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How awful would ICANN 72 have to be for you to stay at home?

Kevin Murphy, June 13, 2021, Domain Policy

ICANN is seriously considering holding its ICANN 72 public meeting with a face-to-face component in Seattle this October. But it wants to know what would make you stay at home.

The org is surveying community members to see how they would respond to stuff like temperature checks, rapid testing, compulsory mask wearing, , vaccine certificates, physical distancing and even physical tracking.

Do community members want this stuff to make them feel safe? Or would it make them steer clear of the meeting for the sheer annoyance and intrusion? Is the community made up of bleeding-heart liberal wokesters, or hardline dunderhead deniers?

And if it turned out that the meeting would be predominately populated with vaxxed-up North Americans and Western Europeans, with few attendees from less well-off parts of the world, would that make you stay away in solidarity?

These are among the questions asked in the 10-page survey, sent out in advance of this week’s ICANN 71 public meeting, which had been due to take place in The Hague but instead will be ICANN’s fifth consecutive online-only gathering.

There’s going to be a live discussion about the possibility of a return to hybrid in-person meetings on Thursday.

The ICANN board is due to make a call on the location of 72 at some point in July.

And it’s not just a decision about health and global representation.

While the survey does not cover this, ICANN meetings are not cheap, and to set the ball rolling now with poor visibility into the pandemic situation a few months in advance would incur costs that could not be recouped.

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More non-rules proposed for Whois privacy

Kevin Murphy, June 4, 2021, Domain Policy

An ICANN working group has come up with some extra policy proposals for how registries and registrars handle Whois records, but they’re going to be entirely optional.

The ongoing Expedited Policy Development Process team has come up with a document answering two questions: whether registrars should differentiate between people and companies, and whether there should be a system of uniform, anonymized email addresses published in Whois records.

The answer to both questions is a firm “Maybe”.

The EPDP working group seems to have been split along the usual party lines when it comes to both, and has recommended that contracted parties should get to choose whether they adopt either practice.

Under privacy laws, chiefly GDPR, protections only extend to data on natural persons — people — and not to legal persons such as companies, non-profits and other amorphous entities.

Legally, registries and registrars are not obliged to fully redact the Whois records of domains belonging to companies, but many do anyway because it’s easier than putting systems in place to differentiate the two types of registrant.

There’s also the issue that, even if the owner of the domain is a company, the contact information may belong to a named, identifiable person who is protected by GDPR. So ICANN’s contracted parties may reduce their potential liability by redacting everything, no matter what type of entity the domain belongs to.

The EPDP’s has decided to stick to the status quo it agreed to in an earlier round of policy talks: “Registrars and Registry Operators are permitted to differentiate between registrations of legal and natural persons, but are not obligated to do so”.

Contracted parties will get the option to ask their registrants if they’re a natural person (yes/no/not saying) and capture that data, but they’ll have to redact the answer from public Whois output.

They’d have to “clearly communicate” to their customers the fact that their data will be treated differently depending on the choice they make.

On the second question, related to whether a system standardized, published, anonymized email addresses is feasible or desirable, the EPDP is also avoiding any radical changes:

The EPDP Team recognizes that it may be technically feasible to have a registrant-based email contact or a registration-based email contact. Certain stakeholders see risks and other concerns that prevent the EPDP Team from making a recommendation to require Contracted Parties to make a registrant-based or registration-based email address publicly available at this point in time.

Again, the working group is giving registries and registrars the option to implement such systems or not.

The benefit (or drawback, depending on your perspective) of giving each registrant a single anonymous email address that is published in all their Whois records is that it makes it rather easy to reverse-engineer that registrant’s entire portfolio.

If you’re a political insider running a whistle-blower blog, a bar owner who also moderates a forum for closeted gays in a repressive regime, or a domain name news blogger running a furry porn site on the side, you might not want your whole collection of domains to be easily doxxed.

But if you’re a trademark lawyer chasing cybersquatters or a security researcher tracking spammers, being able to take action against a ne’er-do-well’s entire portfolio at once could be hugely useful.

So the EPDP working group proposes to leave it up to individual registries and registrars to decide whether to implement such a system, basically telling these companies to talk to their lawyers.

The EPDP Team recommends that Contracted Parties who choose to publish a registrant- or registration-based email address in the publicly accessible RDDS should ensure appropriate safeguards for the data subject in line with relevant guidance on anonymization techniques provided by their data protection authorities and the appended legal guidance in this recommendation

An appendix to the recommendations, compiled by the law firm Bird & Bird, says there’s “a high likelihood that the publication or automated disclosure of such email addresses would be considered to be the processing of personal data”.

The EPDP recommendations are now open for public comment until July 19, and could become binding if they make it through the rest of the ICANN policy development system.

