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For only the second time, ICANN tells the GAC to get stuffed

Kevin Murphy, November 3, 2014, Domain Policy

ICANN’s board of directors has decided to formally disagree with its Governmental Advisory Committee for what I believe is only the second time in the organization’s history.

In a letter to new GAC chair Thomas Schneider today, ICANN chair Steve Crocker took issue with the fact that the GAC recently advised the board to cut the GNSO from a policy-making decision.

The letter kick-starts a formal “Consultation Procedure” in which the board and GAC try to reconcile their differences.

It’s only the second time, I believe, that this kind of procedure — which has been alluded to in the ICANN bylaws since the early days of the organization — has been invoked by the board.

The first time was in 2010, when the board initiated a consultation with the GAC when they disagreed about approval of the .xxx gTLD.

It was all a bit slapdash back then, but the procedure has since been formalized somewhat into a seven-step process that Crocker outlined in an attachment to his letter (pdf) today.

The actual substance of the disagreement is a bit “inside baseball”, relating to the long-running (embarrassing, time-wasting) saga over protection for Red Cross/Red Crescent names in new gTLDs.

Back in June at the ICANN 50 public meeting in London, the GAC issued advice stating:

the protections due to the Red Cross and Red Crescent terms and names should not be subjected to, or conditioned upon, a policy development process

A Policy Development Process is the mechanism through which the multi-stakeholder GNSO creates new ICANN policies. Generally, a PDP takes a really long time.

The GNSO had already finished a PDP that granted protection to the names of the Red Cross and Red Crescent in multiple scripts across all new gTLDs, but the GAC suddenly decided earlier this year that it wanted the names of 189 national Red Cross organizations protected too.

And it wasn’t prepared to wait for another PDP to get it.

So, in its haste to get its changing RC/RC demands met by ICANN, the GAC basically told ICANN’s board to ignore the GNSO.

That was obviously totally uncool — a slap in the face for the rest of the ICANN community and a bit of an admission that the GAC doesn’t like to play nicely in a multi-stakeholder context.

But it would also be, Crocker told Schneider today, a violation of ICANN’s bylaws:

The Board has concerns about the advice in the London Communiqué because it appears to be inconsistent with the framework established in the Bylaws granting the GNSO authority to recommend consensus policies to the Board, and the Board to appropriately act upon policies developed through the bottom-up consensus policy developed by the GNSO.

Now that Crocker has formally initiated the Consultation Procedure, the process now calls for a series of written and face-to-face interactions that could last as long as six months.

While the GAC may not be getting the speedy resolution it so wanted, the ICANN board’s New gTLD Program Committee has nevertheless already voted to give the Red Cross and Red Crescent the additional protections the GAC wanted, albeit only on a temporary basis.

Momentous pays over $3 million for .sucks

Kevin Murphy, November 3, 2014, Domain Registries

Momentous Corp, whose .sucks application has been branded “predatory”, has won the three-way contention set for the new gTLD, according to sources with knowledge of the auction.

The company paid over $3 million for the string, one source said.

Momentous affiliate Vox Populi Registry beat Donuts and Top Level Spectrum, the other applicants, at a private auction I gather was managed by Applicant Auction.

It’s likely to be a controversial win.

Vox Populi has said it plans to charge $25,000 per year for a single Sunrise registration, leading some (myself included) to believe its business model is to exploit the fears of brand owners.

(UPDATE: The company has changed its mind about pricing. It says it won’t charge $25,000 after all.)

In March, US Senator Jay Rockefeller branded the plan nothing more than a “predatory shakedown scheme” with “no socially redeeming value”.

But the company’s CEO, John Berard, told DI last year that .sucks will be an “innovative part of customer service, retention and loyalty”.

Vox Populi is positioning .sucks as a customer feedback tool that companies can budget alongside other pricey items such as retaining a PR agency, for example.

The registry plans to have strict rules against cyber-bullying. The proposed $300-a-year general availability price tag is likely to keep it out of the hands of most schoolyard bullies.

There will also be a “zero tolerance” policy toward parked domains and pornography, according to its web site.

That’s unlikely to calm the concerns of trademark owners, however.

.sucks is a gTLD that many advisers have been characterizing as a “must-have” for companies worried about their online image, rather like .xxx was a few years ago.

Vox Populi started accepting Sunrise pre-registrations for $2,500 on its web site last December, but that offer does not appear to be still available.

