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auDA may sue to delay boardroom bloodbath

Kevin Murphy, April 23, 2018, Domain Registries

auDA is thinking about taking its membership to court in order to delay a vote on the jobs of four of its directors.

The Australian ccTLD registry has also delayed further consideration of its policy to introduce direct, second-level registrations in .au until late 2019.

Both announcements came in the wake of a government review of the organization, which found it “no longer fit-for-purpose”.

auDA last week asked its members to agree to a postponement of the special general meeting, called for by a petition of more than 5% of its members, at which there would be votes on whether to fire the CEO, its chair, and two independent directors.

Under the law, auDA has to hold the SGM by June 7 at the latest, according to a letter (pdf) sent to members on Friday.

But auDA wants to delay the meeting until mid-September, at the earliest, to coincide with its regular Annual General Meeting.

If its members do not consent to the delay — it gave them a deadline of 4pm local time today, meaning responses would have to be drafted over the weekend — auDA said it “intends to apply for a court order… extending the time for calling the requested SGM”.

The delay is needed, auDA said, in order to give the organization the breathing space to start to implement the reforms called for by the government review.

The government wants the makeup of the auDA board substantially overhauled within a year to better reflect the stakeholder community and to ensure directors have the necessary skills and experience.

In response, auDA has told the government (pdf) that it agrees with the need for reform, but that it will not be able to hit its deadlines unlesss the SGM is delayed.

It also said calling the SGM on time would cost it somewhere in the region of AUD 70,000, based on the cost of a similar meeting last year.

auDA announced separately last week that it is delaying any more discussion on second-level registrations — something the reform campaigners largely are opposed to — “until the second half of 2019 at the earliest”.

Josh Rowe, coordinator of the Grumpier.com.au petitioners, said in his response that he found the request for the SGM delay “extremely disappointing”, adding:

auDA is at an important juncture following the Australian Government’s review. However, it is critical that people with the right skills and experience lead auDA through its reform.

Members have lost confidence in the auDA CEO, and the three auDA independent directors. They do not have the right skills and experience to lead auDA through its reform.

He noted that members do not have the resources to fight auDA in court.

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I just bought a new gTLD registry’s domain for $10

Kevin Murphy, April 18, 2018, Domain Registries

Are .fan and .fans the latest new gTLDs to go out of business? It certainly looks that way.

ICANN has hit the registry with a breach notice for unpaid dues and stripped it of its registrar accreditation.

In addition, its web sites no longer appear functional and I’ve just bought its official IANA-listed domain name for under $10.

Asiamix Digital is the Hong Kong-based company behind both TLDs, doing business as dotFans.

It launched .fans in September 2015, with retail pricing up around the $100 mark, but never actually got around to launching the singular variant, which it acquired (defensively?) from Rightside (now Donuts) earlier that year.

.fans had fewer than 1,400 domains in its zone file yesterday, down from a peak of around 1,500, while .fan had none.

dotFans in-house accredited registrar, Fan Domains, didn’t seem to actually sell any domains and it got terminated by ICANN (pdf) at the end of March for failing to provide basic registrar services.

And now it seems the registry itself has been labeled as a deadbeat by ICANN Compliance, which has filed a breach notice (pdf) alleging non-payment of registry fees.

While breach notices against TLD registries are not uncommon these days, I think this is the first one I’ve seen alleging non-payment and nothing else.

The notice claims that the registry’s legal contact’s email address is non-functional.

In addition, the domains nic.fans, nic.fan and dotfans.com all currently resolve to dead placeholder pages.

Meanwhile, dotfans.net, the company’s official domain name as listed in the IANA database now belongs to me, kinda.

It expired March 12, after which it was promptly placed into a GoDaddy expired domains auction. Where I just bought it for £6.98 ($9.92).

dotfans

To be clear, I do not currently control the domain. It’s still in post-expiration limbo and GoDaddy support tells me the original owner still has eight days left to reclaim it.

After that point, maybe I’ll start getting the registry’s hate mail from ICANN. Or perhaps not; it seems to have been using the .com equivalent for its formal communications.

Should .fan and .fans get acquired by another registry soon — which certainly seems possible — rest assured I’ll let the domain go for a modest sum.