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Domain regs dip for second quarter in a row and it’s all China’s fault

There were 363.5 million domain name registrations across all top-level domains at the end of March, down by 2.8 million names compared to the end of 2020, Verisign’s latest Domain Name Industry Brief shows.

But the losses can be attributed mostly to China, which saw plummeting .cn regs in the ccTLD world and big declines across gTLDs popular with Chinese speculators.

In .cn, regs were down a whopping four million at 20.7 million in the quarter. China has historically been subject to steep fluctuations due to local government regulations.

Overall, ccTLD registrations were down 2.4 million at 156.5 million, but that seems to be all down to China.

All the other ccTLDs in the DNIB top 10 were either flat or up slightly on Q4. The frequent wild-card .tk did not have an impact on this quarter’s numbers, staying flat.

Verisign does not break down new gTLD registrations, but zone file and transaction report data shows that the likes of .icu and .wang, which typically sell first-year regs very cheaply, were hit by material junk drops in Q1.

ShortDot’s .icu zone file shrank by 2.5 million names between January 1 and March 30. It’s still in decline in Q2, but the trajectory isn’t nearly as steep. It had 814,000 zone file names at the end of Q1.

Zodiac’s .wang was at 525,000 at the end of 2020 but had dropped to 86,000 by March 30.

.top also lost around half a million names in the first quarter.

The vast majority of regs in .icu, .top and .wang come through Chinese registrars, which often sell for under a dollar for the first year.

The DNIB reports that .com performed well as usual, up from 151.8 million reported in the Q4 report to 154.6 million, but Verisign bedfellow .net was once again flat at 13.4 million.

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ICANN 71 — now with added bearded men!

Kevin Murphy, June 3, 2021, Domain Policy

What’s better than a flabby, bearded, middle-aged man lecturing you about DNS policy in a Zoom window? Why, up to 25 flabby, bearded, middle-aged men lecturing you about DNS policy in the same Zoom window, of course!

That appears to be an added benefit (to beard fans, at least) of upgrades ICANN has made to its remote participation platform ahead of this month’s ICANN 71 public meeting, which will be taking place virtually.

The org has implemented a new Zoom feature called Immersive View, which permits the illusion that everyone on a given panel or committee is sitting in the same room, by pasting their images in real-time to the same fake background image.

From Zoom’s blog announcing the feature earlier this year:

Zoom

The feature supports up to 25 participants, which should be sufficient to accommodate every member of ICANN’s various committees and the board of directors.

While I’m making light of it, I do see some value to observers of being able to see all session speakers simultaneously. As an inveterate nose-picker, I’m not sure I’d be quite as happy about it as a participant.

Other useful features announced by senior engineering veep Ashwin Rangan yesterday include real-time captioning in English of non-English speakers and a return to one-on-one rooms for people wishing to have private meetings.

ICANN has also linked its meeting registration system with its regular web site login accounts, Rangan said.

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.autos priced waaay below its XYZ rivals

When XYZ.com tied up the automotive gTLD market by bringing .car, .cars, .auto and .autos into its portfolio last year, I speculated that a big price increase may be on the cards for .autos. I was wrong.

The registry has in fact dropped its wholesale prices by quite a lot, keeping .autos domains a fraction of the cost of their stable-brothers and competitive with .com.

XYZ said yesterday that the recommended retail price for .autos will be around $20 per year, compared to the $100 under previous owner Dominion.

The new pricing comes into effect June 14.

By contrast, .auto, .cars and .car continue to be priced at around $2,000 per year at the cheaper registrars. At others your renewal fee could be as high as $4,000.

The pricing makes .autos a much more affordable choice for the likes of smaller car dealerships and garages, as well as an option for domain investors not scared away by the risky world of new gTLDs.

Under Dominion, .autos never broke through the 500 domains under management mark. Its three siblings all have roughly 300 names in their zones, with a leaning towards corporate registrar sales.

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Barrett to replace Da Silva on ICANN board

Kevin Murphy, June 3, 2021, Domain Policy

South African internet pioneer Alan Barrett is to replace Ron Da Silva as one of the Address Supporting Organization’s members of ICANN’s board of directors, the ASO’s Address Council said yesterday.

The pick comes after multiple rounds of interviews, which whittled down an initial slate of 10 nominees to a long list of eight, and then a short list of four, which included Da Silva.

It’s a selection, rather than an election, with the Address Council doing the hiring.

The handover will happen following ICANN 72nd public meeting, taking place this October either in Seattle or virtually, at the conclusion of Da Silva’s second three-year term on the board.

According to his bio, Barrett was co-founder of South Africa’s first commercial ISP in the early 1990s. He has served as a software consultant for the last 14 years and was CEO of Afrinic until 2019.

There are currently two other directors on the ICANN board, which has geographic regional quotas, hailing from Africa. Da Silva represents the North America region.

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CentralNic trumpets organic growth as its registrars reverse shrinkage

While positioning itself as a consolidator for the last few years, CentralNic today boasted that it’s also growing organically by a healthy amount.