Why kicking out the .gay “community” was right

Kevin Murphy, October 21, 2014, Domain Policy

Since Dotgay’s application for a Community Priority Evaluation on .gay failed last week, there’s been some unrest among its supporters and in the media.

An effort to get #ICANNisBroken trending hasn’t exactly set the Twittersphere alight, but there have been a handful of news stories that attack the CPE decision for failing to represent the gay community.

I think the criticisms are misplaced.

The Economist Intelligence Unit, which conducts the CPEs for ICANN, got it right in this case, in my view.

Dotgay scored 10 points out of 16 on the CPE. It needed 14 to pass. A pass would have given it exclusive rights to .gay, forcing the three other applicants to withdraw.

It could have scored 14 had it managed to get 4 points out of the available 4 on the “Nexus” criteria — the strength of the relationship between the string “gay” and the community Dotgay said it wanted to represent.

The EIU scored Dotgay zero.

The reason was that Dotgay, in its application, defined its community like this:

The Gay Community includes individuals who identify themselves as male or female homosexuals, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, ally and many other terminology – in a variety of languages – that has been used at various points to refer most simply to those individuals who do not participate in mainstream cultural practices pertaining to gender identity, expression and adult consensual sexual relationships. The Gay Community has also been referred to using the acronym LGBT, and sometimes the more inclusive LGBTQIA. The most common and globally understood term – used both by members of the Gay Community and in the world at large – is however “Gay”.

Dotgay lost the 4 points it needed to pass the CPE almost entirely because of this paragraph.

It overstretched, and it doing so it failed to play by the ICANN rules.

Remember, the EIU was asked to determine the “nexus”, or correlation, between the gTLD string — the word “gay” — and the people Dotgay said it was trying to represent.

By trying to be as inclusive as possible to as many different sexuality/gender identities as it could, Dotgay lost sight of the fact that the gTLD string it wants only describes a subsection of those people.

LGBTQIA isn’t even a particularly well-understood acronym. The “A” could mean “Ally”, as Dotgay said in its application, or “Asexual”, as it is often (but not in Dotgay’s application) interpreted.

Dotgay tried to define “intersex” people — humans whose genitalia or other sexual characteristics do not conform to the standard male/female norms — as “gay”. Are they “gay”?

It tried to define “allies” of gay rights as “gay”. Are we?

The majority of the straight people reading this post, myself included, would characterize themselves as an “ally” of the gay community — we’re supporters of equal rights — but we would not call ourselves “gay”.

The fact that we wouldn’t is an important part of the EIU’s logic, the reason it found Dotgay had overstretched in its community definition, and as hard as I try I can’t figure out why that logic is faulty.

“Membership in the Gay Community is not restricted by any geographical boundaries and is united by a common interest in human rights,” the Dotgay application reads.

Is that not an implicit admission that the “gay community” defined in the application actually includes the majority of the populations of most right-thinking democracies?

Regardless of the EIU’s logic, there has been a moderate amount of outrage online about its decision.

The article getting the most link love appears to be this one at Slate, written by “LGBTQ activist” Marc Naimark.

First, note the acronym Naimark uses in his bio at the bottom of the piece. There are two letters missing when compared to the Dotgay application — “I” and “A”, for “Intersex” and “Ally” or “Asexual”.

Would Dotgay have won its CPE if it had limited itself to the same five letters? Maybe, maybe not. GLAAD defines “gay” as only those people attracted to the same gender. Transsexuals may not count. I and A almost certainly don’t.

Is this just nit-picking?

Not really. The point of the CPE, taken as a whole, was to allow genuine communities to avoid expensive auctions whilst preventing gaming by unscrupulous registries that would seek to claim a valuable string without a genuine community behind them.

In a previous new gTLD round, ICM Registry defined its .xxx “community” as essentially ‘anyone who wants to be a member of the community’. The .mobi registry defined its community as basically ‘anyone with a mobile phone’.

These were both attempts, in my view, to game the rules ICANN had put in place for that particularly new gTLD application round. They were both successful.

What Dotgay tried to do with its .gay application was to define its community as basically everyone. I don’t think I would call it gaming, but I might call it a failure to follow the community rules closely enough.

So is it a bad thing that Dotgay’s CPE got rejected?

I don’t think so.

Remember, Dotgay has not been ruled out of the process. It can still compete at auction with the other applicants.

