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Crocker to speak at second gTLD collisions summit

Kevin Murphy, September 28, 2013, Domain Tech

ICANN chair Steve Crocker is among a packed line-up of speakers for an event on Tuesday that will address the potential security risks of name collisions in the new gTLD program.

It’s the second TLD Security Forum, which are organized by new gTLD applicants unhappy with ICANN’s proposal to delay hundreds of “uncalculated risk” applied-for gTLDs.

The first event, held in August, was notable for statements playing down the risk from the likes of Google and Digicert.

While Crocker is scheduled to speak on Tuesday, anyone expecting insight into the ICANN board’s thinking on name collisions is likely to be disappointed.

The title of his talk is “The Current State of DNSSEC Deployment”, which isn’t directly relevant to the issue.

Crocker, due to conflicts of interest protections, is also not a member of ICANN’s New gTLD Program Committee, which is tasked with making decisions about the collision problem.

While Crocker’s views may wind up remaining private, we can’t say the same for Amy Mushahwar and Dan Jaffe, representing the Association of National Advertisers, both of whom are also speaking.

The ANA is firmly in the Verisign camp on this issue, claiming that gTLD name collisions create unacceptable security risks for organizations on the internet.

Also on the line-up for Tuesday are Laureen Kapin of the US Federal Trade Commission and Gabriel Rottman of the American Civil Liberties Union, both of whom could bring new perspectives to the debate.

The TLD Security Forum begins at 9am at the Washington Hilton and Heights Meeting Center in Washington, DC. It’s free to attend and will be webcast for those unable to show up in person.

Senators slate NTIA, to demand answers on new gTLD security

Kevin Murphy, July 23, 2013, Domain Policy

Did Verisign get to the US Congress? That’s the intriguing question emerging from a new Senate appropriations bill.

In notes attached to the bill, the Senate Appropriations Committee delivers a brief but scathing assessment of the National Telecommunication and Information Administration’s performance on ICANN’s Governmental Advisory Committee.

It says it believes the NTIA has “not been a strong advocate for U.S. companies and consumers”.

The notes would order the agency to appear before the committee within 30 days to defend the “security” aspects of new gTLDs and “urges greater participation and advocacy within the GAC”.

While the NTIA had a low-profile presence at the just-finished Durban meeting, it would be difficult to name many other governments that participate or advocate more on the GAC.

This raises an eyebrow. Which interests, in the eyes of the committee, is the NTIA not sufficiently defending?

Given the references to intellectual property, suspicions immediately fall on usual suspects such as the Association of National Advertisers, which is worried about cybersquatting and associated risks.

The ANA successfully lobbied for an ultimately fruitless Congressional hearing in late 2011, following its campaign of outrage against the new gTLD program.

It’s mellowed somewhat since, but still has fierce concerns. Judging by comments its representatives made in Durban last week, it has shifted its focus to different security issues and is now aligned with Verisign.

Verisign, particularly given the bill’s reference to “security, stability and resiliency” and the company’s campaign to raise questions about the potential security risks of new gTLDs, is also a suspect.

“Security, stability and resiliency” is standard ICANN language, with its own acronym (SSR), rolled out frequently during last week’s debates about Verisign’s security concerns. It’s unlikely to have come from anyone not intimately involved in the ICANN community.

And what of Amazon? The timing might not fit, but there’s been an outcry, shared by almost everyone in the ICANN community, about the GAC’s objection last week to the .amazon gTLD application.

The NTIA mysteriously acquiesced to the .amazon objection — arguably harming the interests of a major US corporation — largely it seems in order to play nice with other GAC members.

