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GMO offers free SSL with .shop domains

Kevin Murphy, November 14, 2016, Domain Registries

GMO Registry is to offer .shop domain registrants a free one-year SSL certificate with every purchase.

The company said yesterday that the deal, made via sister certificate company GMO GlobalSign, should be in place by the end of the month.

The certs on offer appear to be the of low-end “Domain Validation” variety.

Nevertheless, GlobalSign usually sells them for over $150 per year, many times more expensive than .shop domains themselves.

Popular registrars are currently selling .shop names from $10 to $25.

There are about 90,000 domains in .shop’s zone file today.

That’s a goodish volume by new gTLD standards, but probably not good enough to help GMO recoup the $41.5 million it paid for .shop at auction any time soon.

Upsell opportunities such as the SSL offer, assuming they get any uptake, may help accelerate its path to breakeven.

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Domaining Europe heading to Berlin next year

Kevin Murphy, November 14, 2016, Domain Services

Next year’s Domaining Europe conference will be held in Berlin, organizers announced today.

The three-day event is slated to start May 14, 2016, at the Steigenberger Hotel, covering the usual mix of sales, development and legal issues.

“This time we are going back to the roots,” organizer Dietmar Stefitz said in an email, “the majority of the panels will discuss about monetization and Market-places.”

This year’s Domaining Europe took place in the Netherlands, after taking place for a couple of years in Spain.

Full-price tickets will be €650 (currently about $705) but there’s an early-bird discount to €350 for anyone buying before December 15.

The conference is being managed in cooperation with ECO, the Germany internet industry association.

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Verisign and Afilias in open war over $135m .web

Kevin Murphy, November 11, 2016, Domain Registries

Two of the industry’s oldest and biggest gTLD registries escalated their fight over the .web gTLD auction this week, trading blows in print and in public.

Verisign, accused by Afilias of breaking the rules when it committed $130 million to secure .web for itself, has now turned the tables on its rival.

It accuses Afilias of itself breaking the auction rules and of trying to emotionally blackmail ICANN into reversing the auction on spurious political grounds.

The .web auction was won by obscure shell-company applicant Nu Dot Co with a record-setting $135 million bid back in July.

It quickly emerged, as had been suspected for a few weeks beforehand, that Verisign was footing the bill for the NDC bid.

The plan is that NDC will transfer its .web ICANN contract to Verisign after it is awarded, assuming ICANN consents to the transfer.

Afilias has since revealed that it came second in the auction. It now wants ICANN to overturn the result of the auction, awarding .web to Afilias as runner-up instead.

The company argues that NDC broke the new gTLD Applicant Guidebook rules by refusing to disclose that it had become controlled by Verisign.

It’s now trying to frame the .web debate as ICANN’s “first test of accountability” under the new, independent, post-IANA transition regime.

Afilias director Jonathan Robinson posted on CircleID:

If ICANN permits the auction result to stand, it may not only invite further flouting of its rules, it will grant the new TLD with the highest potential to the only entity with a dominant market position. This would diminish competition and consumer choice and directly contradict ICANN’s values and Bylaws.

Given the controversy over ICANN’s independence, all eyes will be on the ICANN board to see if it is focused on doing the right thing. It’s time for the ICANN board to show resolve and to demonstrate that it is a strong, independent body acting according to the letter and spirit of its own AGB and bylaws and, perhaps most importantly of all, to actively demonstrate its commitment to act independently and in the global public interest.

Speaking at the first of ICANN’s two public forum sessions at ICANN 57 in Hyderabad, India this week, Robinson echoed that call, telling the ICANN board:

You are a credible, independent-minded, and respected board who recognized the enhanced scrutiny that goes with the post-transition environment. Indeed, this may well be the first test of your resolve in this new environment. You have the opportunity to deal with the situation by firmly applying your own rules and your own ICANN bylaw-enshrined core value to introduce and promote competition in domain names. We strongly urge you to do so.

Then, after a few months of relative quiet on the subject, Verisign and NDC this week came out swinging.