If that’s too rich for it, there may even be an opportunity for the company to combine in another way with a rival applicant, rather like DotGreen did with Afilias for .green.

In Salon, Naimark wrote that a non-Community .gay — one manged by Top Level Design, Minds + Machines or Rightside, the other three applicants — will likely be awash with pornography or homophobia:

Now, instead, .gay is up for auction, with dotgay LLC facing off against three much larger rivals whose sole aim is to make as much money as possible from .gay names. That means no oversight over who gets a name or what it’s used for. Gay bashers will be able to buy .gay domains. More significantly, the largest market is likely to be among porn sites. Any legitimate use of the name by individuals, businesses, and organizations associated with the LGBTQ community will likely be drowned in a sea of sex: On the Internet, everyone will be .gay for pay.

On the face of it, that seems like a compelling argument. Wouldn’t it be nicer if .gay was devoted to worthy causes rather than gay porn? I would probably agree with that argument.

But none of the four applicants for .gay — not even Dotgay — have any prohibitions or restrictions on porn in their applications.

There’s no reason on the new gTLD program record to believe Dotgay won’t sell .gay domains to porn sites too.

Where Dotgay does have a moral advantage against its competitors is in its explicit prohibitions against homophobic speech in the domain names it sells.

One of the policies it proposes in its application is that domain names should not be “words or phrases that incite or promote discrimination or violent behavior, including anti-gay hate speech.”

The other three applicants don’t have anything nearly as specific in their applications.

But by applying as a formal, big-C “Community” applicant, Dotgay also had to promise to restrict its gTLD to a limited number of people who were members of its self-defined “community”.

This is where I struggle.

Dotgay proposes to restrict .gay to people who obtain a special code via a number of as-yet unspecified, approved “Authentication Providers” — organizations that represent sections of the LGBTQIA community.

This process has clearly been created by the applicant, in my opinion, in order to get the required number of points in the CPE’s “Registration Policies” criteria, where you have to be restrictive to win.

What Dotgay is proposing is a system whereby in order to express your homosexuality (or membership of another LGBTQIA community, including “ally”) you need to apply to an approved gay-related organization for a special code.

That just seems wrong to me.

Whatever happened to the “self-identified” gay person? I thought that “self-identification”, in the sexual and gender identity world, was a bit of a big deal.

You need a password to “come out” online? Really?

I don’t want to be accused of “straightsplaining”, so it’s a genuine question: is it okay for a registry to need to authenticate your sexual/gender identity before you can register a .gay domain?

ICM buys .sex for up to $3 million

ICM Registry, the .xxx domain name registry, may have paid as much as $3 million for the .sex gTLD.

Internet Marketing Solutions Limited, the only other applicant for .sex, withdrew its application this week.

Word is that ICM forked out somewhere between $2 million and $3 million for exclusive rights to the string.

I hear it was a private deal, not an auction organized by a third party.

I wonder whether the price was affected by the revelation by ICANN earlier this month that it considers porn-related gTLD strings “sensitive” for no particular reason.

It’s quite low, considering that sex.com sold for $13 million and sex.xxx sold for $3 million just a couple of months ago.

ICM now is the only applicant for .sex, .porn and .adult. It plans to grandfather existing .xxx registrants into the new namespaces, assuming ICANN doesn’t throw a spanner in the works.

ICM scraps free .xxx porn star offer, starts new one

ICM Registry has partnered with a company called Model Centro to offer free .xxx domain names to porn performers.

Model Centro offers porn models a managed fan site and social networking service. It’s free to the models, with the company taking a 15% slice of whatever subscription fees are taken from their fans.

The arrangement seems to be related to the sale of Models.xxx, which ICM held back as a premium name until this week but which now mirrors the old modelcentro.com.

The deal will see each Models.xxx user get one free .xxx domain.

It also means ICM’s Adult Performer Program, which reserved the names of 3,500 porn stars and allowed them to be claimed for free via Name.com is no more.

The company said in a statement that the two-year-old program has been scrapped.

The new deal is probably better for .xxx. Because Models.xxx is a web site service, each free domain given away is going to turn into a site almost immediately, potentially increasingly the gTLD’s visibility.

The same group that runs Model Centro also recently acquired the premium bukkake.xxx, while another bought extreme.xxx and public.xxx. The three sold for a total of $150,000, according to the registry.