Here’s everything the notes to “Departments of Commerce and Justice, and Science, and related agencies appropriations Bill, 2014” (pdf) say about ICANN:

ICANN — NTIA represents the United States on the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers [ICANN] Governmental Advisory Committee [GAC], and represents the interests of the Nation in protecting its companies, consumers, and intellectual property as the Internet becomes an increasingly important component of commerce. The GAC is structured to provide advice to the ICANN Board on the public policy aspects of the broad range of issues pending before ICANN, and NTIA must be an active supporter for the interests of the Nation. The Committee is concerned that the Department of Commerce, through NTIA, has not been a strong advocate for U.S. companies and consumers and urges greater participation and advocacy within the GAC and any other mechanisms within ICANN in which NTIA is a participant.

NTIA has a duty to ensure that decisions related to ICANN are made in the Nation’s interest, are accountable and transparent, and preserve the security, stability, and resiliency of the Internet for consumers, business, and the U.S. Government. The Committee instructs the NTIA to assess and report to the Committee within 30 days on the adequacy of NTIA’s and ICANN’s compliance with the Affirmation of Commitments, and whether NTIA’s assessment of ICANN will have in place the necessary security elements to protect stakeholders as ICANN moves forward with expanding the number of top level Internet domain names available.

While the bill is just a bill at this stage, it seems to be a strong indication that anti-gTLD lobbyists are hard at work on Capitol Hill, and working on members of diverse committees.

ANA calls for new gTLDs delay, again

Kevin Murphy, April 3, 2013, Domain Policy

The Association of National Advertisers has seized upon Verisign’s recent report into the security risks of ICANN’s new gTLD timetable to call for delays to the program.

In a blog post yesterday, ANA vice president Dan Jaffe said ICANN’s dismissal of the surprising Verisign letter is “like the Captain of the Titanic before the crash saying that the dangers of icebergs had been discussed for years.”

The post highlights the lack of finalized Trademark Clearinghouse specs as “one of the greatest concerns”, saying “millions of customers are the ones who will face harm”.

That’s not strictly true, of course. New gTLD registries are contractually unable to launch until the TMCH is ready, so the risk of registrants being harmed by the lack of specs today is a non-starter.

The ANA also points to ongoing concerns about proposed TLDs such as .corp and .home, which run the risk of clashing with existing private TLDs used on internal corporate and ISP networks.

It’s on much firmer ground here. If a user tries to access a LAN resource on a .corp domain while roaming, what’s to stop them sending sensitive data to a third-party web site instead?

I’ve yet to see a compelling reason why this is not a problem, but it’s not yet known whether the many applications for .corp, .home and similar strings have passed their ICANN technical evaluations.

The ICANN application form asked applicants to disclose potential operational problems such as these, but some applicants that were very familiar with the problem decided not to do so.

But the ANA’s main concern is its belief that new gTLDs will increase cybersquatting and increase the cost of defensive registrations, of course.

“Adequate steps have not been taken to protect Internet users, and we are headed toward uncharted waters with major danger to consumers, brandholders, and the Internet itself,” Jaffe wrote.

“The only prudent action for ICANN now is to delay this arbitrary domain name roll-out until it has fixed these very serious problems.”

Chehade to take charm offensive to ANA show

Kevin Murphy, February 28, 2013, Domain Policy

ICANN CEO Fadi Chehade has agreed to speak at an upcoming conference of the Association of National Advertisers, we’ve just been told.

Chehade, currently on a whirlwind global outreach tour, will deliver a lunch keynote on day two of the 2013 ANA Advertising Law & Public Policy Conference, held in Washington DC, March 19 and 20.

The speech is currently untitled, according to the agenda, but I’d hazard a guess that Chehade will be turning on his trademarked charm to attempt to bring more ANA members into the multistakeholder fold.

The ANA, of course, was ICANN’s primary antagonist in late 2011 and much of 2012, after it came out in strong opposition to the new gTLD program, lobbying the US Congress to have it delayed or killed off.

The relationship between the two organizations has mellowed, I sense, more recently, as the ANA has become more accustomed to working within the ICANN environment.

The ANA conference, which comes with the prescient subtitle “Change Ahead: Confrontation, Compromise or Chaos?” will also feature a panel discussion on new gTLDs featuring executives from Verizon and PayPal.

