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Another new gTLD applicant lawyers up on ICANN

Kevin Murphy, July 28, 2021, Domain Policy

Another rejected new gTLD applicant has filed an Independent Review Process complaint against ICANN, claiming the org failed to follow proper procedures on fairness and transparency.

And I think it’s got a pretty good chance of winning.

A Bahrain company called GCCXI has filed the IRP, eight years after its application for .gcc was thrown out by ICANN on the vague advice of its Governmental Advisory Community.

.gcc is for Gulf Cooperation Council, the short-hand English name for the Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Persian Gulf, a proto-union of six states on the east coast of the Arabian peninsula.

The applicant’s problem is that it’s not affiliated with, nor supported by, the GCC or its member states.

The GAC, in its controversial Beijing communique of April 2013 objected to GCCXI’s application in the same breath and under the same power as it objected to DotConnectAfrica’s .africa bid.

Back then, the GAC was much more secretive than it is today, and did not have to provide a rationale for its advice. Its powers to object to gTLD applications pretty much amounted to a veto.

ICANN dutifully followed the GAC’s advice, throwing out the .gcc application later that year.

The applicant has evidently been trying to get ICANN to change its mind, using the Request for Reconsideration and then Cooperative Engagement Processes, since early 2014. That CEP concluded in May, and GCCXI filed for IRP in June.

Why did the CEP — a form of arbitration designed to avoid expensive IRP complaints and lawsuits — take so long and ultimately fail?

Don’t look to the IRP complaint published by ICANN (pdf) for answers — it’s redacted the whole ruddy lot, a few pages of text, without explanation.

That’s ironic given that a lack of transparency is one of GCCXI’s beefs against the org, along with an alleged failure to follow its bylaws on neutrality and fairness.

ICANN has ignored all of its carefully developed and documented policies, and instead has kowtowed to unspecified government concerns — devising a secret process to kill Claimant’s investment and opportunity, and completely disregarding the public interest in delegating the TLD for use.

The continued fight for a gTLD it surely has no hope of ever operating is a ballsy move by the applicant.

It’s roughly equivalent to some random European company applying to run .eu to represent the geographic region of EU member states without the consent of the EU institutions themselves and then complaining when it’s told to take a walk.

But that doesn’t necessarily mean it will lose the IRP. In fact, I think it has a pretty good chance of winning.

GCCXI does not deserve to prove it should be given .gcc, it only needs to show that ICANN broke its own bylaws.

DotConnectAfrica, which was rejected by the GAC and then ICANN for pretty much the same unsubstantiated reasons — the GAC “veto” — won its IRP in 2015, with the panel finding that ICANN accepted the GAC’s unexplained advice without even rudimentary due diligence, violating its commitment to fairness.

It was particularly embarrassing for the GAC, whose then-chair admitted that the committee deliberately kept its advice vague and open to interpretation

While .africa is not exactly the same as .gcc (the former is officially a geographic string, the latter is not), GCCXI had DCA had their applications rejected based on the exact same piece of GAC advice.

It’s also similar to Amazon’s IRP fight for .amazon, which it won. That bid was also kicked out as a result of ICANN’s adoption of opaque GAC advice from the Beijing communique.

You’ve got to think GCCXI has a decent shot at a victory here, though if recent IRPs and general ICANN foot-dragging on accountability are any guide we won’t know for a couple years.

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Big names shunned as Nominet names first registrar council members

Nominet has named the first six members of UK Registrar Advisory Council, and I think it’s fair to say there’s a definite tilt towards the grassroots/activist end of the ballot.

Major registrars Tucows, Markmonitor and Web.com (Newfold Digital) were shunned, as members elected Rex Wickham of TwentyTwentyMedia and Arnaud Franquinet of Gandi, both smaller, lesser-known registrars, for two years and one year respectively.

From the mid-to-small registrar segment, two members who had vocally supported the PublicBenefit.uk campaign earlier this year were voted in — Andrew Bennett of Netistrar for two years and Dan Rodgers of Domain Registrar Services for one year.

