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101domain founder Wolfgang Reile dies at 67

Kevin Murphy, April 14, 2018, Domain Registrars

Wolfgang Reile, founder and former CEO of the registrar 101domain, has died, according to his former business partner and other sources.

He died unexpectedly at 67, April 6, according to Anthony Beltran, who took over the management of 101domain from Reile when Afilias acquired it back in 2015.

Born in Munich, Reile migrated to the US in the early 1990s and founded the registrar in 1999, Beltran said. He told DI:

He was a regular fixture in the ICANN scene, was a fun guy to be around, and was a natural storyteller (once you got used to the authentic German accent)

He was a friend and mentor to many, especially the staff at 101domain, and if you knew him and his straight-forward German fashion — was very opinionated, passionate, and yelling at you only meant he considered you a friend. He brought a passionate and dedicated energy that’s rare these days.

His international business background, including a spell at Disney in Asia, inspired 101domain’s strategy of providing access to the broadest possible range of ccTLDs and gTLDs, Beltran said.

The company currently has close to 140,000 gTLD domains under management and says it has tens of thousands of clients.

After the two men sold 101domain to Afilias, Reile stepped away from the industry to focus on family, travel and other businesses, Beltran said.

He is survived by his wife and three daughters. I gather his funeral will be held in San Diego, California, later today.

Afilias scraps plan to scrap Whois

Kevin Murphy, April 5, 2018, Domain Policy

Afilias has “temporarily suspended” its plan to migrate its TLDs to an essentially thin Whois model.

In what appears to be an effort to roll back some GDPR-related gun-jumping, the registry said it will instead wait and see how ICANN’s efforts to consult with European data protection authorities play out.

Afilias had told its registrars earlier this week that its public Whois output from May 25 will be devoid of any contact information for the registrant, as reported by DNW.

It had said that it would continue to work with law enforcement on access to Whois records, but said that others (such as trademark owners) would not have access until ICANN comes up with an accreditation program.

It was the first major gTLD registry to announce its GDPR plans, but it evidently received push-back.

The affected TLDs were to be: .info, .mobi, .pro, .poker, .pink, .black, .red, .blue, .kim, .shiksha, .promo, .lgbt, .ski, .bio, .green, .lotto, .pet, .bet, .vote, .voto, .archi, .organic and .llc.

Many more client gTLDs would have been able to opt-in to the same scaled-back system.

But the company told registrars today that it wanted to correct “mis-characterizations” of that message and wanted to “clarify that Afilias is not ‘going it alone'”.

Rather, it’s going to hang back until ICANN gets guidance from the EU’s DPAs.

“Importantly, we expect that ICANN’s request for guidance from the data protection authorities will yield helpful input that, in conjunction with the best thinking of the community, will enable a workable solution to emerge,” the Afilias message said.

The company said in a statement sent to DI tonight:

Afilias today announced that it is temporarily suspending plans to limit the display of WHOIS data to comply with the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) currently scheduled to take effect on 25MAY2018. Afilias has received a number of questions about its plans, and anticipates that they may be affected by guidance from data protection authorities that has been requested by ICANN. This guidance is expected to be materially helpful in the community’s efforts to resolve the various issues surrounding GDPR requirements.

Afilias is participating in a number of community groups that are considering these issues, including as a principal in ICANN’s pilot implementation of the Registration Data Access Protocol (RDAP), a potential technical solution for enabling differentiated access to registration data depending on the legitimate purpose of the requestor. For example, law enforcement may need access to certain types of Personally Identifiable Information (PII), trademark guardians to other types, etc. RDAP enables the management of this access in an efficient and effective manner.

As the deadline for GDPR implementation approaches, the community is working diligently in a number of areas to find solutions needed to balance a wide range of community interests. Afilias will continue working collaboratively within these groups in the expectation that appropriate solutions will be reached prior to the GDPR implementation date. Absent guidance from the data protection authorities, Afilias will reconsider its plans as appropriate to ensure compliance with GDPR.

It’s still very possible that Afilias, and other gTLD registries and registrars, could end up gutting Whois in much the same way come May 25 anyway, but for now at least it seems Afilias it willing to play wait-and-see.

As a reminder, there’s going to be an ICANN-supported conference call tomorrow on an Intellectual Property Constituency proposal for a post-GDPR Whois accreditation model.

Marby ponders emergency powers to avoid fragmented Whois

Kevin Murphy, April 4, 2018, Domain Policy

ICANN could invoke emergency powers in its contracts to prevent Whois becoming “fragmented” after EU privacy laws kick in next month.

