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ICANN could get the ball rolling on next new gTLD round this weekend

Kevin Murphy, September 7, 2021, Domain Policy

ICANN may be about to take the next step towards the next round of new gTLD applications at a meeting this Sunday.

On the agenda for the full board of directors is “New gTLD Subsequent Procedures Operational Design Phase (ODP): Scoping Document, Board Resolution, Funding and Next steps”.

But don’t quite hand over all your money to an application consultant just yet — if ICANN approves anything this weekend, it’s just the “Operational Design Phase”.

The ODP is a new piece of procedural red tape for ICANN, coming between approval of a policy by the GNSO Council and approval by the board.

It is does NOT mean the board will approve a subsequent round. It merely means it will ask staff to consider the feasibility of eventually implementing the policy, considering stuff like cost and legality.

CEO Göran Marby recently said the ODP will take more than six months to complete, so we’re not looking at board approval of the next round until second-quarter 2022 at the earliest.

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Domain industry SHRINKS again… except of course it doesn’t

Kevin Murphy, September 3, 2021, Domain Registries

Verisign has published its latest Domain Name Industry Brief, once again showing growth numbers thrown off wildly by a single factor.

The second quarter closed with 367.3 million registrations across all TLDs, down by 2.8 million over the same point last year, the DNIB states.

But the entirety of that decline can be attributed to a single TLD. It’s Tokelau again!

.tk was down by 2.8 million domains compared to the year-ago quarter also. This decline was first recorded by Verisign in the fourth quarter last year, where it had a similarly depressing effect on the overall picture.

The ccTLD is operated by Dutch company Freenom, which gives away most of its domains for free, often on a monthly basis, and monetizes residual traffic whenever a name expires or is suspended for abuse.

It’s quite possible that most of its names are registry-owned, so it’s in Freenom’s discretion to keep hold of its entire inventory or periodically purge its database, which may be what happened in Q4.

It’s debatable, in other words, whether .tk’s numbers is really any reflection or guide on the rest of the domain name industry. To it’s credit, Verisign breaks out the non-.tk numbers separately.

The DNIB reports a rosier quarterly growth comparison — total internet-wide regs were up by 3.8 million names, or 1.0%.

The company’s own .com did well, growing by 2.4 million names to end June at 157 million. Even .net did better than usual, adding a net of a couple hundred thousand names, to 13.6 million.

All the top 10 ccTLDs were flat sequentially after rounding, with the exception of Brazil’s .br, which was up by 200,000 names.

Total ccTLD regs were 157.7 million, up 1.2 million sequentially but down 2.4 million year-over year. Factoring out .tk, the increases were 1.2 million and 400,000 respectively.

The second quarter of last year was a bit of a boom time for many registries due largely to the lockdown bump, which saw businesses in many countries rush to get online to survive pandemic restrictions.

Tokelau can not be blamed for the whopping 8.8 million decline in new gTLD registrations between the Junes, of course.

About six million of the plummet can be blamed on heavily discounted .icu, which saw its first junk drop begin about a year ago, and another two million seem to be attributable to .top.

Quarterly, the picture was a little brighter — Verisign says new gTLDs were up by under 100,000 compared to Q1 at 22.9 million.

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Toilet-maker’s dot-brand gets flushed

Kevin Murphy, September 1, 2021, Domain Services

A Japanese building materials company known for its smart toilets has become the latest multi-billion-dollar brand to decide it doesn’t need a gTLD of its own.

Lixil, which turned over roughly $12 billion in its last fiscal year, has told ICANN to tear up its .lixil registry agreement.

No specific reason was given, but it appears the gTLD was lightly used — just one domain was active, and it redirected to lixil.com.

As usual, ICANN has determined that, as a dot-brand, .lixil will not be redelegated and instead simply removed from the root.

It’s number 94 on the dot-brand dead list, the sixth this year.

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Latest geo-gTLD goes to sunrise

Kevin Murphy, August 31, 2021, Domain Registries

After a protracted limited registration process, the latest geographic gTLD is due to shortly go live.