The independent segment directors will be Susannah Clark, who trades as “Girl Next Door” for two years and Ciprian Cucuruz, Webber Multimedia for one year. Both had run unopposed.

The terms are different length for the first two years so they can be eventually staggered for continuity.

The UKRAC was introduced following the member revolt this March, which saw executives and staff removed and a promised overhaul with how Nominet conducts business and interacts with its members.

The panel will be chaired by member-elected non-executive director Anne Taylor. No date has been set for its first meeting.

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As judge freezes assets, is this OnlineNic domain portfolio really worth $70,000?

A California court has frozen the assets of beleaguered Chinese/American registrar OnlineNic, at the behest of Facebook, which is suing the company for alleged cybersquatting.

The judge in the case Friday mostly granted Facebook’s request for a temporary restraining order, banning OnlineNic from transferring money or domains out of the country.

It had discovered that the registrar had started transferring domains it has registered in its own name — about 600 of them — out of the country, to China-based Ename.

OnlineNic had told the court it could no longer afford to defend the case, and that it would shut up shop July 26.

Following Facebook’s request for a TRO, the registrar said it was merely moving the names to Ename so it could use its secondary market platform to raise $70,000 of the $75,000 needed to pay the so-called “Special Master”.

This is a court-appointed agent who had conducted a review of OnlineNic’s ticketing system records and found the company had deleted or obfuscated huge chunks of potential evidence.

OnlineNic has now told the court that it’s found a potential buyer, willing to pay $70,000 for the names in question.

This is the portfolio (pdf).

I’m no domain broker — I’m not even a domain investor — but even I have to wonder who would pay $70,000, or about $120 per name, for this junk. By sight alone, hardly any of them seem to be worth the base reg fee.

I’m guessing they’re dropped domains with traffic and/or the opportunity of selling them back to a forgetful original registrant.

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Nominet names new chair, slashes exec pay, promises reforms and more boardroom exits

Nominet has named its new chair as former BT Openworld CEO Andy Green, who has already laid out a suite of measures — including more blood on the boardroom floor — to address the barrage of criticisms from members who ousted his predecessor earlier this year.

Green is a serial director, with previous board and advisory positions at over a dozen other companies and organizations, mostly in technology and telecommunications.

Nominet, in announcing his appointment, highlighted that he’s a National Infrastructure Commissioner, chair of WaterAid UK, and vice chair of the Disasters Emergency Committee.

He’s got a foot in both the worlds of internet infrastructure and public-benefit causes, in other words — a CV seemingly ideal for the role at this time in Nominet’s troubled history.

In an email to members last week, Green said:

The EGM in March showed that Nominet has failed over a number of years to sufficiently engage with members about the scope and direction of the company. I start my term as Chairman committed to controlling costs (including executive pay), delivering value to members, restoring Nominet’s reputation for great public benefit work at scale and communicating transparently with members about the future direction of Nominet.

March’s Emergency General Meeting was called by members that Nominet seemed to be acting more as a commercial player rather than a public-benefit member organization, more concerned with branching out into new markets and stuffing its directors wallets than focusing on .uk and giving profits to charitable causes.

The EGM saw members narrowly vote to kick out almost half of the board, including the chair. Then-CEO Russel Haworth had quit just a few days earlier, before he too could be ejected.

Green said he wants to “reset the relationship with members starting now”.

He announced six reviews covering controversial areas including registry fees, executive/director compensation, charitable giving, member engagement and non-core services.

He also said that he expects that, following its Annual General Meeting on September 22, more than half of the board of directors will comprise people who were not in place prior to the March EGM.

By next year’s AGM, the board would be “substantially replenished”, he said.

Executives are also getting a battering — Green announced that Nominet has closed its long-term incentives scheme, “which will mean significantly reduced remuneration overall for senior executives”.

The company has named another new director, Eva Lindqvist, who as new chair of the board’s Remuneration Committee will oversee who gets paid what.

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Facebook’s war on privacy claims first registrar scalp

China’s oldest accredited registrar says it will shut up shop permanently next week after being sued into the ground by Facebook, apparently the first victim of the social media giant’s war against Whois privacy.

