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New gTLDs applicants should brace for GAC delays

Kevin Murphy, May 12, 2013, Domain Policy

New gTLD applicants affected by Governmental Advisory Committee advice may be about to find that their launch runway is quite a bit longer than they hoped.

That’s the message that seems to be coming through subtly from ICANN and the GAC itself — via last week’s applicant update webinar and GAC chair Heather Dryden — right now.

Dryden made it clear in an official ICANN interview, recorded early last week, that the GAC expects its Beijing communique to be “fully taken into account”, lest governments abandon ICANN altogether.

But at the same time she seemed to suggest that the rest of the community may have misunderstood the GAC’s intentions, due in part to the fact that its deliberations were held in private.

Here’s a slice of the interview with Brad White, ICANN’s media relations chief:

WHITE: Suppose the [ICANN] board in the end says “thank you very much for the advice, we’ve looked at it, but we’re moving on” and basically ignores a lot of that advice?

DRYDEN: I think it would be a very immediate reaction, questioning the value of participating in the Governmental Advisory Committee. If it is going to be the place for governments to come and raise their concern and influence the decision making that occurs at ICANN then we have to be able to demonstrate that the advice generated is fully taken into account or to the maximum extent appropriate taken in and in this way governments understand that the GAC is useful mechanism for them.

WHITE: What you seem to be saying is there is concern about whether or not some governments might pull out from that multi-stakeholder model?

DRYDEN: Right, right why would they come? How would they justify coming to the GAC meetings? Why would they support this model if in fact it’s there aren’t channels available to them and appropriate to their role and perspective as a government?

Under ICANN’s bylaws, the board of directors does not have to adopt GAC advice wholesale.

It is able to disagree with, and essentially overrule, the GAC, but only after they’ve tried “in good faith and in a timely and efficient manner, to find a mutually acceptable solution”.

The only time this has happened before was in February 2011, when discussions covered the final details of the new gTLD program and the imminent approval of the .xxx gTLD.

Then, the ICANN board and the GAC gathered in Brussels for two days of intense face-to-face discussions, which was followed by multiple “scorecard” drafts and follow-up talks.

It seems very likely that we’re going to see something similar for the Beijing advice, if for no other reason than the communique is vague enough that ICANN will need a lot of clarification before it acts.

So does this mean delay for new gTLD applicants? Probably.

Dryden, asked about the GAC’s agenda for the ICANN public meeting in Durban this July, said:

There may well also be aspects of safeguard advice that we would discuss further with the board or with the community or would need to, particularly the implementation aspects of some of the new safeguards that the GAC identified.

The “safeguard” advice is the large section of the Beijing communique that attempts to impose broad new obligations on over 500 new gTLDs in “regulated or professional sectors”.

Dryden appeared to acknowledge the criticism that much of the advice appears unworkable to many, saying:

The intent behind this was to provide a reminder or to reinforce the importance of preexisting obligations and the applicability of national laws and really not to impose new burdens on applicants or registrants.

However, there are measures proposed in that safeguard advice where there are real implementation questions and so we think this is a very good focus for discussions now in the community with the GAC and with the board around that particular aspect of the advice.

The safeguard advice is currently open for public comment. I outline some of the many implementation questions in this post.

White put to Dryden DI’s criticism that the communique was a “perplexing, frustrating mess” aimed at using the DNS to solve wider problems with the internet.

For example, the GAC appears to want to use ICANN contracts use introduce new ways to enforce copyrights and data security regulations, something perhaps better addressed by legislation.

She responded:

It’s really not intended to impose a new global regulatory regime. It is intended to be consistent with ICANN’s existing role and serve as a reminder to those that have applied of what is really involved with implementing if they are successful a string globally as well as really wanting to emphasize that some of those strings raise particular sensitivities for governments

So have we misunderstood the GAC’s intentions? That seems to be the message.

Watch the whole Dryden interview here:

Based on current evidence, I’d say that any applicant covered by the Beijing communique that still believes they have a chance of signing a contract before July is kidding itself.

The ICANN board’s new gTLD program committee met on Wednesday to discuss its response to the Beijing communique. The results of this meeting should be published in the next few days.

But there’s little doubt in my mind that ICANN doesn’t have enough time before Durban to pick through the advice, consult with the GAC, and come up with a mutually acceptable solution.

Quite apart from the complexity of and lack of detail in the GAC’s requests, there’s the simple matter of logistics.

Getting a representative quorum of GAC members in the same room as the ICANN board for a day or two at some point in the next 60 days would be challenging, based on past performance.

I think it’s much more likely that a day or two will be added to the Durban meeting (before its official start) to give the board and GAC the kind of time they need to thrash this stuff out.