Enjoy your weekend — ICANN extends new gTLD comment period

Kevin Murphy, August 10, 2012, Domain Policy

ICANN has extended the public comment period on new gTLD applications by 45 days, after pressure from intellectual property interests and the US government.

The window to have comments considered by evaluators, which was set to close on Sunday, will now end September 26. ICANN said:

After review and discussion of the community’s input, and careful consideration of the implications and impacts the additional time may have on the processing of applications, we have extended the application comment period an additional 45 days.

That’s in line with what the Intellectual Property Constituency asked for last week, but rather less than the Association of National Advertisers wanted.

To date, over 5,500 comments have been filed, but about half of those can be attributed to the same five or six brands, most of which are using the same consultant-prepared language in their filings.

The most immediate consequence of the change today, I expect, is that all the predictably last-minute commenters in the ICANN community get to enjoy their weekends instead.

And I checked: September 26 is a Wednesday.

The ANA is right: there needs to be more time for new gTLD public comments

Kevin Murphy, July 30, 2012, Domain Policy

The Association of National Advertisers has told ICANN that more time is needed for the public to file comments on new gTLD applications. I think it has a point.

As it stands, ICANN plans to forward any comments submitted before August 12 to the program’s evaluators, but the ANA thinks several more months are needed.

In a letter (pdf) to ICANN interim CEO Akram Atallah, ANA president Bob Liodice wrote:

When ICANN initially approved the gTLD Program in June 2011, ICANN’s own planning and financial estimates only envisioned 500 applications; it is possible that a sixty-day comment window might have been sufficient to evaluate that number of applications. However, almost four times that number of applications has been received, and so a mere sixty days is not enough time for the public to evaluate the details of the many string applications that may impact their interests.

Liodice asks for at least 180 more days for public comments.

The letter has been circulated to various members of the US government, but for once there’s no threat of a lawsuit.

I have to say I agree with the ANA on this occasion: more time is needed for commenting, although I’m not sure a full extra six months is necessary.

Making sense of the sheer volume of data available since the Big Reveal can be overwhelming, even for somebody who covers this topic every day.

Comments filed to date — about 1,400 of them — are narrowly focused on a small subset of wedge-issue applications. About half were organized by Morality in Media and probably could be described as anti-porn astroturf.

It’s very likely that many regular ICANN community members who intend to file substantive comments intend to do so at the last minute, per standard ICANN practice, but I think in this case there needs to be more input from outside of the usual circle of suspects.

More time to comment, and more media outreach by ICANN, might be able to create a stronger mandate — or highlight more potential problems — for some of these 1,930 applications.

With a single year-long Initial Evaluation batch now essentially confirmed could the public comment window not also be extended?

ANA demands TAS bug probe

Kevin Murphy, April 25, 2012, Domain Policy

Never one to miss the chance for a bit of trouble-making, the Association of National Advertisers has demanded a full independent probe into ICANN’s TLD Application System bug.

Writing to ICANN today, ANA president Bob Liodice has pointed to the TAS outage – now in its 13th day – as an example of why the new gTLD program needs to be scaled back.

“Doesn’t this situation demonstrate the need for a pilot project/test roll-out of the new Top Level Domain process to resolve any such problems before a major roll-out?” he asks.

In a press release, he added:

We are urgently requesting that the Department of Commerce and its National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) exercise their oversight of ICANN and encourage ICANN to engage an independent IT expert to fully investigate this serious and inadequately explained vulnerability.

The ANA has of course been the loudest objector to the program, forming the Coalition For Responsible Internet Domain Oversight last year to lobby against the gTLD expansion.

Liodice’s latest letter puts 10 questions to ICANN, several quite sensible and precisely the kinds of things I plan to ask just as soon as ICANN changes its mind about doing media interviews.

But it also asks for the release of information ICANN has already provided or has said it intends to provide, such as the number of affected TAS users or the date of the first reported incident.

The ANA also does not appear to be aware that the ICANN board new gTLD subcommittee recently passed a resolution calling for more work on the defensive registration problem.