.zuerich, representing the canton and city of Zürich in Switzerland, went into sunrise yesterday. Registrations come with residency restrictions.

The sunrise runs the whole month of September, to be followed by a month-long limited registration period. General availability comes November 22.

In DNS terms, Zürich has the misfortune of having a diacritic in its name. While it could have applied for an internationalized domain name variant, it chose to deumlautize the string with the addition of a “E” instead.

The gTLD has been in the root for almost seven years, believe it or not, but it only now getting around to its formal launch phases.

ICANN records show its first restricted registration phase started in 2017.

Zone files show 25 live domains, but a web search reveals only one active non-registry web site — an addiction treatment center.

.zuerich is government-run, using CentralNic for registry services.

The canton has around 1.5 million inhabitants, around 440,000 of whom live in the city.

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NameSilo says it’s growing too fast to be acquired

Kevin Murphy, August 31, 2021, Domain Registrars

NameSilo Technologies has called off talks to sell its registrar, also called NameSilo, saying the company is growing too fast to exit right now.

The Canadian company grew its domains under management by 578,000 between April 2020 and April this year, when it stood at 3.9 million domains. It says it has since crossed 4.3 million.

The prospective deal, with Dutch acquisition vehicle WGH Holdings was announced last December.

But NameSilo’s CEO Paul Andreola said in a press release:

We believe that the value of Namesilo has grown significantly since the discussions with the prospective buyer began and feel that there is more value to be unlocked over the near to medium term for shareholders.

At the same time, the company reported revenue of $8.4 million for the second quarter, up $900,000 on the same period last year, with adjusted EBITDA of $435,344.

Bookings were up to $9.9 million from $7.6 million.

It was the company’s debt that first spurred acquisition talks. NameSilo says that debt has been reduced from $4.7 million to $3.85 million since March.

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Most registrars fail ICANN abuse audit

Kevin Murphy, August 26, 2021, Domain Registrars

The large majority of accredited registrars failed an abuse-related audit at the first pass, according to ICANN.

The audit of 126 registrars, representing over 90% of all registered gTLD domains, founds that 111 were “not fully compliant with the [Registrar Accreditation Agreement’s] requirements related to the receiving and handling of DNS abuse reports”.

Only 15 companies passed with flying colors, ICANN said.

A further 92 have already put in place changes to address the identified concerns, with 19 more still struggling to come into compliance.

The particular parts of the RAA being audited require registrars to publish an abuse email address that it monitored 24/7 and to take action on well-founded cases of abuse within 24 hours of notification.

The results of the audit, carried out by ICANN Compliance and KPMG, can be found here (pdf).

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More privacy headaches? UK to withdraw from GDPR

Kevin Murphy, August 26, 2021, Domain Policy

The UK is to craft its own privacy legislation, after Brexit enabled it to extricate itself from the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation, potentially causing headaches for domain name companies.

While it’s still in the very early pre-consultation stages, the government announced today that it wants “to make the country’s data regime even more ambitious, pro-growth and innovation-friendly, while still being underpinned by secure and trustworthy privacy standards.”

The country looks to be heading to a new privacy regime that registries and registrars doing business there will have to comply with, particular with regard to Whois services, in other words.

But it might not be too bad — the government is talking up plans to make “data adequacy” deals with third countries to enable the easy, legal transfer of private data across borders, which is always useful in the context of domain names.

While the UK is no longer in the EU, most EU laws including GDPR were grandfathered in and are still in effect.

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Bizarre redactions in Pirate Bay founder’s ICANN registrar ban

Kevin Murphy, August 26, 2021, Domain Policy

ICANN has finally published a complaint from Pirate Bay founder Peter Sunde, who has been banned from owning an accredited registrar, but it’s full of bizarre redactions that serve only to make it look like the Org is hiding something.

You may recall that Sunde said in March that ICANN had rejected his application to have his registrar, Sarek, formally accredited.