That’s a possibility that emerged during a DI interview with ICANN CEO Goran Marby yesterday.

Marby told us that he’s “cautiously optimistic” that European data protection authorities will soon provide clear guidance that will help the domain industry become compliant with the General Data Protection Regulation, which becomes fully effective May 25.

But he said that a lack of such guidance will lead to a situation where different companies provide different levels of public Whois.

“It’s a a high probability that Whois goes fragmented or that Whois will be in a sort of ‘thin’ model in which very little information is collected and very little information is displayed,” he said. “That’s a sort of worst-case scenario.”

I should note that the interview was conducted yesterday before news broke that Afilias has become the first major gTLD registry to announce its Whois output will be essentially thin — eschewing all registrant contact data — from May 25.

Marby has asked European DPAs for two things.

First, guidance on whether its “Cookbook” proposal for a dramatically scaled-back, GDPR-compliant Whois is in fact GDPR-compliant.

Second, an enforcement moratorium while registries and registrars actually go about implementing the Cookbook.

“If we don’t get guidance that’s clear enough, we will see a fragmented Whois. If we get guidance that is clear enough we can work it out,” Marby said.

A moratorium could enable Whois to carry on in its current state, or something close to it, while ICANN goes about creating a new policy that fits with the DPA’s guidance.

If the DPAs refuse a moratorium, we’re looking at a black hole of indeterminate duration during which nobody — not even law enforcement or self-appointed trademark cops — can easily access full Whois records.

“It’s not something I can do anything about, it’s really in the hands of the DPAs,” Marby said. “Remember that it’s the law.”

While ICANN has expended most of its effort to date on creating a model for the public Whois, there’s a parallel effort to create an accreditation program that would enable organizations with “legitimate purposes” to access full, or at least more complete, Whois records.

It’s the IP lawyers that are driving this effort, primarily, terrified that their ability to hunt down cybersquatters and bootleggers will be diminished come May 25.

ICANN has so far resisted calls to endorse the so-called “Cannoli” draft accreditation model, with Marby publicly saying that it needs cross-community support.

But the organization has committed staff support resources to discussion of Cannoli. There’s a new mailing list and there will be a community conference call this coming Friday at 1400 UTC.

Marby said that he shares the worries of the IP community, adding: “If we get the proper guidance from the DPAs, we will know how to sort out the accreditation model.”

He met with the Article 29 Working Party, comprised of DPAs, last week; the group agreed to put Whois on its agenda for its meeting next week, April 10-11.

The fact that it’s up for discussion is what gives Marby his cautious optimism that he will get the guidance he needs.

Assuming the DPAs deliver, ICANN is then in the predicament of having to figure out a way to enforce, via its contracts, a Whois system that is compliant with the DPAs’ interpretation of GDPR.

Usually, this would require a GNSO Policy Development Process leading to a binding Consensus Policy.

But Marby said ICANN’s board of directors has other options, such as what he called an “emergency policy”.

This is a reference, I believe, to the “Temporary Policies” clauses, which can be found in the Registrar Accreditation Agreement and Registry Agreement.

Such policies can be mandated by a super-majority vote of the board, would have to be narrowly tailored to solve the specific problem at hand, and could be in effect no longer than one year.

A temporary policy could be replaced by a compatible, community-created Consensus Policy.

It’s possible that a temporary policy could, for example, force Afilias and others to reverse their plans to switch to thin Whois.

But that’s perhaps getting ahead of ourselves.

Fact is, the advice the DPAs provide following their Article 29 meeting next week is what’s going to define Whois for the foreseeable future.

If the guidance is clear, the ICANN organization and community will have their direction of travel mapped out for them.

If it’s vague, wishy-washy, and non-committal, then it’s likely that only the European Court of Justice will be able to provide clarity. And that would take many years.

And whatever the DPAs say, Marby says it is “highly improbable” that Whois will continue to exist in its current form.

“The GDPR will have an effect on the Whois system. Not everybody will get access to the Whois system. Not everybody will have as easy access as before,” he said.

“That’s not a bug, that’s a feature of the legislation,” he said. “That’s not ICANN’s fault, it’s what the legislator thought when it made this legislation. It is the legislators’ intention to make sure people’s data is handled in a different way going forward, so it will have an effect.”