Liodice notes that ICANN has not responded to its demands for a “Do Not Sell” list that would enable brand owners to block others from registering their trademarks in the DNS.

You can read the letter in PDF format here.

ICANN currently plans to provide its next big update on the TAS outage before the end of Friday.

Whois verification rules coming this year

Kevin Murphy, January 11, 2012, Domain Policy

No more Donald Duck in the Whois?

Registrars could be obliged to verify their customers’ identities when they sell domain names under new rules proposed for later this year, according to ICANN president Rod Beckstrom.

He told National Telecommunications and Information Administration boss Larry Strickling today that the new provisions could make it into the new Registrar Accreditation Agreement by March.

Beckstrom wrote:

ICANN expects that the RAA will incorporate – for the first time – Registrar commitments to verify WHOIS data. ICANN is actively considering incentives for Registrars to adopt the anticipated amendments to the RAA prior to the rollout of the first TLD in 2013.

The RAA is currently being renegotiated by ICANN and the registrar community, following governmental outrage about the RAA at its meeting in Dakar last October.

If new Whois rules are added to the RAA, it will be up to registrars to decide whether to implement them immediately or wait until their existing ICANN contracts expire — hence the need for “incentives”.

Documents ICANN has been posting following its RAA meetings have been less than illuminating, so the letter to Strickling today is the first public insight into what the new contract may contain.

Whois verification, which is often found at the top of the wish-lists of intellectual property and law enforcement communities, is of course hugely controversial.

Civil rights advocates believe that checking registrant identities will infringe on rights to privacy and free speech, while not helping to prevent crime. Actual criminals will of course not hand over their true identities when registering domain names.

The process of verifying Whois data may also wind up making domain names more expensive, due to the costs registrars will incur implementing or subscribing to automated verification systems.

Nevertheless, the anti-new-gTLDs campaign in Washington DC led by the Association of National Advertisers recently led to Whois – a separate issue – being placed firmly on the new gTLDs agenda.

The chairman of the Federal Trade Commission, as well as Strickling, both wrote to ICANN to express concern about the lack of progress on strengthening Whois over the last few years.

Beckstrom’s letter to Strickling can be read here. His reply to FTC chairman Leibowitz – which also schools him in why new gTLDs probably won’t increase fraud – can be read here.

ANA’s modest proposal: let us take over the new gTLD program or we’ll sue

Kevin Murphy, January 9, 2012, Domain Policy

The Association of National Advertisers has offered ICANN a risible last-minute “solution” to the outrage it has created over the new generic top-level domains program.

The ANA wants ICANN to create a temporary “Do Not Sell” list to protect trademark owners and intergovernmental organizations during the first application round, which begins Thursday.

While the first round is open, the ANA itself wants to takes over policy development for the program.

This is its “Proposed Way Forward” in full:

1. ICANN will proceed with its plan to begin accepting applications for new TLDs on January 12, as scheduled;

2. Concurrently, all NGOs, IGOs and commercial stakeholders concerned about protecting their brands will be given the opportunity to have those brands registered, without cost, on a temporary “Do Not Sell” list to be maintained by ICANN during the first application round (any interested party which does not want to have its brands on the Do Not Sell list and would rather apply for a TLD would be free to do so).

We will assemble a team from the interested constituencies to work with ICANN leadership during the first application round. If this group achieves consensus with respect to any proposals, those proposals will be voted on by the Board.

At the end of the first application round, should the parties continue to disagree, all parties will be free to pursue their legal and equitable rights without prejudice.

The alternative to adopting this proposal, ANA president Bob Liodice said in a letter to ICANN today, is “destructive and costly litigation”.

ICANN’s response should be provided “IMMEDIATELY”, Liodice wrote.

I can’t see him getting the answer he wants.

First, the ANA still seems to be worried about top-level cybersquatting, which any sane person can see is extremely unlikely to happen under the new gTLD program’s existing policies.