Facebook sued OnlineNIC in 2019 alleging widespread cybersquatting of its brands. The complaint cited 20 domains containing the Facebook or Instagram trademarks and asserted that the registrar, and not a customer, was the true registrant.

The complaint named ID Shield, apparently OnlineNIC’s Hong Kong-based Whois privacy service, as a defendant and was amended in March this year to add as a defendant 35.cn, another registrar that Facebook says is an alter ego of OnlineNic.

The amended complaint listed an addition 15 squatted domains, for 35 in total.

This week, OnlineNIC director Carrie Yu (aka Carrie Arden aka Yu Hongxia), told the court:

Defendants do not have the financial resources to continue to defend the instant litigation, and accordingly no longer intend to mount a defense. Defendants do not intend to file any oppositions to any pending filing… Subject to any requirements of ICANN, Defendants intend to cease business operations on July 26, 2021.

But Facebook reckons the registrar is about to do a runner to avoid paying almost $75,000 in court fees already incurred and avoid the jurisdiction of the California court where the case is being heard.

Facebook had asked for $3.5 million in penalties in a proposed judgment and OnlineNIC had not opposed.

While it presents itself as American, it appears that OnlineNIC is little more than a shell in the US.

Its official headquarters are little more than a lock-up garage surrounded by builders’ merchants in a grim, windowless facility just off the interstate near Oakland, California.

Its true base appears to be a business park in Xiamen, China, where 35.cn/35.com operates. The company has boasted in the past of being China’s first and oldest ICANN-accredited registrar, getting its foot in the door when the floodgates opened in 1999.

Facebook is now asking the court for a temporary restraining order freezing the defendants’ financial and domain assets, and for a domain broker to be appointed to liquidate its domain portfolio.

If you’re a legit OnlineNIC customer, you might be about to find yourself in a world of hurt.

OnlineNIC had just over 624,000 gTLD domains under management at the last count. 35.cn had another 200,000.

The lawsuit is one of three Facebook is currently fighting against registrars, one prong of its strategy to pressure the ICANN community to open up Whois records rendered private by EU law and consequent ICANN policy.

OnlineNIC is the low-hanging fruit of the trio and the first to be sued. It already faced cybersquatting cases filed by Verizon, Yahoo and Microsoft in 2009. The Verizon case came with a $33 million judgment.

Facebook has also sued the rather less shady registrars Namecheap and Web.com (now Newfold Digital) on similar grounds.

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GoDaddy welcomes four porn TLDs

GoDaddy may not have the raunchy public image it once promoted, but it’s now the official registry for tens of thousands of porn-related domain names.

The gTLDs .xxx, .porn, .adult and .sex made the move from UNR’s back-end to GoDaddy Registry this week, IANA records show.

These almost certainly the TLDs that MMX was talking about last week when it said it had ICANN approval to reassign four contracts, which it did not name.

IANA records still show the sponsor as ICM Registry for all four, suggesting the deal was structured a little differently to the 20-odd other gTLDs in MMX’s portfolio, which are still with MMX.

MMX said earlier this year that it was selling its entire portfolio to GoDaddy for at least $120 million.

.xxx, which launched the earliest — pre-2012 — is the largest of the TLDs, with around 55,000 names under management. .porn has about 10,000 and the other two have about 8,000 each.

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New gTLD buzz is back again as ICA hosts “second round” webinar

Kevin Murphy, July 20, 2021, Domain Policy

It’s beginning to feel a little like 2011 again.

The Internet Commerce Association today said it will host a Zoom webinar next month to pitch the looming second new gTLD round to prospective applicants.

Moderated by Christa Taylor, the panel features domain industry jacks-of-all-trades Jeff Neuman and Jothan Frakes, and consultant Phil Buckingham. All four know what they’re talking about.

The ICA said the session will cover “an examination of material changes, expected timing and operations within the broader ecosystem will help participants determining whether to pursue a new gTLD for their new entrepreneurial venture, global brand or growing business”.

