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Registrars open floodgate of Whois privacy outrage

Kevin Murphy, June 26, 2015, Domain Policy

A letter-writing campaign orchestrated by the leading domain registrars has resulted in ICANN getting hit with over 8,000 pro-privacy comments in less than a week.

It’s the largest volume of comments received by ICANN on an issue since right-wing Christian activists deluged ICANN with protests about .xxx, back in 2010.

The comments — the vast majority of them unedited template letters — were filed in response to the GNSO Privacy & Proxy Services Accreditation Issues (PPSAI) Working Group Initial Report.

That report attempts to bring privacy and proxy services, currently unregulated by ICANN, under ICANN’s contractual wing.

There are two problematic areas, as far as the registrars are concerned.

The first is the ability of trademark and copyright owners to, under certain circumstances, have the registrant of a privately registered name unmasked.

Upon receiving such a request, privacy services would have 15 days to obtain a response from their customer. They’d then have to make a call as to whether to reveal their contact information to the IP owner or not.

Possibly the most controversial aspect of this is described here:

Disclosure cannot be refused solely for lack of any of the following: (i) a court order; (ii) a subpoena; (iii) a pending civil action; or (iv) a UDRP or URS proceeding; nor can refusal to disclose be solely based on the fact that the request is founded on alleged intellectual property infringement in content on a website associated with the domain name.

In other words, the privacy services (in most cases, also the registrar) would be forced make a judgement on whether web site content is illegal, in the absence of a court order, before removing Whois privacy on a domain.

The second problematic area is an “additional statement” on domains used for commercial activity, appended to the PPSAI report, penned by MarkMonitor on behalf of Facebook, LegitScript, DomainTools, IP attorneys Smith, Gambreall & Russell, and itself.

Those companies believe it should be against the rules for anyone who commercially transacts via their web site to use Whois privacy.

Running ads on a blog, say, would be fine. But asking for, for example, credit card details in order to transact would preclude you from using privacy services.

The PPSAI working group didn’t even approach consensus on this topic, and it’s not a formal recommendation in its report.

Regardless, it’s one of the lynchpins of the current registrar letter-writing campaigns.

A page at SaveDomainPrivacy.org — the site backed by dozens of registrars big and small — describes circumstances under which somebody would need privacy even though they engage in e-commerce.

Home-based businesses, shelters for domestic abuse victims that accept donations, and political activists are all offered up as examples.

Visitors to the site are (or were — the site appears to be down right now (UPDATE: it’s back up)) invited to send a comment to ICANN supporting:

The legitimate use of privacy or proxy services to keep personal information private, protect physical safety, and prevent identity theft

The use of privacy services by all, for all legal purposes, regardless of whether the website is “commercial”

That privacy providers should not be forced to reveal my private information without verifiable evidence of wrongdoing

The content of the site was the subject of a sharp disagreement between MarkMonitor and Tucows executives last Saturday during ICANN 53. I’d tell you exactly what was said, but the recording of the relevant part of the GNSO Saturday session has not yet been published by ICANN.

Another site, which seems to be responsible for the majority of the 8,000+ comments received this week, is backed by the registrar NameCheap and the digital civil rights groups the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Fight For The Future.

NameCheap appears to be trying to build on the reputation it started to create for itself when it opposed the Stop Online Piracy Act a few years ago, going to so far as to link the Whois privacy reforms to SOPA on the campaign web site, which says:

Your privacy provider could be forced to publish your contact data in WHOIS or even give it out to anyone who complains about your website, without due process. Why should a small business owner have to publicize her home address just to have a website?

We think your privacy should be protected, regardless of whether your website is personal or commercial, and your confidential info should not be revealed without due process. If you agree, it’s time to tell ICANN.

The EFF’s involvement seems to have grabbed the attention of many reporters in the general tech press, generating dozens of headlines this week.

The public comment period on the PPSAI initial report ends July 7.

If it continues to attract attention, it could wind up being ICANN’s most-subscribed comment period ever.

Do geeks care about privacy more than Christians care about porn? We’ll find out in a week and a half.

