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New TLDs dominate ICANN board agenda

Kevin Murphy, October 22, 2010, Domain Policy

ICANN has published the agenda for next Thursday’s board meeting and unsurprisingly the new top-level domain process dominates.

The agenda breaks the discussion into several bullet points.

Of interest to absolutely everybody watching the new TLD process is the first bullet – “Update on Timeline”. Everyone wants to know when the Applicant Guidebook will be finalized.

Recently, it became apparent that ICANN seems to view the next draft of the guidebook as a possible candidate for “final” status. As I blogged earlier this week, it could be published in the next two weeks.

The issues of vertical integration of registry and registrar functions, the “Rec 6” objections process, and the Governmental Advisory Committee advice on geographic names are also on the agenda.

The meeting will also discuss the approval of Qatar’s internationalized domain name country-code TLD and the redelegation of the .qa ccTLD to a new entity.

Qatar’s chosen Arabic string was approved back in March, at the same time as other strings that have already been added to the root, so I can only assume that the redelegation issue was what caused the hold-up.

The perennially controversial .xxx application is also due to be wheeled out for another hearing.

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ICANN asks .jobs registry to explain itself

Kevin Murphy, October 20, 2010, Domain Registries

ICANN has asked .jobs registry manager Employ Media to clarify its plan to lift restrictions on who can register names in its top-level domain.

The ICANN board committee which handles Reconsideration Requests – essentially ICANN’s first-stop appeals court – has sent the registry a list of 13 questions (pdf), apparently distilled from a much longer list (pdf) supplied by the .JOBS Charter Compliance Coalition.

Employ Media wants to be able to start allocating premium generic .jobs domain names to companies via an RFP process and possibly auctions, dropping the rule which states that only companyname.jobs domains are permitted in the TLD.

ICANN’s board of directors approved the company’s plan in August, and Employ Media opened its RFP process shortly thereafter. Then the Compliance Coalition filed its Reconsideration Request.

This ad-hoc coalition comprises a number of employment web sites, such as Monster.com, and the Newspapers Association of America, which believe Employ Media’s plans fall outside its remit and could pose a competitive threat.

It’s common knowledge that the registry was planning to allocate a big chunk of premium real estate to the DirectEmployers Association, which wants to run a massive jobs board called universe.jobs, fed traffic by thousands of generic industry or geographic .jobs names.

Essentially, the Coalition’s questions, echoed by the Board Governance Committee, seem to be a roundabout way of asking whether this violates the .JOBS Charter, which limits the registrant base to corporate human resources departments.

Notably, the BGC wants to know when a universe.jobs promotional white paper (pdf) was produced, how much input Employ Media had in it, and whether the ICANN board got to see it before making its decision.

(A bit of a ludicrous question really, given that the BGC is comprised of four ICANN directors)

It also wants to know which purported “independent job site operators” have welcomed the Employ Media plan (a situation reminiscent of the recent unsuccessful calls for ICM Registry to disclose its .xxx supporters.)

The BGC’s Question 9 also strikes me as interesting, given that it does not appear to be inspired directly by the Coalition’s list of questions:

Please state whether Employ Media took any steps to prevent or interfere with any entity or person’s ability to state its position, or provide information, to the Board regarding amendment of the .JOBS Registry Agreement before or during the 5 August 2010 Board meeting.

I’m now beginning to wonder whether we may see a rare reversal of an ICANN board decision based on a Reconsideration Request.

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Sex.com to sell for $13m

Kevin Murphy, October 20, 2010, Domain Sales

Sex.com is set to be sold for $13 million, after Sedo managed to find a buyer from among about a dozen bidders.

I reported the story for The Register today.

The buyer is Clover Holdings Ltd, based in St Vincent. The deal is subject to approval by the California bankruptcy court that is overseeing the assets of Escom, the current owner.

Go read the story. Or, if you’re interested in more detail, here’s the motion Escom filed this week, which includes the sales contract as Exhibit A (pdf).

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Cash-for-gold site seizes “sucks” domain

Kevin Murphy, October 19, 2010, Domain Policy

An Arizona cash-for-gold company has successful recovered a “sucks” domain name via UDRP, after it emerged that the anonymous gripe site was actually run by a competitor.

Valley Goldmine filed the UDRP complaint against the domain valleygoldminesucks.com back in August. As I reported, the contested domain contained a mere two blog posts, both dating to May 2009.

Up until about a month ago, the registrant’s identity was protected by Go Daddy’s privacy service.

But Valley Goldmine used a subpoena to identify the actual registrant, and it turned out to be the operator of Gold Stash For Cash, a direct competitor, which does business at goldstash.com.

The site was created after a local TV news report had ranked Valley Goldmine higher than GSFC in an “investigation” into cash-for-gold companies. The blog posts, ironically, attacked the report’s objectivity.

Despite precedent largely protecting “sucks” domains on free speech grounds, this was enough for WIPO panelist Maxim Waldbaum to find against the registrant on all three requirements of the UDRP.

Interestingly, Waldbaum used the fact that the domain satisfied the “bad faith” part of the UDRP to justify the “confusingly similar” criterion.

The associated website has high placement on search engine results for the Mark and is operated by the principal of a direct competitor of Complainant. Respondent’s use of the Disputed Domain Name in this context is precisely within the list of bad faith criteria under paragraph 4(b) of the Policy, which, in this Panel’s view, clearly indicates Respondent’s intent to create confusing similarity in the minds of Internet users.

The fact that GSFC stood to benefit financially from anonymously bad-mouthing its competitor clearly over-rode any free speech concerns, which does not seem unreasonable.

The panelist concluded:

Although cloaked in the mantle of a gripe site, Respondent’s website is quite clearly a platform for Respondent to cast aspersions on the reliability of a report that portrayed his company in a negative light and his competitor in a positive light, and to otherwise sling mud.

Amusingly, while GSFC appears to own goldstashforcashsucks.com, a third party owns goldstashsucks.com.

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DNSSEC to kill the ISP wildcard?

Kevin Murphy, October 19, 2010, Domain Tech

Comcast is to switch off its Domain Helper service, which captures DNS error traffic and presents surfers with sponsored search results instead, as part of its DNSSEC implementation.

The ISP said yesterday that it has started to roll out the new security mechanism to its production DNS servers across the US and expects to have all customers using DNSSEC by the “early part of 2011”.

The deployment will come in two phases. The first phase, expected to last 60 days, sees DNSSEC turned on for subscribers who have previously opted out of the Domain Helper system.

After that, Comcast will continue the rollout to all of its customers, which will involve killing off the Domain Helper service for good.

As the company says in its FAQ:

# We believe that the web error redirection function of Comcast Domain Helper is technically incompatible with DNSSEC.
# Comcast has always known this and plans to turn off such redirection when DNSSEC is fully implemented.
# The production network DNSSEC servers do not have Comcast Domain Helper’s DNS redirect functionality enabled.

When web users try to visit a non-existent domain, DNS normally supplies a “does-not-exist” reply. Over recent years it has become increasingly common for ISPs to intercept this response and show users a monetized search page instead.

But DNSSEC introduces new anti-spoofing features that require such responses to be cryptographically signed. This, it seems, means ISPs will no longer be able to intercept and monetize error traffic without interfering with the end-to-end functionality of DNSSEC.

Comcast, which has been trialing the technology with volunteers for most of the year, says that to do so “breaks the chain of trust critical to proper DNSSEC validation functionality”.

It looks like it’s the beginning of the end of the ISP error wildcard. That’s got to be a good thing, right?

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