

Of those who said they’d seen sexism in the community, most said they’d seen it at ICANN’s regular public meetings. Over a third said they’d witnessed it on mailing lists.

The older the participant, the more likely it was that they had seen behavior they considered sexist.

ICANN suggests that this could be because behaviors have changed as ICANN has matured, or that younger people have different definitions of sexism than their older peers.

Of those who said they had witnessed sexism, only four people chose to report it through ICANN channels such as the Ombudsman. Three of those people were men.

Almost half said they “chose” not to report the behavior, while 41% said they were unsure how to go about reporting it.

Some people who chose to add additional color to their responses said that they had only heard about the reportable incident second-hand.

The survey also found that almost 60% of respondents believe that there are barriers to participating in the ICANN community.

Those people were given the opportunity to rank factors that could act as barriers. Cost came out in a strong lead, but gender was found to be just as much a barrier as language.

That may be not so much a critique of the community itself, but rather of the backwards attitudes to women in some of the countries in which ICANN hosts its meetings.

Only 9% of women respondents said they have personally experienced a gender-related barrier to participation. Cost, lack of time, knowledge and geography all came out ahead.

When it came to solutions, the survey found that almost three quarters of respondents supported voluntary targets to promote gender balance in the community.

However, fewer than half of respondents — still a rather high 41% — said there should be “mandatory” quotas of women.

Unsurprisingly, support for affirmative action along mandatory lines was much higher among women than men, and much higher among the younger crowd than the old-timers.

The full report and a rather pretty infographic can be downloaded in the UN language of your choosing from here.

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