First, in a joint blog post, the companies rubbished Afilias’ attempt to bring the IANA transition into the debate. They wrote:

Afilias does a great disservice to ICANN and the entire Internet community by attempting to make this issue a referendum on ICANN by entitling its post “ICANN’s First Test of Accountability.” Afilias frames its test for ICANN’s new role as an “independent manager of the Internet’s addressing system,” by asserting that ICANN can only pass this test if it disqualifies NDC and bars Verisign from acquiring rights to the .web new gTLD. In this case, Afilias’ position is based on nothing more than deflection, smoke and cynical self-interest.

Speaking at the public forum in Hyderabad on Wednesday, Verisign senior VP Pat Kane said:

This is not a test for the board. This issue is not a test for the newly empowered community. It is a test of our ability to utilize the processes and the tools that we’ve developed over the past 20 years for dispute resolution.

Verisign instead claims that Afilias’ real motivation could be to force .web to a private auction, where it can be assured an eight-figure payday for losing.

NDC/Verisign won .web at a so-called “last resort” auction, overseen by ICANN, in which the funds raised go into a pool to be used for some yet-to-be-determined public benefit cause.

That robbed rival applicants, including Afilias, of the equal share of the proceeds they would have received had the contention set been settled via the usual private auction process.

But Verisign/NDC, in their post, claim Afilias wants to force .web back to private auction.

Afilias’ allegations of Applicant Guidebook violations by NDC are nothing more than a pretext to conduct a “private” instead of a “public” auction, or to eliminate a competitor for the .web new gTLD and capture it for less than the market price.

Verisign says that NDC was under no obligation to notify ICANN of a change of ownership or control because no change of ownership or control has occurred.

It says the two companies have an “arms-length contract” which saw Verisign pay for the auction and NDC commit to ask ICANN to transfer its .web Registry Agreement to Verisign.

It’s not unlike the deal Donuts had with Rightside, covering over a hundred gTLD applications, Verisign says.

The contract between NDC and Verisign did not assign to Verisign any rights in NDC’s application, nor did Verisign take any ownership or management interest in NDC (let alone control of it). NDC has always been and always will be the owner of its application

Not content with defending itself from allegations of wrongdoing, Verisign/NDC goes on to claim that it is instead Afilias that broke ICANN rules and therefore should have disqualified from the auction.

They allege that Afilias offered NDC a guarantee of a cash payout if it chose to go to private auction instead, and that it attempted to coerce NDC to go to private auction on July 22, which was during a “blackout period” during which bidders were forbidden from discussing bidding strategies.

During the public forum sessions at ICANN 57, ICANN directors refused to comment on statements from either side of the debate.

That’s likely because it’s a matter currently before the courts.

Fellow .web loser Donuts has already sued ICANN in California, claiming the organization failed to adequately investigate rumors that Verisign had taken over NDC.

Donuts failed to secure a restraining order preventing the .web auction from happening, but the lawsuit continues. Most recently, ICANN filed a motion attempting to have the case thrown out.

In my opinion, arguments being spouted by Verisign and Afilias both stretch credulity.

Afilias has yet to present any smoking gun showing Verisign or NDC broke the rules. Likewise, Verisign’s claim that Afilias wants to enrich itself by losing a private auction appear to be unsupported by any evidence.

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New policy would ban President Trump from ICANN meetings (probably)

Kevin Murphy, November 9, 2016, Domain Policy

Those who sexually harass fellow community members could be banned from ICANN meetings under a policy proposed this week.

ICANN capThe proposal greatly expands upon an earlier version, published for comment in May, which would have banned “unwelcome hostile or intimidating behavior”.

It presents a long list of activities considered harassment, including:

  • Sexually suggestive touching
  • Grabbing, groping, kissing, fondling, hugging, stroking someone’s hair, or brushing against another’s body
  • Touching that the actor may not have intended to be sexually suggestive but which constitutes uninvited touching, such as rubbing or massaging someone’s neck or shoulders
  • Violating someone’s “personal space” after being told you are doing so
  • Leering, stalking, or suggestive whistling
  • Gesturing in a sexually suggestive manner
  • Circulating or posting written or graphic materials that show hostility or disrespect toward or that demean individuals because of Specified Characteristics as set forth above
  • Lewd or graphic comments or jokes of a sexual nature

We’re unlikely to see new President-Elect Trump keynoting at an ICANN meeting any time soon, in other words.