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Puerto Rico to host ICANN meeting next year

Kevin Murphy, June 26, 2015, Domain Policy

ICANN is to host its first second ever public meeting on a Caribbean island.

The organization’s board of directors yesterday voted in favor of holding ICANN 57 in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Technically, this fulfills ICANN’s commitment to hold the meeting in North America, even though physically Puerto Rico is in the Caribbean.

The island is one of those oddities in terms of territories in that it inherits its ICANN region from its political overlords.

Puerto Rico is a US territory, which puts it in ICANN’s North American region. The neighboring British Virgin Islands is, according to ICANN, in Europe.

ICANN 57 will be held from October 29 to November 4 2016, at the tail end of Puerto Rico’s hurricane season. It’s the second time ICANN has visited the island, the first since 2007.

There’s no word yet on where ICANN 56, June 2016, will be held. It’s a designated slot for an Latin American/Caribbean host nation.

ICANN 55 will be held in Marrakech next March, ICANN’s board confirmed yesterday, rescheduled from March this year due to the Ebola scare.

Dublin will host ICANN 54 this coming October.

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Posh Spice takes down porn site

Kevin Murphy, June 24, 2015, Domain Policy

Former Spice Girl Victoria Beckham has used UDRP to take down a porn site bearing her name.

victoria-beckham.biz was owned by a Ukrainian, who had set up a site “at which adult and/or pornographic images and services are offered”, according to the UDRP panelist.

It was pretty much a slam-dunk case.

While not all celebrities own trademarks on their names, Beckham does. The squatter, who registered the name in December 2014, did not even attempt a response.

Based on archived screenshots and Whois records, it looks like victoria-beckham.biz has been around as a rather harmless fan site since about 2006.

It was only after the domain expired late last year and was re-registered did it become a porn site, attracting the attention of Beckham’s lawyers.

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Donuts: glitch revealed price we would pay for gTLDs

The recently discovered security vulnerability in one of ICANN’s web sites revealed how much Donuts was willing to pay for contested gTLDs at auction.

This worrying claim emerged during a meeting between registries and the ICANN board of directors at ICANN 53 in Buenos Aires yesterday.

“We were probably the largest victim of the data breach,” Donuts veep Jon Nevett told the board. “We had our financial data reviewed numerous times, dozens of times. We had our relative net worth of our TLDs reviewed, so it was very damaging information.”

He was referring to the misconfiguration in the new gTLD applicants’ portal, which allowed any user to view confidential application attachments belonging to any applicant.

ICANN discovered the problem in February, two years after the portal launched. The results of a security audit were revealed in late April.

But it was not until late May that it emerged that only one person, dotBerlin CEO Dirk Krischenowski, was suspected by ICANN of having deliberately viewed data belonging to others.

Nevett said communication should have been faster.

“We were in the dark for a number of weeks about who saw the data,” he told the board. “That was troubling, as we were going to auctions in that interim period as well.”

Donuts, which applied for over 300 new gTLDs, is known to have taken a strictly numbers-driven approach to string selection and auction strategy.

If a rival in a contention set had known how much Donuts was prepared to pay for a string, it would have had a significant advantage in an auction.

In response to Nevett’s concerns, ICANN CEO Fadi Chehade said that ICANN had to do a thorough investigation before it could be sure who saw what when.

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AlpNames claims to be second-largest new gTLD registrar

A little-known registrar with close ties to Famous Four Media says it is now the second-largest seller of new gTLD domains, after Go Daddy.

AlpNames said it has 500,000 new gTLD domains under management, overtaking Network Solutions into the number-two position.

Its number for February, the last month for which registry reports are available, has the registrar with a DUM of under 50,000.

The vast majority of the names it sells or gives away are in gTLDs in the Famous Four portfolio — namely .science, .party and .webcam.

It’s currently selling those for $0.49 each, a $0.24 markup on the current promotional registry fee.

Factoring out the ICANN transaction fee, AlpNames has a margin of just a few cents per name.

Previously, it has given away .science names for free.

AlpNames is Famous Four’s neighbor in Gibraltar and owns domains such as register.science, indicating a very close relationship between the two companies.

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