He told DI that it happened because ICANN was worried he’d be a “pain in the ass” due to his previous association with the Pirate Bay file-sharing site and his criminal conviction for copyright infringement.

Not long after speaking to us, he filed a formal complaint with ICANN, which ICANN, five months later, published this week.

There’s not much in the complaint (pdf) that we have not already reported, but what’s notable is the amount of unnecessarily redacted text.

ICANN seems chiefly concerned with poorly obfuscating the identity of the staffer with whom Sunde was dealing on, and who ultimately rejected, his accreditation application.

The Org goes to the extent of redacting gender pronouns, so the reader can’t tell whether the person in question is male or female.

But the information that remains unredacted in the very same sentence is more than sufficient to identify the staffer concerned.

I’ve even been on national TV mentioning [NAME REDACTED] that I talked to today, regarding [PRONOUN REDACTED] failure to disclose the 3200 comments that was against the price cap removal of .ORG in [PRONOUN REDACTED] summary report for ICANN regarding the case.

The person who compiled the comment summary on the .org price caps issue, a public document (pdf), was Russ Weinstein, who’s also the guy in charge of registrar accreditation matters.

What possible benefit could be had from obfuscating his identity? And if doing so is so important, why do it in such an incompetent way?

The document also appears to redact the names of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Swedish prog-rocker Björn Afzelius, both in the context of well-reported news stories mere seconds away in a search engine.

Reference to Sunde’s own criminal convictions, which are also well-reported and he has never been shy about addressing, also appear to be redacted.

For avoidance of doubt, I’m not saying that ICANN is hiding anything sinister, nor am I saying Sunde’s complaint has merit, but this redaction-happy attitude serves only to make the Org appear less transparent than it really should be.

If these redactions are attempts to hide personally identifiable information under ICANN’s privacy policy, they failed miserably on pretty much every count, even after five months.

This is privacy theater, created by people who don’t know the first thing about privacy.

ICANN has yet to respond Sunde’s complaint.

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ICANN cuts the weekend from next public meeting

Kevin Murphy, August 24, 2021, Domain Policy

ICANN has changed the dates for ICANN 72, its 2021 annual general meeting, making it two days shorter.

The old plan was for the meeting to run October 23-28. Now it will be October 25-28.

Basically, this means nobody will have to work at the weekend. October 23 is a Saturday.

The presumably truncated schedule will be published October 4.

ICANN said it made the decision “to support better working hours for attendees and encourage greater participation”.

ICANN 72 came close to having an in-person component in Seattle, but the board of directors decided last month to stick to Zoom due to ongoing pandemic uncertainties.

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DotKids signs very weird new gTLD contract

Kevin Murphy, August 24, 2021, Domain Registries

New gTLD registry hopeful DotKids Foundation has become the latest to sign its ICANN Registry Agreement, and it’s a bit odd.

The signing means that DotKids only needs to have its registry back-end, managed by Donuts/Afilias, pass the formality of its pre-delegation testing before .kids finds its way into the DNS root.

It’s going to be a regulated TLD, with strict rules about what kind of content can be posted there. It’s designed for under-18s, so there’ll be no permitted violence, sex, drugs, gambling etc.

DotKids plans to enforce this with a complaint-response mechanism. There won’t be any pre-vetting of registrants or content.

There are a few notable things about .kids worth bringing up.

First, the contract was signed August 13 by DotKids director Edmon Chung, best known as CEO of DotAsia. A few days later, he was selected for the ICANN board of directors by the Nominating Committee.

Second, it’s the first and only new gTLD to have been acquired on the cheap — DotKids got over $130,000 of support from ICANN as the only outfit to successfully apply under the Applicant Support program.

Third, DotKids’ Public Interest Commitments are mental.

PICs are the voluntary, but binding, rules that new gTLD registries opt to abide by, but the DotKids PICs read more like the opening salvo in a future lawsuit than clauses in a registry contract.