The community awaits the DPAs’ guidance with baited breath.

auDA probably won’t pass on full Afilias savings to registrants

Kevin Murphy, February 22, 2018, Domain Registries

Switching .au’s back-end to Afilias will cut auDA’s per-domain costs by more than half, but registrants are not likely to benefit from the full impact of the savings.

auDA’s Bruce Tonkin, who led the committee that selected Afilias to replace incumbent Neustar, told DI this week that the organization is likely to take a bigger cut of .au registration fees in future, in order to invest in marketing.

That would include marketing the ability of Aussies to register .au domains at the second level for the first time — a controversial, yet-to-roll-out proposal.

Tonkin confirmed that the back-end fee auDA will be paying Afilias is less than half of what it is currently paying Neustar — the unconfirmed rumor is that it’s 40% of the current rate — but said that Afilias was not the cheapest of the nine bidders.

While .au names are sold for a minimum of two years, the current wholesale price charged to registrars works out to AUD 8.75 ($6.85) per year, of which Neustar gets AUD 6.33; auDA receives the other AUD 2.42.

A back-end fee of roughly $5 (US) per domain per year is well above market rates, so it’s pretty clear why auDA chose to open the contract to competition.

Tonkin explained the process by which Afilias was selected:

We first considered scoring without price, and Afilias received the highest score for non-financial criteria.

We then considered pricing information to form an assessment of value for money. The average pricing across the 9 [Request For Tender] responses was less than half of the present registry back-end fee ($6.33). Afilias was close to the average pricing, and while it was not the cheapest price — it was considered best value for money when taking into account the highest score in non-financial criteria.

I asked Afilias for comment on rumors that its price was 60% down on the current rate and received this statement:

Afilias believes auDA chose us based on the best overall value for the Australian internet community. The evaluation heavily weighted expertise, quality and breadth of service over price. While we don’t know what others bid, Afilias works to be competitive in today’s market. Attempts to price significantly higher than market without a value proposition are unrealistic and could even be considered price gouging.

It’s not known what price Neustar bid for the continuation of the contract, but I expect it will have also offered a deep discount to its current rate.

By switching, auDA is basically going to be saving itself over AUD 3 per domain per year, which works out to a total of AUD 9 million ($7 million) per year at least.

But the organization has yet to decide how much of that money, if any, to pass on to its registrars and ultimately registrants.

The auDA board of directors will meet in March to discuss this, Tonkin (who is in charge of the registry transition project but not on the board) said.

“We don’t want to set expectations that the wholesale price is going to change massively,” he said.

“I don’t expect it’s going to be any higher than the current wholesale price,” he said.

But he said he expects auDA to increase its slice of the pie in order to raise more money for marketing. The organization does “basically no marketing” now, he said.

“There’s certainly strong interest in doing more to market and grow the namespace,” he said. “One option is that more money is put into marketing the namespace and growing awareness of .au… That AUD 2.42, I expect that to change.”

This would include marketing direct second-level registrations, an incoming change to how .au names are sold that has domain investors worried about confusion and market dilution.

Outrage over the 2LD proposal — it appears to be a done deal, even if the details and timeline have yet to be finalized — has started attracting the attention of business media in Australia recently.

But auDA’s own research shows that opposition is not that substantial outside of these “special interests”.

A survey last year showed that 40% of .com.au registrants “support” or “strongly support” the direct registration proposal, with 18% “opposed” or “strongly opposed” Another 42% were completely unaware of the changes.

Support among .org.au registrants was lower, and it was higher among .net.au registrants.

But 36% of “special interests” — which appears to mean people who discovered the survey due to their close involvement in the domain industry — were opposed to the plan.

There’s no current timeline for the introduction of direct registrations, but the back-end handover from Neustar to Afilias is set to happen July 1 this year.

Neustar acquired AusRegistry, which has been running .au since 2002, for $87 million a couple of years ago.

Afilias takes over back-end for Puerto Rico

Kevin Murphy, January 9, 2018, Domain Registries

Afilias has won the back-end contract for Puerto Rico’s ccTLD, .pr.

The registry services provider took over DNS for the zone last month and the final handover of the registration system happened at the weekend.

.pr is a small TLD, under 10,000 names, run by local firm Gauss Research Laboratories. It also tries to market itself as a destination for public relations companies overseas.

It now lists about 30 registrars on its web site, most of which are either corporate-focused or reseller networks.

The deal brings the number of ccTLDs managed by Afilias well into double figures. Afilias also runs the back-end for the likes of .vc, .bz, .lc, and .ag, as well as larger zones including .me and .in.

It recently was selected to run .au for Australia, replacing long-time rival Neustar, from this coming July.

Puerto Rico is the destination of this March’s ICANN 61 public meeting, which may give Afilias some publicity opportunities.