Second, it’s asking for ICANN to give anyone with a trademark the right to block a string matching that trademark at the top-level.

This may appear reasonable if you think a trademark is something like “Coca-Cola” or “Gucci” or “Google”.

But as soon as you realize that pretty much every word – “music”, “blog”, “web”, “London”, “Paris” – is trademarked, the idea of a Do Not Sell list becomes clearly ludicrous.

It would be a recipe for banning all gTLDs from the first application round.

Third, ICANN already has a mechanism for letting interested stakeholders achieve consensus on new trademark protection policies.

It’s called ICANN, and you don’t need to threaten litigation to participate. You just show up.

You can read the entire laughable ANA proposal here.

Congressmen ask for new gTLDs delay

Kevin Murphy, December 14, 2011, Domain Policy

ICANN should consider delaying the launch of its new top-level domains program, a number of US lawmakers said at a House of Representatives committee hearing today.

If the Senate’s hearing on new gTLDs last week could be characterized as a “win” for ICANN, today’s House meeting probably went in favor of its adversaries in the Association of National Advertisers.

“I don’t think it’s ready for prime time,” Rep. Anna Eshoo said during the Energy & Commerce Committee hearing. “I suggest that it is delayed until consensus is developed among relevant stakeholders.”

That’s exactly what the ANA and the Coalition for Responsible Internet Domain Oversight wanted to hear, and her views were echoed by several other Congresspeople, using similar language.

ICANN’s senior vice president Kurt Pritz, who was put forward to defend the new gTLD program in Washington DC for the second consecutive week, disagreed.

“This process has not been rushed, it’s been seven years in the making,” he said. “All the issues have been discussed and no new issues have been raised.”

National Telecommunications and Information Administration associate administrator Fiona Alexander, there to defend the ICANN process if not its results, observed that “consensus” does not necessarily always mean “unanimity”.

The hearing also heard from Josh Bourne of the Coalition Against Domain Name Abuse, a long-time critic of ICANN and new gTLDs.

CADNA has recently taken a more pragmatic view of the program, coinciding with sister group Fairwinds Partners’ decision to emerge as a new gTLD consultancy.

Bourne therefore found himself not only defending the program but also praising .xxx, saying that its novel trademark protection mechanisms should be mandatory in new gTLDs.

CADNA’s main demand nowadays is for clarity into the dates of subsequent application rounds, which Bourne said would relieve the “condition of scarcity” that the uncertainty has created.

Bourne also said that Congress could fight fraud by revising the the 12-year-old US Anticybersquatting Consumer Protection Act.

Also on the panel as an opponent of the program was Anjali Hansen, an IP attorney with the Better Business Bureau, who came to complain about the cost of defending the “BBB” trademark.

Hansen’s testimony was essentially worthless. When she was not complaining about fraudsters infringing copyright on BBB’s logo (obviously irrelevant in the context of domains) she seemed to be claiming that the Better Business Bureau has exclusive rights to the string “BBB”.

As Pritz noted later, there are 50 registered trademarks for “BBB” – I’ve counted about 18 live ones in the US alone – and any one of those trademark owners would be able to object to .bbb.

There was also substantial confusion about the state of the program. Congressmen conflated separate controversies in order to support the view that new gTLDs should be delayed.

As I’ve noted before, there’s a worrying lack of detail on certain outstanding issues – such as continuity funding requirements – but Congressmen had evidently been fed different talking points and therefore peppered Pritz with questions about the state of ICANN’s negotiations to amend the Registrar Accreditation Agreement, an unrelated matter.

If two themes could be said to have emerged from the hearing, and last week’s Senate hearing, often expressed by the same Congressmen or witnesses, I’d say they were:

First, ICANN should make it harder for criminals to abuse new gTLDs.

Second, ICANN should make it cheaper and easier to obtain new gTLDs.

I would point out that a certain degree of doublethink is required to hold both positions true, but to do so would imply that the necessary singlethink had been done already.