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Corwin joins Verisign

Kevin Murphy, November 6, 2017, Domain Policy

Phil Corwin, the face of the Internet Commerce Association for over a decade, today quit to join Verisign’s legal team.

He’s now “policy counsel” at the .com giant, he said in a statement emailed to industry bloggers.

He’s also closed down the consulting company Virtualaw, resigned from ICANN’s Business Constituency and from his BC seat on the GNSO Council.

But he said he would continue as co-chair of two ICANN working groups — one looking at rights protection for intergovernmental organizations (which is kinda winding down anyway) and the other on general rights protection measures.

“I have no further statement at this time and shall not respond to questions,” Corwin concluded his email.

He’s been with ICA, which represents the interests of big domain investors, for 11 years.

As well as being an ICANN working group volunteer, he’s produced innumerable public comments and op-eds fighting for the interests of ICA members.

One of his major focuses over the years has been UDRP, which ICA believes should be more balanced towards registrant rights.

He’s also fought a losing battle against ICANN “imposing” the Uniform Rapid Suspension process on pre-2012 gTLDs, due to the fear that it one day may be forced upon Verisign’s .com and .net, where most domain investment is tied up.

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ICANN terminates 450 drop-catch registrars

Kevin Murphy, November 6, 2017, Domain Registrars

Almost 450 registrars have lost their ICANN accreditations in recent days, fulfilling predictions of a downturn in the domain name drop-catch market.

By my reckoning, 448 registrars have been terminated in the last week, all of them apparently shells operated by Pheenix, one of the big three drop-catching firms.

Basically, Pheenix has dumped about 90% of its portfolio of accreditations, about 300 of which are less than a year old.

It also means ICANN has lost about 15% of its fee-paying registrars.

Pheenix has saved itself at least $1.2 million in ICANN’s fixed accreditation fees, not including the variable and transaction-based fees.

It has about 50 registrars left in its stable.

The terminated registrars are all either numbered LLCs — “Everest [1-100] LLC” for example — or named after random historical or fictional characters or magic swords.

The move is not unexpected. ICANN predicted it would lose 750 registrars when it compiled its fiscal 2018 budget.

VP Cyrus Namazi said back in July that the drop-catching market is not big enough to support the many hundreds of shell registrars that Pheenix, along with rivals SnapNames/Namejet and DropCatch.com, have created over the last few years.

The downturn, Namazi said back then, is material to ICANN’s budget. I estimated at the time that roughly two thirds of ICANN’s accredited registrar base belonged to the three main drop-catch firms.

Another theory doing the rounds, after Domain Name Wire spotted a Verisign patent filing covering a system for detecting and mitigating “registrar collusion” in the space, is that Verisign is due to shake up the .com drop-catch market with some kind of centralized service.

ICANN reckoned it would start losing registrars in October at a rate of about 250 per quarter, which seems to be playing out as predicted, so the purge has likely only just begun.

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ICANN heading back to Morocco in 2019

Kevin Murphy, November 6, 2017, Domain Policy

ICANN has picked Morocco for its mid-year meeting in 2019.

The June 24-27 meeting, ICANN 65, will be hosted by the Mediterranean Federation of Internet Associations at the Palmeraie Resort in Marrakech. That’s the same venue as ICANN 55 in March 2016.

It’s a Policy Forum meeting, meaning it has an abridged agenda, an expected lower attendance, and a tighter focus on policy work than the other two annual meetings.

It will be sandwiched between the March meeting in Kobe, Japan and the November meeting in Montreal, Canada.

More pressingly, it now seems all but certain that ICANN is heading to Puerto Rico in March 2018 for ICANN 61, despite the extensive damage caused by Hurricane Maria in September.

During the public forum at ICANN 60 in Abu Dhabi last week, the customary spot where the next meeting’s hosts get five minutes to plug their city or nation was notably different.

Shots of landscapes, sunsets and cultural attractions were instead replaced by a series of government and local tourism officials encouraging ICANNers to visit. The message was basically: everything’s okay, it’s safe for you to come.

The convention center venue for ICANN 61 was so lightly damaged by Maria that it was actually used as the headquarters of the recovery effort immediately after the storm. You may have seen news footage of it when President Trump showed up.

ICANN said October 7 that it was monitoring the situation but that it still intended to have the March meeting in San Juan as planned.

The city would no doubt welcome the modest economic boost that a few thousand tech professionals and lawyers showing up for a week will provide.

I’m planning on attending.

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Refund “options” for in-limbo gTLD applicants?

Kevin Murphy, November 6, 2017, Domain Policy

ICANN may just be a matter of weeks away from giving applicants for the .mail, .corp and .home gTLDs an exit strategy from their four years in limbo.

Its board of directors on Thursday passed a resolution calling for staff to “provide options for the Board to consider to address the New gTLD Program applications for .CORP, .HOME, and .MAIL by the first available meeting of the Board following the ICANN60 meeting in Abu Dhabi”.

It’s possible this means the board could consider the matter before the end of the year.

Twenty remaining applications for the three strings have been on hold since they were identified as particularly risky in August 2013.

A study showed that all three — .home and .corp in particular — already experience vast amounts of erroneous DNS traffic on a daily basis.

This is due to so-called “name collisions”, which come about when a newly delegated TLD is actually already in use on corporate or public networks.

Many companies use .corp and .mail already behind their firewalls, a practice sometimes historically encouraged by commercial technical documentation, and .home is known to be used by some ISPs in residential and business routers.

Both of these scenarios and others can lead to DNS queries spilling out onto the public internet, which could cause breakage or data leakage.

The solution for all new gTLDs delegated to date has been to wildcard the entire zone with the message “Your DNS needs immediate attention” for a period before registrations are accepted.

