Latest news of the domain name industry

Recent Posts

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.