It’s possible that even referring to his “pussy-grabbing” antics could fall foul of the policy.

Protected “Special Characteristics” would include:

age, ancestry, color, physical or mental disability, genetic information, medical condition (cancer and genetic characteristics), marital status, national origin, race, religion, sex (which includes pregnancy, childbirth, medical conditions related to pregnancy or childbirth, gender, gender identity and gender expression), sexual orientation, citizenship, primary language, or immigration status

Under the proposal (pdf), the ICANN Ombudsman (referred to here, unusually, as the “Ombudsperson”) would have powers to punish those who he determines have been harassing others.

The powers would include:

excusing any individual responsible for inappropriate behavior from further participation in the ICANN process for a specified period of time, limiting the individual’s participation in some manner, and/or requiring satisfaction of prerequisites such as a written apology as a condition of future participation

This would all be in the discretion of the Ombudsman. There would be no requirement for the accuser to provide any corroboration or evidence.

The policy was created following a controversy earlier this year, in which a female ICANN participant accused a male participant of making comments about sandwiches in a way she found “lecherous”.

No wrongdoing was found by the Ombudsman in that case.

The new proposed policy is now open for public comment until January 27.

Photo credit: Michele Neylon

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Get ready for thousands of new two-letter domains

Kevin Murphy, November 9, 2016, Domain Policy

New gTLD registry operators have been given the right to start selling two-letter domains that match country codes.

Potentially thousands of names could start being released next year, resulting in a windfall for registries and possible opportunities for investors.

Some governments, however, appear to be unhappy with the move and how ICANN’s board of directors reached its decision.

The ICANN board yesterday passed a resolution that will unblock all two-letter domains that match country codes appearing on the ISO 3166 list, most of which are also ccTLDs.

While the resolution gives some protection to governments worried about abuse of “their” strings, it’s been watered down to virtually nothing.

In the first draft of the rules, published in July, ICANN said registries “must” offer an “Exclusive Availability Pre-registration Period” — a kind of mini-sunrise period limited to governments and ccTLD operators.

In the version approved by ICANN yesterday, the word “must” has been replaced by “may” and the word “voluntary” has been added.

In other words, registries won’t have to give any special privileges to governments when they start selling two-character names.

They will, however, have to get registrants to agree that they won’t pass themselves off as having affiliations with the relevant government. It looks like registries probably could get away with simply adding a paragraph to their terms of service to satisfy this requirement.

Registries will also have to “take reasonable steps to investigate and respond to any reports from governmental agencies and ccTLD operators of conduct that causes confusion with the corresponding country code in connection with the use of a letter/letter two-character ACSCII domain.”

This too is worded vaguely enough that it could wind up being worthless to governments, many of which are worried about domains matching their ccTLDs being passed off as government-approved.

The Governmental Advisory Committee is split on how worrisome this kind of thing is.

For examples, governments such as Spain and Italy have fought for the right to get to pre-approve the release of “es” and “it” domains, whereas the governments of the US and UK really could not care less.

The most-recent formal GAC advice on the subject, coming out of the July meeting in Helsinki, merely said ICANN should:

urge the relevant Registry or the Registrar to engage with the relevant GAC members when a risk is identified in order to come to an agreement on how to manage it or to have a third-party assessment of the situation if the name is already registered

“It is our belief that that our resolution is consistent with GAC advice,” outgoing ICANN board member Bruce Tonkin said yesterday, noting that nobody can claim exclusive rights over any string, regardless of length.

Before and after the resolution passed, the GAC expressed “serious concern” that the board had not formally responded to the Helsinki communique.

In its Hyderabad communique, issued after yesterday’s vote, the GAC advised the board to:

  • Clearly indicate whether the actions taken by the Board as referred to in the resolution adopted on 8 November 2016 are fully consistent with the GAC advice given in the Helsinki Communiqué.
  • Always communicate in future the position of the Board regarding GAC advice on any matter in due time before adopting any measure directly related to that advice.

ICANN staff are now tasked with coming up with a way to implement the two-character release.

My sense is that some kind of amendment to Registry Agreements might be required, so we’re probably looking at months before we start seeing two-letter domains being released.

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