ICANN’s latest program timetable, discussed during a webinar on Thursday night, extended the deadline for the ICANN board’s response to the GAC from the first week of June to the end of June.

On the call, program manager Christine Willett confirmed that this date assumes the board adopts all of the advice — it does not take into account so-called “bylaws consultations”.

While it seems clear that all 518 applications (or more) affected by the “safeguards” advice won’t be signing anything before Durban, it’s less clear whether the remaining applicants will feel an impact too.

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56 more new gTLDs pass evaluation

ICANN’s evaluators have passed 56 more new gTLD applications through Initial Evaluation.

The latest weekly batch of published results cover bids for the following strings:

.aig, .airforce, .art, .axa, .baby, .basketball, .bid, .business, .bzh, .cal, .center, .ceo, .cisco, .cloud, .coach, .codes, .contractors, .cpa, .dell, .diet, .docomo, .duns, .durban, .esurance, .film, .forex, .goo, .got, .guide, .hgtv, .hotels, .itau, .mattel, .mcd, .mcdonalds, .melbourne, .mobile, .mobily, .monash, .nowtv, .onl, .paris, .passagens, .plumbing, .poker, .property, .red, .safety, .silk, .study, .talk, .travelguard, .webcam, .weibo, .wolterskluwer and موبايلي. (Arabic for “Mobily”)

There are now exactly 300 applications with passing scores on IE, one that failed, and 49 that despite their prioritization numbers have yet to receive an answer one way or the other.

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Will you be too sexy for .sexy?

Kevin Murphy, May 10, 2013, It's Friday

Uniregistry is planning to implement strict sexiness restrictions in its forthcoming .sexy gTLD, according to a fake press release we’ve just received.

Uniregistry, the portfolio gTLD applicant run by domainer Frank Schilling, is the only applicant for .sexy.

The company lied in the press release:

Upon applying to register for a .sexy domain, registrants will be required to affirmatively answer the certified statement “Are you sexy, and do you know it?”

In an enhancement to existing mobile phone verification systems, registrants will be required to input a PIN sent to their mobile phone, and attach a picture of themselves to the reply message.

Any registrants deemed “too sexy for this TLD” will be provided with suitable alternative domains, such as .blackfriday, while those not qualifying as sexy enough will be directed to .help.

Uniregistry’s Amanda Fessenden will “personally inspect photos of every registrant and strictly enforce the ‘no mullets’ provision of the 100% sexy policy”, Uniregistry made up.

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This is how stupid the GAC’s new gTLDs advice is

Kevin Murphy, May 9, 2013, Domain Policy

For the last few weeks I’ve been attempting to write a sensible analysis of the Governmental Advisory Committee’s advice on new gTLDs without resorting to incredulity, hyperbole or sarcasm.

I failed, so you’ll have to read this instead.

I’m sorry, but the GAC’s Beijing communique (pdf) just has too much stupid in it to take seriously.

As a quick reminder, the bulk of the GAC’s advice was taken up by a list of hundreds of applied-for strings, in 12 categories, that “are likely to invoke a level of implied trust from consumers”.

The GAC said that any string on the list should be subject to more stringent regulation than others, turning their registries into data security regulators and creating an obligation to partner with “relevant regulatory, or industry self-­regulatory, bodies”.

The GAC, having advised the creation of these unexpected obligations, decided that it wasn’t its responsibility to figure out whether any of them would be feasible to implement.

That’s apparently up to ICANN to figure out.

But that’s not the most infuriating part of the advice. The most infuriating part is the list of strings it provided, which by the GAC’s own admission was unhelpfully “non-exhaustive”.

When one performs a cursory analysis of the list, and compares it to the strings that did not make it, the dumb just accumulates.

My spies tell me that the GAC worked into the early hours on a few occasions during the Beijing meeting in order to put this advice together, and some might say it’s unfair to expect its members to have read and formed consensus opinions on all 1,930 original new gTLD applications.

But the GAC wasn’t expected to read them all, nor did it. Its job was originally conceived of as commenting on the strings alone, and that appears to be what it ultimately did limit itself to.

I think it’s fair to try to get some insight into the GAC’s collective thought process by looking at the “Category 1” strings that it did put on the list and those that it did not.

Not because I think there’s a coherent thought process at work here, but because I think there isn’t.

Remember, the GAC had nine months to come up with its list. This article was written in an afternoon.

Here’s my list of bizarre inconsistencies, failed reality checks and pure dumb I found in the Beijing communique.

It’s non-exhaustive.

Destroy all pirates!

The GAC is clearly a bit worried that people might use new gTLDs to offer pirated and counterfeited goods (like they do in existing TLDs), so it has placed a few dozen content-related strings on its list.