Expect a lot more of these types of meetings over the next couple of years. The 2012 gold-rush may have disappointed many, but there’s still money to be made in selling shovels, especially to brands.

And the next round is still a ways off.

While policy changes have been approved by the Generic Names Supporting Organization, they need to be approved by the ICANN board of directors before the serious implementation work begins.

The policy won’t be put before the board until ICANN org has completed its Operational Design Phase work, which CEO Göran Marby recently said will take “longer than six months”.

Then there’ll be at least one revision of the Applicant Guidebook open for public comment, as well as the creation of new systems and a global outreach campaign lasting several months before the application window opens.

I’d say we’re looking at an absolute minimum of 18 months between the start of the ODP and the opening of the next application window, and I’m being incredibly generous to ICANN in that estimation.

Still, it doesn’t hurt to start thinking about these things early. The ICA webinar will be at 1800 UTC August 4. You can read more and register for free here.

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Nope, no Seattle meeting for ICANN

Kevin Murphy, July 16, 2021, Domain Policy

ICANN’s planned public meeting in Seattle will have no face-to-face component, the board of directors decided yesterday.

In a resolution published last night, the board cited the global vaccine inequity and the ongoing difficulties with international travel and visas during the coronavirus pandemic.

But it added that it plans to go ahead with a hybrid online/in-person meeting for ICANN 73 in San Juan, Puerto Rico next March “if it is feasible to do so”.

The board noted that its last in-person AGM, held in late 2019, saw 68% of its participants come from outside the US, suggesting Seattle would go ahead with a majority of its community members absent.

It added that “it is likely that ICANN72 could be a meeting of in-person attendees from just a couple of regions, which does not serve global participants in ICANN’s multistakeholder model”

While some of the pandemic-related issues may be resolved by October, ICANN had to make the call now to avoid wasting money on a physical meeting it may have had to later cancel.

The results of the board vote have not yet been published. A similar resolution last year saw some directors vote in favor of a return to face-to-face meetings by October 2020.

The resolution states that ICANN org should use the next eight months to ensure the hybrid model planned for San Juan is as effective as possible for those who will still be unable or unwilling to attend in person due to the pandemic.

It adds that smaller regional meetings, where travel restrictions are less irrelevant, could still go ahead this year.

A recent poll showed a majority of community members from all regions were keen to return to in-person meetings for Seattle, but the majority was greater in North America than elsewhere.

A group of participants from the Asia-Pacific region recently wrote to ICANN to state that it was likely that nobody from that region would be able to show up in Seattle.

ICANN 72 will be the sixth consecutive public meeting to be held virtually.

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.org domains could come in seven new languages

Public Interest Registry is planning support for seven more languages in the .org gTLD.

The company has asked ICANN for permission to support seven additional internationalized domain name scripts: Croatian, Finnish, Hindi, Italian, Montenegrin, Portuguese, and Japanese.

Five of these languages use the Latin script also used in English, but have special accents or diacritics that require IDN tables to support in the DNS.

PIR submitted the request via the Registry Services Evaluation Process, where it is currently being reviewed by ICANN. Such RSEPs are usually approved without controversy.

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.com and NameSilo fingered as “most-abused” after numbers rocket

SpamHaus has revealed the most-abused TLDs and registrars in its second-quarter report on botnets.

The data shows huge growth in abuse at Verisign’s .com and the fast-growing NameSilo, which overtook Namecheap to top the registrar list for the first time.

Botnet command-and-control domains using .com grew by 166%, from 1,549 to 4,113, during the quarter, SpamHaus said.

At number two, .xyz saw 739 C&C domains, up 114%.

In the registrar league table, NameSilo topped the list for the first time, unseating Namecheap for the first time in years.

NameSilo had 1,797 C&C domains on its books, an “enormous” 594% increase. Namecheap’s number was 955 domains, up 52%.

Botnets are one type of “DNS abuse” that even registrars agree should be acted on at the registrar level.

The most-abused lists and lots of other botnet-related data can be found here.

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