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Child abuse becoming big problem for new gTLDs

Kevin Murphy, April 18, 2018, Domain Policy

There were 3,791 domain names used to host child sexual abuse imagery in 2017, up 57%, according to the latest annual report from the Internet Watch Foundation.

While .com was the by far the worst TLD for such material in terms of URLs, over a quarter of the domains were registered in new gTLDs.

Abuse imagery was found on 78,589 URLs on 3,791 domains in 152 TLDs, the IWF said in its report.

.com accounted for 39,937 of these URLs, a little over half of the total, with .net, .org, .ru and .co also in the top five TLDs. Together they accounted for 85% of all the abuse URLs found. The 2016 top five TLDs included .se, .io and .cc.

New gTLDs accounted for a small portion of the abuse URLs — just over 5,000, up 221% on 2016 — but a disproportionate number of domains.

The number of new gTLD domains used for abuse content was 1,063, spread over 50 new gTLDs. Equivalent numbers were not available in the 2016 report and IWF does not break down which TLDs were most-abused.

According to Verisign’s Q4 Domain Name Industry Brief (pdf), new gTLDs account for just 6.2% of all existing domain names, and yet they account for over 28% of the domains where IWF found child abuse imagery.

IWF said that the increasing number of domains registered to host abuse imagery can be linked to what it calls “disguised websites”.

These are sites “where the child sexual abuse imagery will only be revealed to someone who has followed a pre-set digital pathway — to anyone else, they will be shown legal content.”

Presumably this means that registries and registrars spot-checking domains they have under management could be unaware of their true intended use.

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Government gives auDA reform-or-die ultimatum

Kevin Murphy, April 18, 2018, Domain Registries

auDA has just months to either implement sweeping reforms or risk being dissolved and replaced.

That’s the outcome of a review of the Australian ccTLD administrator by the Department of Communications and Arts, published today, that found the organization as it stands today is “no longer fit-for-purpose”.

Among its 29 recommendations, the government is demanding that auDA refresh its board of directors within a year and scrap its “outdated” membership structure.

Minister Mitch Fifield said in a statement:

The central finding of the review is that auDA’s current management framework is no longer fit-for-purpose and reform is necessary if the company is to perform effectively and meet the needs of Australia’s internet community.

He added in a letter to auDA chair Chris Leptos:

In the event that auDA fails to demonstrate progress in achieving the necessary reforms, I will instruct my Department to undertake a public expression of interest process in the future to identify other entities that could administer .au

A failure to reform could even lead to the government itself taking over .au, the report says.

The review did not look at the claims of lavish spending by staff and directors, reported on earlier this week.

Nor does it express any views on the controversial decision to start selling direct second-level .au domains, or to transition the back-end from Neustar to Afilias.

What it does say is that the board of directors needs to be be replaced within a year, using a new membership structure that gets rid of the current “supply” and “demand” classes of member, which differentiate between those who sell domains and those who buy them.

The current system is open to capture or “stacking”, the review says, with it being too easy for individuals to move seamlessly between classes and a lack of clarity on whether domainers should be supply or demand-class members.

Today, the 12-person board comprises the non-voting CEO, three independent directors and four directors elected by each class.

The review states that the board should not get any bigger, but that the majority of directors should be independent, selected by a new six-person Nomination Committee modeled slightly on ICANN’s Nominating Committee.

Directors should be picked on the basis on their experience and skills, limited to two three-year terms, and subject to background screening, the review states.

The government also says that auDA should either replace its current membership classes with either a single membership class open to all or a “functional constituency model” reflecting groups such as consumers, registrars, government, etc.

Fifield said he expects to see “significant” progress on implementing these reforms in the next three to six months.

In a statement, auDA said it welcomed the report and has already begun work on an implementation plan.

Former CEO Chris Disspain, who was fired by the board in 2016, after running the company for 16 years, a move that arguably catalyzed the last two years of chaos at auDA, told DI:

I am pleased that the review has called out a number of important structural issues especially the matter of membership stacking, something that I had raised with the board on a number of occasions towards the end of my tenure and that may have led, at least in part, to my departure.

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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?

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