The intellectual property list is one of the longest of the 12 categories in the Beijing communique.

But it could be longer.

I wonder why, for example, the GAC doesn’t consider .stream a threat to copyright? Streaming sites are frequent targets of takedown notices.

Why does .hiphop get a mention but not .country, a gTLD specifically designed for country music lovers?

Why are .photography, .photo, .photos, .pictures and .pics not on the list? Image theft is pandemic online, enabled by default in browsers (no P2P required) and utterly trivial to execute.

And if .tours is considered a problem, why not .events, or .tickets?

We’re talking about sectors with abuse potential here, and ticketing is considered worthy of legislation in many places. Here in England you can get a £5,000 fine for reselling a ticket to a football match.

Why is .tours even on the intellectual property list? It could just as easily refer to organized vacations or guide services provided by museums. Or the French city of the same name, for that matter.

Why aren’t our friends in Tours getting the same GAC love as Spa and Date — towns in Belgium and Japan — which have caused the delay of advice on .spa and .date respectively?

And why are .free, .gratis and .discount considered intellectual property problems?

How is the .free registry supposed to follow the GAC’s demand that it partner with “relevant regulatory, or industry self­‐regulatory, bodies” for free stuff? Does “.free” even have an “implied level of trust”?

Is the GAC’s goal to kill off the bid by the back door?

Goodbye .free, you couldn’t guarantee that there wouldn’t be piracy in your TLD so your application is forfeit? A potentially cool TLD, sacrificed on the altar of Big Copyright?

Don’t even get me started on .art…

Won’t somebody think of the children?!

The GAC did not say why the “children” category exists, but I assume it’s about ensuring that the content in TLDs such as .kids and .school is suitable for “kids” (pick your own definition, the GAC doesn’t have one).

It goes without saying that any TLD that is obliged to follow child-friendly rules will be saddled with a commercial death sentence, as the US government already knows full well.

The GAC didn’t include .family on the list for some reason, but it did inexplicably include .game and .games.

In the last game I played, my character stabbed a guy in the neck with a broken bottle, stole his clothes and threw his body off a cliff. Gaming is a predominantly adult pastime nowadays.

Suggesting that .games sites need to be child-friendly is just as stupid as saying .movie or .book sites need to be child-friendly.

I’m sure GAC chair Heather Dryden is far too sensible and grown-up to play games, but I’d be surprised if not a single member of the committee owns an Xbox. One of them should have pointed this nonsense out.

If the GAC is not saying this — if it’s merely saying the .games registry should work cooperatively with the gaming industry — then why is .games in the “Children” category?

The GAC Diet

Another couple dozen strings are listed under the “health and fitness” category, ranging from the not-unreasonable, such as .doctor, to the terrifically broad, such as .diet and .care.

Really? .care?

Donuts, the .care applicant, has to partner with some kind of medical register in order to sell a TLD that could just as easily be used for customer support by a company that sells shoes?

And .diet? If the GAC is concerned about internet users getting dodgy dieting advice from a disreputable .diet registrant, why not also issue advice against .eat and .food?

If .fitness is a problem, why isn’t .yoga?

Why isn’t the GAC bothered by .tattoo and .ink? Where I live, you need to be a licensed professional in order to stick people with an inky needle.

For that matter, why aren’t .beauty and .salon a problem? Pretty much every beauty salon I’ve walked past in the last couple of years wants to inject toxins into my face for a fee.

If we’re already saying games are for kids, that free equals fake, and that tours can be pirated, it doesn’t seem like too unreasonable a leap to to regulate .beauty too.

You feed beefburgers to swans

There’s a provision in the Beijing communique saying that every string on the GAC’s list must force its registrants “to comply with all applicable laws, including those that relate to… organic farming.”

So why the hell doesn’t .farm appear on the list?!?

Really, it doesn’t. I’ve triple-checked. It’s not there. According to the GAC’s advice, a .bingo registrant has to abide by organic farming laws but a .farm registrant does not.

Some professions are more equal than others

For all of the “Category 1” strings the GAC has advised against, the headline argument is this:

Strings that are linked to regulated or professional sectors should operate in a way that is consistent with applicable laws.

But there are plenty of strings that are “linked to regulated or professional sectors” that don’t merit a mention in the communique.

Alcohol, for example. The sale of booze is regulated pretty much everywhere — in some places it’s illegal — but .pub and .bar don’t make it to the GAC’s advice. Neither does .vodka.

If the GAC wants .weather to have strict controls — with no abuse scenario I can think of — why not a couple of TLDs that could, potentially, be used to sell alcohol over the internet?