The company reported Q1 revenue up 48% compared to a year ago at $84.4 million. Organic revenue growth for the same period was reported at 16%. It made a loss after tax of $1.4 million, but adjusted EBITDA of $10.1 million.

CentralNic’s indirect segment, which includes its registry and wholesale registrar businesses, saw revenue up 24% to $25.4 million, led by the registrar. Organic growth was 13%.

The direct segment, which comprises customer-facing retail and corporate registrars and brand monitoring services, saw revenue up 29% to $13.7 million. Organic growth was also 13%.

That segment had seen a drag from the corporate segment in 2020 that was blamed on the coronavirus pandemic, but today CentralNic said “both the Retail business and the Corporate business have returned to growth”.

The company’s newest and already biggest revenue-generating segment is online marketing, which boils down to domain monetization services. Revenue there was up 76% or 19% organically at $45.3 million.

This was largely driven by PubTONIC, a traffic arbitrage platform it acquired with Team Internet last year. The service basically allows web site owners to buy redirect traffic from parked domains.

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EURid sells 1,369 Cyrillic names in five years

EURid, the .eu registry, says the Cyrillic version of its TLD has amassed just 1,369 domain registrations in its first five years of operations.

The internationalized domain name .ею is predominantly used in Bulgaria, the only EU nation where Cyrillic is the primary official script. EURid says that 51% of its .ею names have web sites in Bulgarian.

The headline number is pretty much unchanged from the year-ago figure, and is down from 1,699 at the end of June 2019.

There are 37,107 Latin-script .eu domains registered to Bulgarians today, according to the registry’s web site.

The Bulgarian ccTLD registry Register.bg runs .bg and the Cyrillic .бг, but does not publish registration statistics for either.

.eu’s only other IDN version, the Greek .ευ, has 2,708 registrations but launched much later, in 2019.

Greece has a population of around 10.7 million, compared to Bulgaria’s seven million.

EURid says that Bulgarian registrar SuperHosting.bg joined its Registrar Advisory Board earlier this year, and that it is introducing a “Best of .ею and .ευ” to its annual awards ceremony.

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Afilias hints at more legal action over .web

As Verisign does everything but declare outright victory in last week’s Independent Review Process result, .web rival Afilias is now strongly hinting that its lawyers are not quite ready to retire.

John Kane, VP of Afilias (now Altanovo) said in a statement that Afilias is prepared to “take all actions necessary to protect our rights in this matter”.

This matter is of course the contested 2015 auction for the new gTLD .web, which was won by Nu Dot Co with $135 million of Verisign’s money.

Afilias thinks the winning bid should be voided because Verisign’s involvement had been kept a secret. The IRP panel stopped short of doing that, instead forcing ICANN’s board of directors to make a decision.

The earliest they’re likely to do this is at ICANN 71 later this month.

But with one IRP down, Afilias is now reminding ICANN that the board’s ultimate decision will also be “subject to review by an IRP Panel.”

So if ICANN decides to award .web to Verisign, Afilias could challenge it with another IRP, adding another two years to the go-live runway and another couple million dollars to the lawyers’ petty cash jar.

None of which should overly bother Verisign, of course, if one subscribes to the notion that its interest in .web is not in owning it but rather in preventing its competitors from owning it and aggressively marketing it against .com.

But Verisign also put out a statement reviewing the IRP panel’s decision last week, reiterating that it believes Afilias should be banned from the .web contest and banned from making any further complaints about Verisign’s bid.

While Afilias spent its press release focusing on trashing ICANN, Verisign instead focused its blog post on trashing Afilias.

According to Verisign, Afilias is no longer competent to run a registry (having sold those assets to Donuts) and is just looking for a payday by losing a private auction.

“Afilias no longer operates a registry business, and has neither the platform, organization, nor necessary consents from ICANN, to support one,” Verisign claims.

Afilias could of course outsource its would-be .web registry, as is fairly standard industry practice, either to Donuts or any other back-end operator.

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ShortDot plans domain blocking service for brands

Acquisitive new gTLD registry ShortDot is planning a trademark-blocking service along the same lines as those offered by some of its rivals.

The company has applied to ICANN for permission to start a new service called ShortBlock, which it compared to blocking offerings such as Donuts’ Domain Protected Marks List.

Such services block trademarked strings from being registered across a portfolio of gTLDs for a price lower than would be charged for individual defensive registrations.

ShortBlock would also permit typo-blocking, ShortDot’s request states.

Similar services are offered by MMX and .CLUB, both of which will shortly be part of GoDaddy.

ShortDot currently has five gTLDs in its portfolio: .cyou, .sbs, .icu, .bond and .cfd.

Its back-end provider is CentralNic. It says it plans to launch ShortBlock just as soon as ICANN approves its Registry Services Evaluation Process request.

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