This has led to some new gTLDs with far less collision traffic seeing small but notable pockets of outrage when delegated — Google’s .prod (used by some as an internal shorthand for “production”) in 2014.

Studies to date have concentrated on the volume of error traffic to applied-for gTLDs, but last Thursday the ICANN board kicked off a study that will look at what the real-world impact of name collisions in .mail, .corp and .home could be.

It’s tasked the Security and Stability Advisory Committee with carrying out the study in conjunction with related groups such as the IETF.

But this is likely to take quite a long time, so the board also resolved to think up “options” for the 20 affected applications.

Could the applicants be offered a full refund, as opposed to the partial one they currently qualify for? Could there be some kind of deferment option, such as that offered to unsuccessful 2000-round applicants? Either seems possible.

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ICANN beefs up background checks on directors amid concerns about vice-chair

Kevin Murphy, November 6, 2017, Domain Policy

ICANN is to beef up background screening procedures for its own board of directors after concerns were raised about financial integrity.

Directors in four seats that were not previously subject to screening have voluntarily agreed to checks “immediately” and ICANN has urged two of its supporting organizations to bring in such checks as standard.

Chris Disspain and Mike Silber, selected by the Country Code Names Supporting Organization, and Generic Names Supporting Organization selectees Becky Burr and Matthew Shears are these volunteers.

Neither the GNSO nor ccNSO currently screen their director picks to the same standard as other supporting organizations and the Nominating Committee.

ICANN said that they will be checked for “negative indicators such as discrepancies on a resume (including licenses, educational history and employment history), or publicly reported issues of financial mismanagement, fraud, harassment and mishandling of confidential information”.

The board passed a resolution last Thursday calling for the two SOs to bring in “the same or similar” screening procedures for future directors.

The resolution was passed minutes before the formal handover of power from outgoing chair Steve Crocker to new chair Cherine Chalaby. Disspain is the new vice-chair, replacing Chalaby.

ICANN had been put under pressure to widen its director due diligence earlier in the week by consultant and long-time ICANN community member Ron Andruff, who is known to have concerns about Disspain’s financial integrity.

Andruff spoke at an open-mic session with the board last Monday to recommend that the four anomalous directors face screening before the board was re-seated just a few days later.

“We’re talking about risk,” he said. “We’re talking about making sure that we do not put our institution that we’ve worked so hard to put into ICANN 2.0 in a place where we have four people that might have something, or not. And quite frankly, I don’t expect we’re going to find anything. I just want to make sure that we’ve checked that box,” Andruff said.

“We have the resources to do four background screenings between now and Thursday. No one expects any issues to surface. But this simple act will ensure that the institution is properly protected,” Andruff said.

Then-chair Crocker responded that it would not be possible to do the checks so quickly, but agreed in principle with the need for screening and said the board had had “substantial discussions” on the matter.

Andruff is former chair-elect of the Nominating Committee, which chooses eight directors and subjects all of its appointees to background screening.

He recently made a Freedom of Information Act request in Australia related to the circumstances leading to Disspain getting fired as CEO of local ccTLD administrator auDA in March 2016.

Disspain was let go after his relationship with the auDA board became “increasingly strained over issues of process, transparency and accountability”, according to an external review published by auDA in October last year.

auDA’s practices had “not kept pace with auDA’s growth in scale and importance to the Australian community, nor with evolving good practice in governance and accountability”, this review found.

The review did not directly allege any wrongdoing by Disspain.

A separate and currently unpublished review around the same time by PPB Advisory found that auDA had been “under-reporting” so-called “fringe benefit tax” to the Aussie tax authorities, according to auDA board meeting minutes.

FBT is tax companies must pay on employee benefits such as a company car or payment of private expenses.

There’s no clear indication in the public record that this under-reporting was directly related to benefits Disspain received, though the under-reporting very likely happened at least partially during his 15 years as CEO.

A slide deck discussing the PPB review published by auDA identified “a lack of formal policies and procedures governing how travel and expenses were managed”.

It added: “There were high levels of expenditure on international travel and reimbursement arrangements with international bodies that lacked transparency, which should have warranted a more robust process”.

All expenses incurred by ICANN’s directors and reimbursed in relation to their duties are a matter of public record.

Disspain receives not only a $45,000 annual salary but also tens of thousands of dollars in reimbursements each year, much of which is related to directors’ extensive travel obligations, these records show.

In its last reported tax year, to June 30, 2016, he received $68,437 in reimbursements, according to a published document (pdf). ICANN directly paid another $32,951 on his behalf.

A number of allegations have been made to DI (and, I believe, to other bloggers) over the last few months about alleged wrongdoing by Disspain in connection to these nuggets of information, but they’ve come from sources who refuse to identify themselves or provide corroborating evidence.

Despite efforts, I’ve been unable to independently verify these anonymous claims, which come amid turbulent times for auDA and its members, so I’ve chosen not to repeat them.

Andruff, meanwhile, has used FOI law to ask the Australian government, which has oversight of auDA, for the full PPB report, as well as documents related to the FBT issue, Disspain’s termination and his travel expenses.

Andruff and Disspain are known to have a history of friction.

Two years ago, Andruff expressed his anger after having been passed over for the job of chair of the NomCom, a role that be believes should have gone to him as chair-elect.

He lost the opportunity after the ICANN board, exercising its bylaws-permitted discretion, accepted the recommendation of its Board Governance Committee — at the time chaired by Disspain — that it be given to Stephane Van Gelder instead.

The original deadline for the Australian government response to Andruff’s FOI request was October 16, but this has been extended twice, now to November 19, due to the complexity of the request.

The eventual response will no doubt be read with interest.

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