Three PICs in particular caught my eye, such as this one that seems to suggest DotKids wants to restrict its channel to only a subset of accredited registrars, and then doesn’t:

Notwithstanding Section 1 above, the Registry Operator makes a commitment to support ICANN’s overarching goals of the new gTLD program to enhance competition and consumer choice, and enabling the benefits of innovation via the introduction of new gTLDs. The Registry Operator further acknowledges that at the time of this writing, it is uncertain whether or not the limiting of distribution of new gTLDs to only a subset of ICANN Accredited Registrars would undermine ICANN’s own public interest commitments to enhance competition and consumer choice. In the absence of the confirmation from ICANN and the ICANN community that such undertaking would not run counter to ICANN’s overarching goals of the new gTLD program, or in the case that ICANN and/or the ICANN community confirms that indeed such arrangement (as described in 1. above) runs counter to ICANN’s public interest commitments and overarching goals, the Registry Operator shall refrain from limiting to such subset as described in 1. above.

I’ve read this half a dozen times and I’m still not sure I know what DotKids is getting at. Does it want to have a restricted registrar base, or not?

This paragraph is immediately followed by the equally baffling commitment to establish the PICs Dispute Resolution Procedure as a formal Consensus Policy:

Notwithstanding Section 2 and 4 above, the Registry Operator makes a commitment to support, participate in and uphold, as a stakeholder, the multi-stakeholder, bottom-up policy development process at ICANN, including but not limited to the development of Consensus Policies. For the avoidance of doubt, the Registry Operator anticipates that the PICDRP be developed as a Consensus Policy, or through comparably open, transparent and accountable processes, and commits to participating in the development of the PICDRP as a Consensus Policy in accordance to Specification 1 of this Agreement for Consensus Policies and Temporary Policies. Furthermore, that any remedies ICANN imposes shall adhere to the remedies specified in the PICDRP as a Consensus Policy.

The problem with this is that PICDRP is not a Consensus Policy, it’s just something ICANN came up with in 2013 to address Governmental Advisory Committee concerns about “sensitive” TLDs.

It was subject to public comments, and new gTLD registries are contractually obliged to abide by it, but it didn’t go through the years-long process needed to create a Consensus Policy.

So what the heck is this PIC doing in a contract signed in 2021?

The next paragraph is even more of a head-scratcher, invoking a long-dead ICANN agreement and seemingly mounting a preemptive legal defense against future complaints.

Notwithstanding Section 2 above, the Registry Operator makes a commitment to support ICANN in its fulfillment of the Affirmation of Commitments, including to promote competition, consumer trust, and consumer choice in the DNS marketplace. The Registry Operator further makes an observation that the premise of this Specification 11 is predicated on addressing the GAC advice that “statements of commitment and objectives to be transformed into binding contractual commitments, subject to compliance oversight by ICANN”, which is focused on statements of commitment and objectives and not business plans. As such, and as reasonably understood that business plans for any prudent operation which preserves security, stability and resiliency of the DNS must evolve over time, the Registry Operator will operate the registry for the TLD in compliance with all commitments and statements of intent while specific business plans evolve. For the avoidance of doubt, where such business plan evolution involves changes that are consistent with the said commitments and objectives of Registry Operator’s application to ICANN for the TLD, such changes shall not be a breach by the Registry Operator in its obligations pursuant to 2. above.

If you’re struggling to recall what the Affirmation of Commitments is, that’s because it was scrapped four years ago following ICANN’s transition out from under US government oversight. It literally has no force or meaning any more.

So, again, why is it showing up in a 2021 Registry Agreement?

The answer seems to be that the PICs were written in March 2013, when references to the AoC and the PICDRP as a potential Consensus Policy made a whole lot more sense.

While a lot of this looks like the kind of labyrinthine legalese that could only have been written by an ICANN lawyer, nope — these PICs are all DotKids’ handiwork.

ICANN seems to have been quite happy to dump a bunch of irrelevant nonsense into DotKids’s legally binding contract, and sign off on it.

But given that ICANN doesn’t seem convinced it even has the power to enforce PICs in contracts signed after 2016, does it even matter?

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