What of construction? There may have been advice against .engineer, but .construction, .building, .contractors and .build got a pass. Why? Governments everywhere regulate the building industry tightly.

Here in the UK, if you want a plumber to come over and tinker with your heating you’d better hope they’re on the Gas Safe Register, but .plumber doesn’t show up in the Beijing communique.

Why not? An abusive .dentist registrant could mess up my teeth, but he’ll need an expensive surgery to do it in. An abusive .plumber, on the other hand, can come over and blow up my house with no such outlay.

Taxis are regulated in most big cities, but .taxi and .limo escaped GAC advice. Hell, even porn is strictly controlled in many countries, but .porn got a pass.

I could go on.

Anyway…

You might think I’m being petty, but remember: the GAC got the list of applied-for strings last June the same as everybody else. It had plenty of time to get its advice list right.

The GAC has a big responsibility in the multi-stakeholder process and by presenting advice that appears half-assed at best it makes it look like it doesn’t take that responsibility seriously.

I know it does, but it doesn’t appear that way.

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Demand Media slates GAC’s new gTLDs demands

Kevin Murphy, May 9, 2013, Domain Policy

Demand Media has become the first new gTLD applicant to put its head above the parapet and tell ICANN that its latest batch of Governmental Advisory Committee advice is unworkable.

While its comment on the GAC’s Beijing communique is very diplomatically worded, it’s obvious that Demand reckons most of the “safeguard” advice it contains would be difficult, if not impossible, to implement.

The company has urged ICANN to refuse to adopt the advice, saying:

the spirit and actual letter of the GAC Advice related to these additional safeguards comes in a manner and form that is completely antithetical and contrary to ICANN’s bottom-up, multi-stakeholder, consensus-driven policy development process. Because the proposed safeguards, if implemented, would effectively change how new gTLDs are managed, sold, distributed, registered, operated, and used in the marketplace, the GAC Advice is tantamount to making “top-down,” dictatorial, non-consensus, policy which undermines the entire ICANN model. If ICANN chose to adopt any one of these three safeguards, ICANN itself would lose all legitimacy.

Demand seems to agree with many of the points raised in this DI post from a few weeks ago related to the GAC’s demand that hundreds of new gTLD registries should compel their registrants to stick to data security standards when they handle sensitive financial or healthcare data.

The GAC’s advice is extremely broad here and pays scant attention to the innumerable implementation questions raised. As such, Demand says in its comment (filed by applying subsidiary United TLD Holdco):

United TLD believes applicable laws and recognized industry standards should be developed and implemented by appropriate legislative, law enforcement and industry expert bodies and should not be developed by the registry operator.

It also takes issue with the GAC’s demand for registry operators to “establish a working relationship with the relevant regulatory body including developing a strategy to mitigate abuse.”

The company points out that many TLDs listed in the Beijing communique will have multiple uses, and even if there is a regulatory body for a subsection of registrants, it may not cover all.

For example, should a software engineer (an unregulated profession) have to agree to abide by rules developed for civil engineers when they register a .engineer domain name?

it would be inappropriate, and impossible, to find a “relevant regulatory body” with whom to establish a relationship related to the use of .ENGINEER. Additionally, what if the relevant regulatory body simply declined to work with a registry operator or does not respond to requests for collaboration?

The Demand comment is full of examples of problems such as this.

In broader terms, however, the registrar and applicant is utterly opposed to the GAC’s insistence that “certain” unspecified gTLDs representing regulated sectors should be forced, in effect, to transform into tightly restricted sponsored gTLDs.

The GAC wants these applicants to forge tight links with regulatory and self-regulatory bodies and vet each registrant’s credentials before allowing domains to be registered.

Demand said:

applicants, including United TLD, submitted their new gTLD applications believing that that they would be operating, managing and distributing generic TLDs. These three Safeguards completely change the nature of the new TLDs from being generic and widely available, to being “sponsored” TLDs restricted only to those individuals who must prove their status or credentials entitling them to register domain names with certain extensions. These three Safeguards are patently adverse to the core purpose of the new gTLD program and ICANN’s mission generally which is to promote consumer choice and competition.

While Demand is the first application to slam the GAC advice as a whole (a few others have submitted preliminary comments on specific subsets of advice), I’m certain it won’t be the last.

That said, .secure applicant Artemis Internet submitted what is possibly the most amusing example of “sucking up” I’ve ever seen in an ICANN public comment period.

The company actually requests to be added to the list of strings covered by the GAC advice on the grounds that its application was so gosh-darn wonderful it already planned to do all that stuff anyway.

I expect, by the time the comment period closes next Tuesday the prevailing mood from applicants will be more Demand and less Artemis.

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